One of the German habits I’ve had to get used to is shoe removal. When you get inside, you take your outdoor shoes off and replace them with slippers known as hausschuhe. This is of course inherently practical – it means you don’t drag mess into the house and you’re wearing something comfortable. The slipper of choice is usually the Birkenstock.
I have to confess that while forcing my children to remove their shoes as they come into our home, I keep my shoes on. My premise is that they are more likely than me to have stomped in a puddle or dallied in mud, and also that they will be going to play at other people’s houses so they need to know what the expected behaviour for children is. Children coming to our house on winter play dates will bring along their own hausschuhe so that they and my lot can have a happy little hauschuhfest of an afternoon.
Luckily for me the rules don’t always extend to adults, so I can still visit people’s houses shod. However, those who are eager to protect their floors keep spare adult pairs, which, out of politeness, I will don. It’s not as if I hate my feet. It’s just that (1) my shoes usually accessorise what I’m wearing, (2) my socks may have holes in, and (3) I like to walk not shuffle.
But the main reason I just can’t get into the hausschuh thing is because I find Birkenstocks and their ilk plain ugly. I’m just not a slipper kinda gal. Back home in South Africa, the Afrikaans word for slipper is “pantoffel”, which to me evokes Eau de Trailer Trash, indicating something large, fluffy and covered in cigarette ash. Also, as a child, I was forced to wear stokies, towelling affairs in shades of sludge and pond scum that were the nadir of slipperdom. I think I was damaged, and let it here be known that I always try to purchase attractive hausschuhe for my children.
Some of my non-German friends have gone native, and swear by the extreme comfort and practicality of their Birkies. What is really dangerous is when someone gets so attached to their Birkies that they start wearing them out of the house. This should be the preserve of dental hygienists and software developers only (the latter of whom will have summer Birkies – to be worn au naturel – and winter ones – to be worn with socks). Yes, they will wear their Birkies in the snow.
In other lands, more distant from here, Birkenstocks have an air of cool – Californians may wear them, Capetonians too – but in Germany, where the Birkenstock was born, they are orthopaedic shoes to be worn by people whose jobs require them to stand a lot or at home where no-one can see you. If you step outside in your othopaedic slippers your street cred is nul.