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.


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).


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

Andreas G.

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.


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


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!

Eric the Reddest

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.

Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team

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


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?

Bobby G

@ Eric (#6),

Hahaha. Touché.

David S.

Sandals should probably just be avoided all together.


Ever see those "Most Interesting Man in the World" commercials?

If you were to ask, "Is it OK for a man to wear sandals," he'd just shake his head no.

Socks or no socks, sandals are for ancient peoples...and women. Don't do it Professor!!!!


I notice more Americans using the word "brilliant" in the odd British way.


Eric (#6), great point, well made!

Daniel, I take offense at your "increased European good sense" statement. The one thing most Europeans will agree on regarding fashion is that Germans are second only to Americans in terms of awful fashion faux pas... socks with sandals, white socks with dark work shoes, trainers with khaki trousers and blazer, hawaiian shirts ... TURTLENECKS!!!

The US has many things to boast about and even export, but please know your limits :-)


I'd have to know someone extremely well to be willing to kiss a third cheek.

Alek Davis

I hope that some day, the metric system becomes a social norm in the U.S.

Robert Cosgrave

Sandals with socks considered very naff in Ireland. Only for hippies and Germans. Kissing as a greeting is unheard of, outside of certain circles.

I think the error of this article is in assuming 'Europe' and 'America' and equivalent, culturally homogeneous zones. All we have in common in Europe is a currency and the Eurovision Song Contest.


naff - adj. Brit. colloq. Unfashionable, vulgar; lacking in style, inept; worthless, faulty. (OED)


I don't see why socks with sandals are so unfashionable. Bare feet with sandals result in much more odor, not to mention pale feet and ugly toes.

Heavy D

Sandals = Bad.

Men's bare feet in sandals are disgusting. Yes, I'm talking about your feet in particular.


I wish we could do away with men wearing sandals entirely, except in your own yard or the beach. They are dang ugly and most people's feet are gross to look at. It's a fashion faux paus to wear them at all in polite company, with or without socks.