The land of the scarlet slippers

April 3, 2012, 10 Comments

Red shoes. It’s amazing how two innocent little words in one book can unexpectedly provoke so much heated debate. Of all the 320 pages in Swiss Watching, the ones that I never expected to cause much of a reaction were the three on the Swiss predeliction for scarlet footwear. It was a passing observation, a light-hearted look at Swiss style and possibly a comment on the pressures of conformity in Switzerland. That’s it.

What has been fascinating to watch is how quickly my comments on this subject were picked up on. Press interviews were rarely complete until they had asked or written about it, I received emails and comments on red-shoe counts both in Switzerland and abroad, people started turning up to my events wearing red footwear, and one woman told me she had bought some because she didn’t feel Swiss enough without any. One man even came up to me on a tram in Bern just to tell me he didn’t have a pair (of red shoes, that is).

Most interesting of all is that the reaction is almost always exactly a 50-50 split. So many people have said that they also see red shoes everywhere in Switzerland, especially now that I have brought it to their attention. One woman commented that it was like when she was pregnant. Before that, she never really noticed pregnant women; once she had joined the club, she saw them at every turn. But just as many have said they have no idea what I’m talking about. Red shoes? Never see them! Not in Switzerland, and not abroad. Perhaps it’s merely a matter of perception: either you notice them or you don’t.

Of course none of this is scientific and I have long stopped counting shoes in Switzerland. But consider this: a few weeks ago when I spoke in St Gallen, a large number of people in the audience were sporting red shoes – clearly for my benefit, which was lovely to see. But the very fact that they had those shoes in their wardrobes at all was indicative of something. They presumably didn’t all rush out and buy a pair that day (though as the picture above shows, Swiss shoe shops have red shoes on display) but could wear ones they already own.

I’m going to wait until I am Swiss (at least another five years to go for that) before I buy my first pair of red. Until then, I will just content myself with noticing them in the streets and fields of Switzerland. And continue to contemplate which of my six theories is the closest to the truth.

Q: why do so many Swiss wear red shoes? Is it because they are: a) very patriotic? b) friends of Dorothy? c) followers of Papal fashion? d) colour blind and think they are wearing green shoes? e) still learning how to accessorise? f) engaging in discreet non-conformity?

Or none of the above. Perhaps I, and countless others, are merely imagining the whole thing. Whatever the truth, it’s fun to have started a debate about Switzerland that doesn’t revolve around money, secrecy, or neutrality. Or even chocolate – maybe that should be the next topic. Switzerland has the world’s best chocolate. Discuss.

10 Comments on "The land of the scarlet slippers"

  1. Gydle Tuesday April 3rd, 2012 at 11:40 AM · Reply

    Have you noticed how many Swiss women sport red hair, too? (and not naturally) It was more noticeable 8 years ago when we first moved here, so maybe the trend is waning – or maybe there are just more foreigners…

  2. TJ Martin Tuesday April 3rd, 2012 at 10:59 PM · Reply

    Why red ? I guess the same question could be asked about why so many here in the Us insist on wearing Brown and Black shoes , boring as they are ( guilty as charged )

    A question I’d like an answer to is do you see the Red Shoe Syndrome thru out Switzerland , or in specific areas/cantons . I ask because when visiting distant relations in the Lugano area recently : I can’t say I noticed the Red Shoe Syndrome at all , but maybe because I wasn’t paying attention

    As to the ” Does Switzerland have the best chocolate ” question ;

    Depending on the maker of course , but I’d say Switzerland and Belgium are in a dead tie for #1

    IMHO . Personally though I prefer Swiss when available . Especially because the CH makers export the 80% Coco and higher chocolate I prefer and the Belgium’s do not . ‘ Too Dark a Chocolate ‘ being an oxymoron in my book .

  3. Simon Wednesday April 4th, 2012 at 07:36 AM · Reply

    Quote, “Switzerland has the world’s best chocolate. Discuss.”

    …end of discussion!!!

  4. Tom Waugh Wednesday April 4th, 2012 at 03:45 PM · Reply

    Personally, I’ve found that when people say to me that the Swiss have the best chocolate in the World, they are Swiss themselves or have never experienced Galaxy milk chocolate from the UK.

  5. Rebecca Thursday April 5th, 2012 at 12:51 PM · Reply

    I have personally never noticed the red shoes thing, though I am from Ticino so maybe it’s not a thing there. But when I first read that passage I thought you were confusing it with red socks, which are very popular in Switzerland. This is now mainly in hiking get up, where red socks are a way to stand out in the middle of a wood or valley and thus be easy to find.

  6. Sean Friday April 6th, 2012 at 05:03 PM · Reply

    Since reading your excellent book, I have been on the look out for red shoes around St Gallen for the last 6 months. I’ve seen a teenage lad with a pair a red and white plimsolls and one middle-age lady with red(ish) leather boots. That’s it. So, I’m not really convinced…perhaps my fellow St Gallenese (or should that be St Galleons?) only bring then out in your honour? However, you’re right that as a seemingly throw-away comment it does attract undue attention to itself in the book – very un-Swiss.

    • Victoria Tuesday April 24th, 2012 at 02:25 PM · Reply

      I’m also from the St. Gallen region and I must say, I haven’t seen too many red shoes around here. Last year I looked high and low for just about two months because I wanted to wear some to a wedding. Never found any. This year was the first time I found some nice red ballerinas.
      I’m not sure if I see more red shoes here than anywhere else. The red Converse Chucks were quite popular a few years back and Bally has made a few nice red shoes. But I think its safe to say that we Swiss just enjoy colorful footwear, be it red, blue, orange, yellow, green or what have you. 🙂

  7. Nadja Tuesday April 10th, 2012 at 07:02 PM · Reply

    I am Swiss but have been living in the US for the past 10 years. Really never paid much attention to the color of mine or other peoples shoes. However, after reading this, I counted the red shoes in my closet and I have to admit, that I own two pairs of red shoes 😉

    I am not color blind, nor have I met Dorothy or do I follow the Papal fashion. However, I am patriotic (especially after having left Switzerland… but that is another topic). This post made me wonder why have I bought red shoes? I came to the conclusion that I bought them, because I felt that my cloths are quite plain and boring (not to stand out too much) and felt that I needed a pop of color somewhere.
    I guess in my case, Diccon is correct… it is a way in engaging in discreet non-conformity.
    Next time I visit Switzerland I will keep my eyes open for red shoes.

    By the way, I also own bright orange, yellow and teal shoes… mhhh, makes me wonder!

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