One of the most sought-after football souvenirs is a pair of Lionel Messi’s boots. But the cultural connotations of shoes in some cultures are quite different from Messi’s home Argentina or from Spain, where he plays football. The world’s favourite footballer caused offence in Egypt this week with an offer to donate a pair of his boots for a charity auction.

In his home country and most of the rest of the world Messi’s boots would be happily received, and would raise a good amount of money for a worthy cause. However in many Arab countries including Egypt shoes are used as a sign of disrespect or even as an insult. Those who saw the broadcasts of Saddam Hussein’s 39-foot high statue in Firdos Square being toppled may remember how crowds hit the statue of the former dictator with their shoes. Since shoes touch the ground some Arab cultures consider shoes (and any footwear, including football boots) to be dirty.

So Messi’s offer to donate his boots on the “Yes, I am Famous” TV show met with criticism from some in Egypt. The presenter was also criticised for handling Messi’s boots after he presented them to her. An Egyptian MP took his shoes off on TV, and offered to donate them to Messi, and government opponents used the gaffe as a chance to criticise the government. Quite a storm arising out of an innocent gesture by the football star.

By now Messi is probably regretting his action, and wishing he had been better informed about cultural norms in Egypt before he made his trip.

Part of la Academia’s teaching of any language includes explanation of cultural differences – if you are planning a trip abroad, it’s well worth having a chat with us about what you should know before you go.

Don’t take the risk of upsetting your hosts unintentionally – learn how to avoid cultural misunderstandings before you go. Contact us on 0161 491 1444 to learn more about how we can help you!