…when doing a visit to an Albanian home!
There is an unspoken “no shoes indoors” rule in Albania that is important for visiting guests to know about. Though uncertain as to where this custom originally comes from, it exists for very practical reasons and is an important part of adapting to the culture.
Albanians keep their homes spic and span– many don’t have the commodities and conveniences of a power vacuum (or a maid)– and so they mop the tiled floor and sweep the carpets with a thick broom 2-3 times a day. Since the biggest method of transportation traditionally has been by foot, outside shoes naturally become dusty or muddy and are not very friendly to the freshly cleaned floors.
When you go for a visit to someone’s home, even though the hostess will vehemently insist that you leave your shoes on, if you want to show true respect and an ‘insider understanding’ of the culture, then you will remove your shoes at the door and they will provide house slippers or “shapka” for your feet. Though it may be hard to go against the hostess’ wishes who’s exclaiming, “No, leave your shoes on, you’re a guest!”, you can be confident that you are doing the right thing and that the hostess is inwardly jumping for joy over the fact that you took your shoes off and won’t be tracking all of Tirana inside her home.
Though this tradition was a little awkward at first when I came to Albania (especially if any of my toes were poking through holes in my socks), I’ve really grown to appreciate it– now it is so natural to pop off my shoes at the door as soon as I enter a home.
What actually seems strange to me is when I’m back in the States and am “allowed” and even expected to walk on carpets in my shoes– it feels so unnatural and like something is amiss. I especially cringe when I see someone casually lounging on a couch or bed with their outdoor shoes on. I find myself thinking, “The gumption that person has!” and I want to shout out “What are you doing with your shoes still on? You’re supposed to leave them at the door! Not only are you tracking filth into the house, but you’re also ruining the poor couch!” But instead I take a deep breath, recalling the crux of my cross-cultural training which emphasized, “Different is not bad, just different”, and remind myself that this is ‘normal’ here in the United States and for the majority of my life I’ve done the very same thing.