woman pounding on Saddam's face with her shoe

Shoe to the face

Insult with a shoe

At the beginning of the war in Iraq, my attention was piqued by a news report read on Fox News that included the phrase "pound on your face with a shoe," and subsequently I had noticed that many of the broadcast images showed Iraqis literally using their shoe to beat on Saddam's face in fallen pictures and statues. I remarked in yesterday's article that I had tried to find out about this expression and practice but had been unsuccessful.

click picture to enlarge

Shortly after posting yesterday's entry, I sent a brief email to the Fox News anchor who had read the story that first drew my attention, both by the unusual linguistic expression and by the goofy look on the anchor's face. I'm not saying there's any cause and effect at play here, but not long after I sent the email I noticed that almost every story on Fox News that showed such an image began to include a comment about the use of the shoe and explaining that this was a deep insult in the Arab world. Could be coincidence — or maybe not.

feet on table

It turns out, of course, that I had used the "wrong" search terms while looking for an explanation. I had gone looking for language idioms involving shoes, all to no avail. This morning, I used arab culture insult shoe as my search terms on Google and found scads of articles explaining this cultural insult. Most were from pages of tips to travelers, usually business or military related.

A sampling:

  • Sitting in a manner that allows the sole of one's shoe to face another person is an insult! (more)
  • Do not cross your legs with the sole of your shoe facing another person. Also, never sit with your feet up on a desk or furniture. Showing the soles of your shoes to an Egyptian means you are placing him under your feet, equating him with dirt. (more)
  • Osowski told them of some Arab customs and courtesies, such as never pointing the heel of your shoe in someone's direction because it's considered an insult. (more)
  • A large U.S. corporation's attorney arrived at a meeting to conclude a deal with a Saudi Arabian Minister. The lawyer rushed in, sat down, crossed his legs and watched, to his compete bewilderment, as the Minister gathered his papers and stormed out. What went wrong? The American had inadvertently turned up his shoe's sole, a grave insult to Arabs. As a result, the corporation lost a four million dollar account. (more)
platform shoe

One can only imagine the repercussions of pointing that (left) toward someone's face.