Hi, I’m Asian. Come In, Leave Your Shoes On. Or Not

When an odd job or two needs to be done around our place, my mum welcomes the likes of contractors, plumbers and furniture delivery men into our Melbourne flat.

When she opens the door, these Caucasian handymen and tradesmen always politely ask, “Do we take our shoes off?”

And to my utter surprise and disbelief, each time my mum cheerily says, “No, no, no! It’s OK! Come in! Leave your shoes on!”

I cannot fathom how I can wear shoes on my bed or in my room. I really do not want to get my belongings dirty. Photo: Mabel Kwong

I cannot fathom how I can wear shoes on my bed or in my room. I really do not want to get my belongings dirty. Photo: Mabel Kwong

This is because if I came home and stampeded around the house in my sneakers or slippers, my mum would give me an earful.

It is customary in many Asian cultures, and Middle Eastern, Indian and African cultures as well, to remove footwear before entering the house. Very seldom will you hear an Asian person telling you to leave your shoes outside before stepping into their house. I guess my mum is a bizarre exception, at least towards our visiting Caucasian acquaintances, and I will explain later.

One of the reasons why Asians are insistent on taking their shoes off before entering the house is that there is a necessity to keep the house clean, as clean as possible. A lot of things are done on the floor in Asian cultures and it is essential to keep the floor spotless for hygiene purposes. For instance, it is still common practice for many in Japan to eat at low tables and sleep on futons laid out on the floor.

Secondly, some Asians are known have an obsession with cleanliness and “newness” and try to keep objects nice and shiny for as long as possible. See your Asian mum literally going crazy vigorously wiping the stains off the new table? On an average week, our shoes traverse crowded shopping centres, muddy parks and slippery, pungent public toilets and gather armies of bacteria on their soles, so wearing shoes at home is a big no-no for Asians who are fussy over making their places spick-and-span. And stones stuck between the grooves of our footwear can potentially leave scratch marks across tiled flooring. How hideous would this sight be in Asian homes? Very.

Not wearing shoes indoors also serves as a mark of respect. In Asia, semi-detached/town houses and bungalows are often raised slightly. There are usually a couple of steps leading up to the main entrance of houses here, steps that invite people to physically and psychologically “(step) up to a different level” and someone’s private space. The act of leaving shoes at the door in a sense signifies that a person is graciously willing to honour the codes of the house they are entering.

Moreover, it is not uncommon to find altars set-up in Asian households for religious or feng shui purposes. For those Asians who have an altar at home, the house is akin to a temple, a sacred, holy space; they tend to consider soiled shoes or even just shoes in the home as dirty or impure objects that could offend the gods or ancestors watching over their family.

The health benefits of going barefoot are another reason why some Asians firmly believe in leaving shoes at the door. Reflexology has been practiced for over 5000 years by the Chinese and going barefoot allows the feet’s pressure points to be stimulated.

In addition, feet are more prone to swelling when it is hot. Feet enclosed in shoes definitely get warm, so it is no wonder a lot of people in Asia where the climate is tropical all year round find it more comfortable to go barefoot at home.

Today, many Asians are still brought up and taught to leave their shoes at the door. Why? Maybe many Asians are simply superstitious and feel the need to strongly stick to the taking-off shoes routine.

It is customary to take one's shoes off and leave them outside before entering an Asian house. Photo: Mabel Kwong

It is customary to take one’s shoes off and leave them outside before entering an Asian house. Photo: Mabel Kwong

But back to my mum and her assuring Caucasian visitors that it is perfectly okay for them to walk into our flat with their shoes on.

Perhaps my mum, who ironically is a stickler for tradition, wants to get in the good graces of Caucasian Australians. Perhaps she does not want them to think of her as someone who gets easily unnecessarily paranoid over mundane tasks such as taking our shoes off which can depict her and Asians in general as overly finicky, uptight and prim-and-proper.

But if that is the case, it is almost as if my mum is bowing down to Caucasians’ train of thoughts, favouring the typical Western mentality when Caucasians are around.

There really is no shame in taking shoes off before entering our house. Or politely requesting others to do so before entering our homes for that matter. Or even taking shoes off before entering someone else’s house.

