There’s something curiously endearing about the stark practicality of the Icelandic language. The word for enemy, óvinur, literally means “non-friend”. A bra is a brjóstahaldari, or “breast-holder”. And one of the best of these morphemes is its own Icelandic phenomenon: the inniskór, or literally, “inside shoes”.
I know what you’re thinking – doesn’t that make inniskór plain old slippers? Slippers, from moccasins to big snugly bear claws, certainly do fall into the inniskór family. But these indoor shoes also encompass flip flops, mules, and, thanks to what must have been a stroke of marketing genius on their part, Birkenstocks (it’s too cold to ever wear them outside).
Most Icelanders have at least two pairs of inside shoes: one for home and one for work. And here’s where I find them an interesting peculiarity. Of course the concept of wearing special slippers at home exists around the world (in fact a google search I did on “indoor shoe culture” revealed almost one million hits). Of course people in snowy countries wear boots to work and change into something less slushy once inside.
In Iceland, however, this is a year-round occurrence, and one in which the locals’ normally acute sense of fashion takes a backseat. The director of the bank wears some Nike flip flops with a Hugo Boss suit. The doctor at the local clinic wears some three-strapped Birkenstocks with her pencil skirt. Right now, my tootsies are toasty warm in a pair of leather Merrell mules whose cream colour clashes spectacularly with my dark wintry clothing.
Even children in schools are subject to the inniskór – sort of. While teachers are welcome to accessorise their outfits with a pair of Chinese silk slippers, the students are usually left sliding around in sock feet.
So maybe this quirky practice isn’t really quirky at all. When I think about it, with the preponderance of both wet weather and immaculate parquet flooring in homes, it’s utterly logical. It’s the flagrant violation of the laws of fashion which I find so unusual in this normally frighteningly trendy nation.
In fact, there may be only one person who can explain it all to me: a sálfraedingur (psychologist), or literally translated – soul specialist.