The Problem With Barefeet In Germany

When I was growing up in Australia, we rarely wore shoes unless we were going out. Summers were spent barefoot, spring and autumn too, until it got too cold.  No one wore shoes or slippers inside the house or whilst out in the yard or even when visiting the neighbours. Therefore, when I am home and the weather is warm, my feet are bare and if I need to make a quick dash downstairs to take out the trash, then I don’t bother putting on shoes.

This ‘quirk’ of mine deeply disturbs my German neighbours and never fails to raise a comment.  Today, my elderly neighbour and hausmeister Frau M, along with Herr G, came over to sand and re-paint my balcony.  I didn’t ask for anyone to do this, I was merely informed, in the typical German fashion, that this was going to happen and I decided it was best not to argue with two determined German pensioners.  Since it is 24C and sunny today, I didn’t have any shoes on.  I came out on the balcony with them to see if I could assist.  My barefeet were immediately noticed and I was told with great certainty that having barefeet on a titled balcony (despite it being warm) will cause me to catch a cold and that I should go inside.  When I informed them that I already had a cold.  They reluctantly agreed that I probably couldn’t catch a cold twice but I shouldn’t risk it and I was banished back inside.

The Germans also have a similar reaction to wet hair and the presence of a slight breeze.  I can’t imagine what they think might happen to me if I went outside on a windy day with barefeet and wet hair, probably that I will drop dead after 3 – 4 steps.

Has anyone else ever encountered odd German old wives tales, especially ones based on something you do in your own culture?  I’m determined to educate my neighbours that my barefeet is something that is done in my own culture and they don’t need to worry about me.  However, it’s been a year and still they are just as concerned about my health as they ever were.  I may be fighting a losing battle here.

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9 thoughts on “The Problem With Barefeet In Germany

  1. These old wives tales are also seen in Asia. I remember living in Taiwan and people would freak out if I’m outside with wet hair, or walk around barefoot on tiles (although it’s 30 degrees).

  2. I’m always barefoot, and I never dry my hair before I leave the house. I love that your neighbours aren’t happy with you going outside barefoot when it’s warm but that they’ll probably open up all their windows and blast themselves with freezing air every morning throughout the winter :)

  3. When I first moved here one of the first things my mother-in-law bought for me was a pair of Pantoffeln, informing me that we all needed to make sure we had a pair. And my husband INSISTS that your kidneys must always be covered or you’re get some awful illness. No matter how warm it is, if nothing else on your body is covered while you sleep you must have the blanket covering this very important area.

  4. My mom (German) never let my brother or me go outside with bare feet or wet hair. Other quirks – if we didn’t put sugar or milk in our tea she’d tell us that we’d go crazy; she wouldn’t allow a fan in the house; if there was still a hint of snow on the nearby mountains (we lived in the Oberammergau area), we weren’t allowed outside in shorts or short-sleeved shirts, even if the weather was warm/hot.

  5. “Erkältung” means getting ill after getting cold. Obviously somewhere deep down in the Germanic soul still lies the fear of freezing to death. Remember, just 11000 years ago nearly half of Germany was covered by glaciers…
    So, properly covering all parts of your body is a precautionary measure to protect your health.
    Well, come to think about it, maybe that is the reason why Americans totally freak out when they see topless women on the beach-they are simply worried about the health of those poor pitiful naked creatures. After all countless Americans are direct descendants of immigrants from Northern Europe. Mistery solved. What? Plain wrong? Ok, but it was worth a try ;-)

  6. I believe that this mostly applies to the older generation… I run around barefoot when I am home a lot (but my parents’ house also has floor heating, so even in the winter, they wouldn’t care ;)).

  7. That’s funny about the barefoot thing. I have had students make comments about me wearing sandals before. I don’t get the cold/hot thing that happens here. I asked a German to explain it to me why they are so against air conditioning (my husband included!) and he said something about the temperature differences being too extreme. I then asked him if he had ever been to a sauna in the winter, which he had. What is it that makes that temperature difference in the sauna ok but not for an air-conditioned building?

    That said, I’m sure the AC is generally full of dust and germs and what not when the filter isn’t cleaned regularly, but I’ve never had a problem with it.

    I’ve always wondered about the science of it. Wonder if anyone knows any scientific proof about this?

  8. My German friends talk regularly about how if they go into air conditioning their head closes up and the feel a sore throat coming on. But then, they also talk about how with the windows completely closed, a room can have “bad air.” I’m still not sure what that’s all about.

    I will say this- I’ve gotten used to being without AC. I don’t have a superstition about it, but when I’ve been in hotels that have it, I’ve found that I can’t use it for more than ten minutes without feeling like I’m freezing. It’s amazing what our bodies can get used to.

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