Everyone, every culture, has their own unique customs and beliefs. Taking shoes off before going indoors is just one cultural norm that makes us Asians all the more intriguing and interesting.

This can even be a conversation starter. So take your shoes off before you enter my place, please.

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52 thoughts on “Hi, I’m Asian. Come In, Leave Your Shoes On. Or Not

  1. nah. I’m Asian too and gets paranoid easily with somebody not taking off her/his shoes before entering our house especially that I am the one tasked to do the cleaning and scrubbing too. So tiresome.

    • It is definitely tiresome to clean up the mess left by our shoes if we were to wear shoes indoors! It is especially hard to clean dirt out from in between tiles, worse if it’s dirt or mud on carpet. Sometimes, scrubbing really hard just makes the stains/mess worse!

  2. Me too. I can’t imagine go inside home with shoes on. I still can’t understand the concept of going everywhere in houses without taking shoes off. So if anyone wanna come inside my house. Yes, I will them – please take your shoes off.

    • The concept of not wearing shoes indoors has been around and discussed quite a bit, but the concept of wearing shoes indoors actually hasn’t…I wonder why people do it. Perhaps some people don’t like the hassle of taking their shoes off and putting them on when entering/leaving the house. I don’t know, but there might be more to it. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Really? That’s very interesting. I would’ve thought in Mexico people are more likely to take their shoes off. But then again, Mexico is pretty much located on a Western continent/region (so near to the US), perhaps that’s why people leave their shoes on. But good on you for taking your shoes off when you go indoors…don’t want to make any cozy home dirty :)

  3. In Japan, they have a designated shoe area with slippers to change into. That sends a strong message for any visitor. Houses usually aren’t designed the same way in Australia but I have been to houses where lots of Asians are staying and the number of shoes at the door provides a hint about what is expected.

    • Spot on. Some people aren’t comfortable going barefoot, and so some places have slippers on hand for visiting guests. Or it could be a hygiene thing with feet. An overfilling shoe rack or a mass of shoes outside a house are usually codes that say “Shoes off at the door, thanks”. Very hard to ignore such a sight. Come to think of it, I’ve been to some houses where Caucasians are staying with shoe racks outside and they still wear shoes inside :)

      • If you have slippers for visitor isn’t it is unhygienic for the visitors? i mean what if one visitor has athletes foot or any kind of fungi that can be found in foot then he/she will wear visitors’ slippers which he/she may passed this fungi to the next visitor who will wear the same slippers. Unless the owner of the houses will do the same thing in the hotel where there is a complimentary slippers for the guest :-)

        • Yes, that has actually crossed my mind! I haven’t seen homes offering disposable slippers (reason being money perhaps) which would be ideal given that, as you mentioned, non-disposable slippers can become unhygienic and ridden with bacteria/germs over time. Who knows, these guest slippers might not be washed after each use. I’d much prefer to go barefoot than wear footwear offered to me…you never know, the disposable slippers might even be used before! But I am sure the person offering the slippers has the best of intentions :)

  4. Hey I am English and I don’t wear shoes in the house, guests take their shoes off and when visiting our shoes come off. There isn’t any shame at all in asking your guests to take their shoes off but many of the silly English often feel very reluctant to ask their guests to remove shoes for fear of causing offence. We even have an area where we change to slippers and we take slippers with us when visiting as not everyone likes guests to go barefoot or in socks. I will never understand why anyone would actually choose to wear shoes in their own house and offer to remove them when visiting. It’s the most simple habit to get used to and one of the most contentious things we ask of ourselves and our guests. Gosh, aren’t we a strange collection of people?

    • Hi there! Yes, there is no shame at all in asking guests to remove their shoes before entering. It’s just a simple request and like you, I find it very hard to see this request as offensive. Perhaps some don’t want to remove their shoes because they are ashamed of their big feet, or their socks smell, or they have holes in their socks. I don’t know, I think there’s more to it and we can only speculate.

      Very courteous of you to take slippers with you when you go out visiting! And yes, I have to agree, we are a strange lot. Some of us can’t see why others choose to wear shoes indoors, while some of us just do. Very confusing.

