Why is Switzerland the ‘The land of the scarlet slippers’? We discuss an unexpectedly heated debate.
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 predilection 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.