On Cleaning Your Front Steps

A Peruvian in the Mediterranean has observed the same practice that I have:

Every day I notice Maltese women (usually on the older end) busily scrubbing away at their front doors. Then they will mop and sweep the pavement outside the door. They do this with the intensity of an antique collector polishing away at silver…

Now, I am always a bit puzzled by this practice. I am a very clean person, and I do make an effort to keep the *inside* of my home clean. I can be a bit messy, but never dirty. I find it only natural to keep one’s home clean. But it had never occurred to me to aggressively wipe down the *outside* of my home. In fact, outside of Malta I do not think I have ever seen anyone washing his or her front door.

I think I’ve seen this elsewhere, but I can’t quite remember where. Cuba? Costa Rica?

The woman who lives two doors down from us actually sweeps the entirety of our little lane (it’s only about seven feet wide and sixty feet long, but still). I admire this civic behaviour, and always feel slightly guilty about walking on the sidewalks in front of people’s houses.

I also been wondering about who owns the sidewalks, because they tend to be individually matched and attached to the houses. I’m guessing their property ends where the road begins.


  1. Older women in Belfast used to sweep the street in front of their house (in the housing estates)

    Though it was usually just a way to either spy on neighbours, or gossip with one another.
    Does that count as ‘civic duty’?

    However, it’s not so common these days…

  2. The Greek families in our neighborhood are pretty keen on washing and scrubbing the outside areas around their homes. Our Greek neighbor says it’s therapeutic!

  3. Sweeping your walk is also pretty common in Japan. I remember hearing one story from a foreigner living there who noticed that her walk was always clean, and then discovered a neighbour had been sweeping it for her. The neighbour then hinted to her that it was a custom she ought to adopt so as not to bring shame to the neighbourhood.

  4. I wash my front door about once a year, but I can’t imagine how it could get dirty enough overnight to require another thorough cleaning the next day!

  5. It’s a common practice where I grew up in Portugal as well, mostly because we spent so much time sitting on the stairs.

    And I must admit that Pierce has something there because the times I remember being out there when Grandma was cleaning the stairs, she was always chatting up one of the neighbours.

  6. I’ve heard this happens in drier countries, once you get to a certain age you realise that getting rid of the dust on the outside, saves a lot of cleaning inside later once it’s been trodden in.

  7. Common practice in France and Germany, too. When I lived in France, washing the steps was part of any cleaning
    wo(man)’s duty, along with cleaning the rest of your apartment/house….

  8. The Maltese joke about us Gozitans that we can get around the law when it comes to pavements. You might have noticed that often pavements come in different heights in Gozo (apart from being matched as you say to the house). It is true that this is the result of a bit of laissez-faire gone too far.

    As for the sweeping… I think it’s a dying practice and not so popular with the younger generation.

  9. This practice was familiar common in Indonesia. It also has to do with the amount of dust, and how ants accumulate if things are kept clean.

  10. It is/was common practice in Germany. It was also the occupant’s responsibility for the space in front of the home. They could be fined for an untidy walk way.

  11. I’ve seen that sort of thing, not exactly the same but similar, in many other places from the rural UK to the bohemian neighborhoods of East Atlanta.

    I think it has something to do with civic pride and a sense of community. When one identifies with one’s surroundings and sees them self as an integral part of their locality and vice versa.

  12. During my trip to Puerto Valerta last year, I noticed this in the old part of the city. Considering how old and dirty the streets were, the locals seemed to take great pride in their front steps.

  13. Darren, Do you eat out much in Malta?

    If so, can you comment/post on the quality of food and service experienced as weighed up against cost.

  14. Bobby: Maybe once a week. Across the board, if you avoid the obvious tourist restaurants on the main drags, the quality of the food is superior (I’m no judge, but my fellow diners have indicated as much). Most or all of the ingredients are fresh and local, so that helps a lot.

    As for cost, on the low end it’s comprable to Canada. I’ve only been to one higher-end restaurant thus far, and I’d say it’s priced at, maybe, 20% more than you’d pay in Canada. However, that’s pretty much your standard European mark-up–things are just more expensive across western Europe, in my experience.

    The service at the aforementioned nice restaurant was superb. The service at your local bar/pub is friendly and decent as well.

  15. Oh, something else I forgot to mention about Mongolia. The rooms in my apartment building and the corridors in the apartment building were owned by different people. I thought this was utterly bizarre. It also meant that the hallways and stairs leading to my apartment were not cleaned and the lamps in the hallways were not lit, so I had to get to my apartment with a flashlight.

    I’ve told this to several people and they have had a hard time believing it.

  16. Very common practice in Argentina. Just yesterday I was joking to the lady who cleans my house and telling her not to do it since it was so windy, it seemed pointless. I showed her all the dirt and leaves waiting to be blown over my sidewalk from my neighbor’s. She lughed and proceeded to sweep and hose down the whole sidewalk anyway.

    People who live on dirt streets also hose down the street in from of their hose thinking that it reduces the amount of dirt that blows into their houses. Considering that they wet down only a small section of the whole street I allways thought it didn’t make sense…. yet you see it all the time.

    BTW most imigration here in Argentina comes form Spain and Italy so my bet is that it is common practice in those countries too.

  17. In Puerto Rico, this is common among older folks and in more rural areas. I also noticed it when I lived in Brooklyn. My Polish neighbors would often clean the section of sidewalk just in front of their house… sometimes putting the pile of dirt in front of our house.

    I hate to just guess, but I think it has alot to do with a sense of property. Your house isn’t just what’s inside. And if you don’t have a yard to manicure, like so many denizens of the American suburbs do, your stoop, your walkway, even your slice of the sidewalk is all you have. In contemporary urban America, we have less of a feeling that these things are our resposibility. We think it’s public property (which a sidewalk is, I believe) and it’s someone else’s probleml, or else we just concentrate on the inside, because it’s where we spend our time. We’re less concerned about the outside areas, perhaps because we’re less proud of our surroundings, or we feel they’re less “ours”.

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