Bonn. In this column, the author looks at life in Germany, as a Brit who is living in Bonn for years. In this edition, he is slipping into something comfortable (without pink pom-poms, mind you!), while wondering why the Germans are so obsessed with slippers...
Hauschuhe may be an unlikely, defining cultural symbol for a nation but for my mate Ben they are as German as Bratwurst, beer and Angela Merkel’s endless sub-clauses.
We were recently catching up over coffee and sharing stories about peculiar things linked with day-to-day life in the Vaterland and Ben said ‘slippers, for me, it has got to be slippers’.
Perplexed, I scratched my head over dim memories of a piece of footwear that I thought had died out with the Medieval cod piece or the Victorian smoking jacket.
I once recalled having a girlfriend in the UK years ago who liked to parade around her flat in some furry numbers with cute rabbit faces on the front.
But understandably that relationship could not, and did not last long, and yes, I did recall my Grannies wore slippers but that was like a century or two ago.
Invited to his first big house-warming party in Germany, Ben however was told in no uncertain terms that he had to bring slippers as there might be a shortage.
And if he did not bring his own slippers he would face at the door the same situation King Arthur faced with the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail— "Thou shall not pass!”.
If I hold a party I am more worried about whether anyone turns up at all or if we run out of booze, cheese sticks or light-hearted conversation — slippers, furthermore a shortage of slippers, has never passed even the most remote recesses of my mind.
“Perhaps it was a fancy dress party or maybe they said kippers (smoked Scottish fish),“ I giggled and Ben guffawed schoolboy style.
To be frank, the only advantage of wearing slippers I can think of would be if the party hosts were planning a few rounds of strip poker — two additional pieces of ‘clothing’ might just save you from total embarrassment after a bad run of cards!
I decided to consult the oracle, my German girlfriend.
“It is quite simple, people want to keep the floor clean and not dirty, and slippers keep your feet warm,” she snorted, all very matter of fact, couldn’t see why it would be cause for comment.
Don’t get me wrong, I have been to houses in the UK where fussy hosts have insisted you take muddy boots off. Normally that causes most guests to roll their eyes and accuse an old University drinking chum of “going all middle class and obsessively house proud”.
I was asked once by an old acquaintance to slip off the brogues as he had either been to one too many Japanese tea parties in Tokyo or he had recently converted to perhaps Buddhism, and shoes would ruin the chime-music ambiance and overall karma.
But hey, that’s why we have socks Ben and I both agreed — and to be honest, I would rather be seen dead in a Roman toga or a cheese cloth shirt with a Slade badge and bell bottom trousers sown with badges against acid rain and DDT than don slippers, with or without pom-poms.
German obsession with slippers may be pretty harmless, if slightly eccentric and decidedly old-fashioned for an average Brit to stomach.
But could explain that when it comes to the world of fashion, the country still has a bit to go to get up there with the Versaces and the Stella MacCartneys of this world.
I mean, I am not sure Alexander McQueen or Christian Dior ever woke up saying, “OMG, I really must add wooly footwear to my spring collection or it is ’career over‘, or you can’t come to my latest London fashion week cocktail party unless you have your own slippers”.
Karl Lagerfeld, Jil Sander and Wolfgang Joop? Well, who knows what goes on at their house warming parties.
But if they do want to invite me and Ben for a celebrity bash, then just maybe, just maybe I might make an exception and invest in a pair of you-know-what…
…but not with the pink pom-poms. Everyone has their limit, reputation to maintain and somewhere you have to draw a line when it comes overly enthusiastic cultural integration!