Please remove your shoes

Are you a slipper person?  Do you remove your shoes when entering someone else’s home?  It seems to be quite a sensitive topic and one you need to pay attention to when moving to a new country.

We wore slippers at home when I was a child in England, but it was definitely a comfort thing, like changing out of your school uniform or work clothes into something loose and comfortable.  Wearing slippers or taking off your shoes in someone else’s home would have been very presumptuous, like helping yourself from the fridge and almost bordering on an insult.

When I first arrived in Canada it was mid-winter, so I wasn’t surprised when I saw plastic boot trays inside the door of every Canadian home.  In fact I thought “What a great idea!” given the slushy and salty streets of Toronto.  But as summer rolled around and the boot trays disappeared the habit of removing shoes did not and I quickly realized it was a huge faux-pas to keep your shoes on in a Canadian home.  Walking around in stocking feet or barefoot was the accepted norm for visitors.

When we moved to Azerbaijan I found they also had the shoes by the door habit.  But they took it to the next level and provided a selection of slippers for guests to wear.  My cleaning lady looked at me in horror when she realized I didn’t have any for her to change into.  Although we couldn’t communicate verbally I definitely got the message and quickly rushed off to the local bazaar to buy a supply of cheap cloth slippers in a variety of sizes.  The students who came to me each week to practise their English had their favourite pairs and would even argue if someone took “theirs.”

In the UAE which was much more multicultural, many people didn’t even keep their shoes inside – they’d be relegated to the porch or hallway if it were an apartment building.  And the steps of the mosques would be a jumble of hastily doffed footwear 5 times a day.  How frequently did someone end up with the wrong pair, I wondered?  Was it always a genuine mistake?

This weekend I saw an online discussion on the topic.  It was interesting to see different nationalities line up on each side of the debate.  Strangely both the shoes-off and shoes-on supporters argued that their custom was more clean and hygienic.  Are bare, sweaty (and sometimes dirty, bleurgh) feet preferable to shoes worn in the street?  Is it insulting to ask someone from a shoes-on society to remove their shoes in a shoes-off home?  As someone who quickly adapted to the shoes-off rule, I was surprised at the strong resistance many had to it.  Should you adopt local customs, or is it OK to keep your own when it comes to your personal living space?  Is there a happy medium?  I’m not sure I have an answer.

9 thoughts on “Please remove your shoes

    • Great post, Rohaizan, and I love the link to the online discussion. Interesting that the majority seem to favour shoes-off, whereas in the discussion I was following it was much more evenly balanced. I suspect many of the participants were from the UK where shoes-on is far more common.

      • Thanks Judy, and of course had it not been me trying to comment on your post, my post wouldn’t have happened! LOL I was surprised myself that there was a lot of discussion about the subject..

  1. Here in Moldova it is a strict shoes-off society. I don’t mind and do think it does keep the floors cleaner especially in the winter. I have a collection of slippers from the various hotels I’ve stayed in, and some fuzzy “Christmas” socks I found for a buck a piece when I was in the US last November.

    I just go with what everyone does and it’s no big deal.

  2. I’ve always been shoes-off so there wasn’t much of an adjustment when we moved to Singapore. What was hard to get used to was leaving my shoes outside, where anyone walking by could easily take them. I guess my taste in footwear wasn’t shared by many, though — my shoes were always waiting for me when I stepped outside again.

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