Ambassadors are usually known for their delicacy in dealing with officials and respect for local customs.
But Sweden’s newly appointed envoy to Iran has found himself at the centre of a diplomatic spat after he was accused of insulting president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by crossing his legs and exposing the soles of his shoes.
Peter Tejler was accused of being ‘undiplomatic and very impolite’ after the lapse as he presented his letter of accreditation to Mr Ahmadinejad.
The action goes against the custom of some Muslim countries, which, according to the University of West Florida, considers shoes unclean because they are ‘closer to the ground, closer to the devil and farther away from God’.
A furious Mr Ahmadinejad returned the gesture and also crossed his legs ‘in response to the impoliteness of his interlocutor’, as the Iranian news agency Asiran put it.
The Swedish embassy in Tehran confirmed the ceremony took place but made no mention of Mr Tejler’s social blunder on its website.
Exposing the soles of feet to public officials is a gesture that can land offenders in prison in the extremist Islamic state.
Protesters threw their shoes at leaders, or used the heels to smash images of them, during the wave of Arab spring revolutions over the past two years.
Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi threw his shoes at former US president George W Bush as a gesture of contempt at America’s military action in his country during a speech in Baghdad in 2008.