To be in someone’s shoes

Language & Culture

To be in someone's shoes

This text talks about the English idiom 'to be in someone's shoes' vs the BCS idiom 'biti u nečijoj koži'.

The expression ‘to be in someone’s shoes’ has quite the same meaning as what those from BiH, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia think when they say ‘to be in someone’s skin’ (‘biti u nečijoj koži’).

The idiom ‘biti u nečijoj koži’ usually means that someone’s reality is not good so we don’t want to know what it’s like to live their reality. We can often say: ‘Oh my God, I really don’t want to be in his skin’ (‘Oh ne, doista/zaista ne želim biti u njegovoj koži’). For example, when someone doesn’t have enough money and must leave their flat, we can say ‘Nadam se da nikad ne budem u njegovoj koži’ which is the same as ‘I hope never to be in his shoes’.

This might be a radical example of how we can use this expression in negative daily-life situations even though the expression sometimes doesn’t need to be radically negative per se. For example, if we speak with someone and we want to empathize, we can say ‘Iako nisam u tvojoj koži, mogu te razumjeti/razumeti’ which is the same as ‘Although I am not in your shoes, I can understand you’.

The expression is one of those examples that has the same metaphorical meanings in both English and Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian. At this point, the only difference we could notice is the term ‘shoes’ vs the term ‘skin’ and it raises a few thoughts that are more of a semantic nature.

We can imagine the situation in which we find ourselves in someone’s shoes, right? We can get someone’s shoes and put them on. You think, however, that it’s rather impossible to find us in someone’s skin, and that’s why this semantic point creates a more radical ‘feeling’ in Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian than in English. We forget that shoes are often made of leather, and we should keep in mind that the noun ‘koža’ in Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian means both ‘skin’ and ‘leather’. So, once we put on our shoes, we are likely in ‘someone’s’ skin, and that’s what we maybe need to change, because being in someone’s skin is an unpleasant experience.

NOTICE: This text is not peer-reviewed. It aims to inspire and motivate language learners of Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian to think about possible cultural patterns when learning this/these language(s).