When I arrive at home, I take off my shoes. When I visit my grandma, I take off my shoes. When I go to a friend’s house, I take off my shoes. When entering someone’s house, the first thing I do: look for a place to put my shoes.
I’m so used to it. And for many of us, it’s not even a question. We just do it automatically. We even put a little shoe rack by the door, so it’s obvious where the shoes should go. So why is it that Asians tend to take their shoes off when entering a residence? Who else does it?
For one thing, it’s cleaner. Think about all the surfaces your shoes come into contact during the day. The sidewalk, the parking lot, public bathrooms…not exactly some of the cleanest places on earth. Taking off your shoes keeps all that dirt, grime, and germs outside where it belongs and not tracked all over the house. So it only makes sense.
Secondly, it’s tradition. Asian parents teach their children that it’s polite to take off your shoes when entering someone’s house. We learn this custom when we’re young, remember it, continue to do it, and eventually teach it to our own kids.
It even coincides with the weather! Many Asian countries are very close to the Tropic of Cancer ( the latitude 23° 26′ 16″ north of the equator), which receives extreme sunlight. Warmth and humidity make it not-so-fun to have shoes on. Imagine the hottest day of the year. Would you rather have shoes or flip flops on? Exactly. Confining your feet inside shoes isn’t all that comfortable when it’s hot. This helps explain why Asians have gotten used to shoe removal before going indoors.
Lastly, it’s generally comfortable. It’s not like we wear shoes to sleep. That wouldn’t feel comfortable at all. Likewise, the less time we spend wearing shoes, the more comfortable we are. Ever hear the saying “my dogs are killing me!”? It means that your feet hurt and you want to take off your shoes and relax.
Not wearing shoes could even have benefits. Shoes can lead to deformed feet, especially for women who wear ones with pointed toes. And for runners, running barefoot may be better on your joints and heels.
It is not only Asians that do this. The custom of taking off shoes is also practiced in Turkey, Scandanavia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Do you know of any other cultures that do it?
If you love this custom, check out the facebook group “Please take off shoes before entering…” at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2373804513.