How Social Norms Change


Social norms differ across countries-but they do change. Today is my first day in Berlin, Germany. In the past, I’ve never observed Europeans wearing sandals without socks, the way we Americans always do. Now it appears to be quite common, as the picture at right shows. Is this due to increased European good sense? High temperatures induced by global warming? Or perhaps a combination of this and the dissemination of foreign (in this case American) practice? Hard to say, but for me it means that I can wear my sandals to work tomorrow.

Are Americans adopting foreign social norms too? I blogged on the adoption of kissing/greeting in the U.S. (still only one-cheek, one or two cheeks below European norms), but now widespread. No doubt other American social norms will change, adopting foreign practices. Not all, however: I’d bet that it will be a long time before an American newspaper has the kind of photo (warning: not safe for work) that appeared in the culture section of today’s Tagespiegel, the leading Berlin newspaper.


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  1. CusCus says:

    This is kinda ridiculous, seen from Spanish eyes. Wearing socks with sandals is perceived as being a German habit here (and in France, for that matter).

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  2. Al says:

    Interesting. I’m European and I thought that only Americans and eccentrics wore socks with sandals.

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  3. Andreas G. says:

    I live in Sweden and I’ve never been aware that people were supposed to wear sandals with socks? It’s always been considered a grave breach of the laws of fashion here.

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  4. Ch1cag0Rob says:

    Those kinds of sandals are still a pretty ugly look, though, socks or no socks. Not much better than wearing Crocs.

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  5. Simon says:

    The kissing etiquette was something I found quite confusing when I was living in Brussels, as a Brit (firm handshake), living in Belgium (1 kiss normal), surrounded by many other European nationalities (where 2 is normal).. & I think the French go as far as 3

    Let’s just hope 3 kisses doesn’t spread, imagine the time we’d all lose!

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  6. Eric the Reddest says:

    Here’s one thing which hasn’t changed : Americans making generalized observations about the diverse people living on an entire continent based on extremely limited exposure.

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  7. Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team says:

    A small minority of the population has foot fetishes. Perhaps this to to prevent them from seeing your toes.

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  8. Ray says:

    I’d have to question how you knew the man was German? He could very well have been an American wearing sandals in his accustomed manner. Did you ask him?

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