There’s been some previous discussion/posts about shoes and shoe customs on Sweden.se so I thought I’d chime in on the shoe situation in the workplace.
Personally, even before the snows came this winter, I found it hard to wear the same shoes to work that I was going to wear at work in Sweden. This is because the winter streets and sidewalks are almost always wet and there is lots of sand and grit everywhere (to keep tires and feet from slipping).
But that’s just me.
I saw women wearing high heel (non-snow) boots on the train even after it began snowing. I have also observed men on the train platform wearing dress shoes that they are probably going to wear all day at work as well.
I am proud to say that I made some accurate predictions about what shoes/boots to bring to Sweden and I have not had to purchase any here. (A good thing since I am on a budget and shoes—and for that matter, socks—are expensive here.) I brought along a low pair of wet weather boots that I bought super-cheap online (in the off-season) a few years ago but never found a purpose for in San Francisco. I purchased a set of wool footbed liners and as long as I wear extra socks, these babies are perfect. They are not fashionable but they are easy to get on and off and they insulate me well from the cold train platforms and various levels of rain, snow, and cold. They would not be good boots for any kind of deep snow and for that I brought with me other (even less fashionable) boots.
In her Expat blog, Kate wrote in her hilarious style:
Swedish people have pretty strong feelings about walking around indoors with your shoes on. In short: don’t do it.
If you really want to question this fundamental rule of behavior, be prepared for the looks you’ll get: bewilderment, horror, and—most of all—disgust. When I confirmed that yes, in the United States, we do wear shoes indoors, one of my friends gave me a look that inexplicably called to mind the image of healthy green plants withering and disintegrating away into brown crumbles of nothingness in hyperspeed. It was frightening.
When I get to work, I do take off my shoes but I then put on another pair. This is the work equivalent of “removing your shoes at the door.” I peel off the extra socks, and change into a pair of black flats that I leave at work. Despite the policy of taking off your shoes in Swedish homes, in the workplace, people do seem to wear shoes. But most people, at my job anyway, switch to another pair.
Sweden.se published an article about business culture five years ago in which the author said:
Work attire is often conservative, but casual. Employees may wear sandals or tennis shoes at the office, switching back to sturdier outdoor shoes when they head home.
Althea Boman, a teacher and businesswoman in Örebro who moved from the USA 15 years ago, remembers being quite surprised to see sandals at the workplace. She says: “In the States, people are not interested in seeing your toes, no matter how nicely pedicured they are. That certainly took a little getting used to.
I don’t know which state the author moved from 15 years ago, but in California, no one would think twice if a woman wore an open sandal to work.
At my Swedish job, which has a very relaxed culture, many men switch to sandals with socks when they get to work. Laid-back footwear for men at work in the US would be much more likely to be sneakers. Even in California—land of the people who wear Birkenstocks—few men wear them to work. With or without socks.
I like the way Swedish men are willing to wear crazy socks with their sandals. They just go for it. Or maybe I am over-dramatizing the level of sock courage since one co-worker told me that the only reason he was wearing socks with little moose on them was because he hadn’t done his laundry and he had no other choice.
But that does not explain all the striped socks I see…
For my own fashion statement, maybe I should change into a pair of “Swedish Hasbeens” a cool shoe brand that Sabrina talked about in the Fashion blog.
Still with me? I’m telling you, people like to discuss shoes and even look at pictures of shoes. Here are some pictures from the Photo blog: