Athletic Shoes in Europe, y/n?


Since I already wrote pretty extensively on the pre-trip readings last year ( I may still touch on them again as I read back through), this year’s pre-trip blogging can be dedicated to the important topics. Like shoes. 

This time last year, I was gearing up to travel to Europe for the first time, and I was soaking up every tip and bit of advice I could. Hands down, the single biggest piece of advice I was given by everyone and their grandma who had ever been to Europe was this: people in Europe do not wear athletic shoes unless they are at the gym. It’s tacky and oh-so-American to wear sneakers around town, and it’s even considered rude to wear them into businesses. Wear sandals, wear comfy flats, but for the love of God don’t wear sneakers!!!!

I started to get legitimately worried about making a footwear faux pas. These tales were so assertive and serious about the shame that would come along with wearing shoes that might make you look touristy or American. 

But when I arrived in London, I saw something startling: I saw some of the most beautiful, stylish, classy people in London’s financial district wearing…athletic shoes. I saw everyone from trendy teens to older business people wearing them. I even glimpsed, during 5 o’clock rush hour on the tube, a beautiful woman who was the epitome of professional fashion, with sleek sweeping hair and a pencil skirt, with high heels poking out of her purse and, on the ends of her nylon-clad legs, a pair of colorful tennis shoes.

The thing is, people in London are moving way too fast to worry about what shoes American tourists are wearing. It’s more about keeping up with the pace. Don’t stop and dawdle in the tube station, get in anyone’s way, or stand on the side of the escalator where people are sprinting up and down. But no one is worried about your sneakers!

Now, in Rome it is slightly different: I saw a good amount of people wearing athletic shoes, but the footwear of choice for women is still stilettos. And I cannot for the life of me imagine the kind of skill and dedication it would take to navigate the cobblestone in them. But that doesn’t mean Italian people are going to shun you for wearin Nike’s or Addidas. Rome is such a multicultural place, like London, and I think we need to let go a little bit of the idea that we should not appear American (that’s not going to happen!). Again, just be respectul in your behavior, make an effort to speak the language, be appropriate and kind. Business owners are happy to have our business; they are not looking at our shoes!

In general, people dress up more in Europe. That much is true. It is good to have a pair of dressier shoes for a nice dinner or for going to a play, etc. Even in the US, Portlanders tend to be more casual than a lot of our other city dwellers  — not dressing up as much for meetings, parties,etc. it’s good to be mindful of that and bring some options. But bottom line – do what makes you comfortable like I wish I did last year! And for this year –behold my new (used) Nike’s 🙂

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