      • Thank you for your kind comments. We live in a semi rural part of England,,it’s a relatively affluent area with some truly lovely homes. Consequently it’s the norm here to take off shoes when visiting and many here take their slippers with them when visiting or people have guest slippers for their visitors.

  5. I am a single female and I live alone I always take my shoes off when I enter my home and ask guests to do the same.
    When I visit I always follow the lead of the hostess regarding shoes.
    Sometimes there are sticky situations. Last week I was visiting one of our offices in another city and one of the woman asked me to her home for dinner.
    Whe I arrived I noticed that she was no longer wearing the high heels she had on earlier in the day, but rather what appeared to be soft soles ballerina slippers.
    There was no evidence of shoes by the door and I could see that her living room had white carpeting.
    The question of shoes on shoes off was in the air. Rather than be impolite and head in with shoes on only to be asked to take them off, which would have been embarrassing to both of us I broached the subject myself. I said I see that you have lovely white carpeting, should I leave my shoes here. I don’t mind going in stocking feet. She responded that would be very nice as high heels can leave marks. She then asked if I wanted slippers. I told her no thanks I was happy in stocking feet. She seemed a bit put out by my response but did not say anything else. Did I possibly insult her by refusing the slippers?

    • Hi Robin, thanks so much for sharing. Very polite and thoughtful of you to offer to leave your shoes outside before stepping on the lovely white carpet, and high heels can leave dents in flooring and squashing the carpet too aside from leaving marks. She might have felt insulted by your refusal of slippers – maybe she’s simply accustomed to wearing slippers at home and reckons it’s the norm.

      It’s not your fault that you refused the slippers, you had every right to! She might have thought that you might be uncomfortable walking around stocking feet in her house, that’s why she offered the slippers :)

      • Thanks for your input . I agree with you, I felt that offering to take my shoes off was a good indication that I did not mind going in stocking feet. If she had to ask me to take off my shoes it might have been and indication that I would be uncomfortable going about in stocking feet.

  6. I don’t think its rude not to accept the offer of slippers. Many people change from shoes to slippers at the door when they get home. I had very light expensive carpets in my previous home and the carpet fitter advised me not to go bare foot on it so we wore slippers and guests were “encouraged” to do the same.
    Do you wear slippers in your own home Robin? Personally i am not too keen on wearing guest slippers.My partner and I have “travel slippers” we take with us. We have couple of friends who don’t ask guests to take their shoes off but even with them we still change into our slippers when visiting going for the day. Its just more comfortable to do that.
    I would say that if someone has white carpets then wearing slippers goes with the territory.

    • Thanks for your response Mark. I generally do not wear slippers at home. Most women like to take their heels off when they get home as heels hurt! I thought that her having slippers on was her being a bit more formal than being in her stocking feet. If she did not have white carpeting I don’t know if I would have offered to take off my shoes (had she asked I certainly would have done so) I was not barefoot as I had on pantyhose. So you think that I should have accepted the slippers because of the white carpeting?

  7. Its difficult to say if you should have accepted the slippers or how you feel about wearing guest slippers. Its not something i am keen on doing. Personally, I would have taken a pair with me to wear. So maybe when you go again you could take some with you.I suspect that your friend may have wanted you to wear them but it is unlikely that she was offended. These days many people seem to take a pair to wear when they visit.

    • Until this situation I have never been offered slippers to wear when I have either taken my shoes off or been asked to at someones home. Personally I don’t think that I would be too keen to wear guest slippers. The woman is more of a business associate than a friend. As I mentioned that while we work for the same company she works in a different city than I do. I suppose that when I visit that office again and she invites me to her home I could put a pair of footie socks in my purse to slip on over my pantyhose. She will be visitng our offices in the next few months and I will have her to my home for dinner to reciprocate.

    • Thanks Mark. I really like that you take a pair of slippers with you when you go visiting. I reckon it’s great – guest slippers offered to you might not fit you well and you might find that they are rather slippery to walk on tiles. You don’t know if they’ve been worn by someone else and have been washed after. And with your own slippers, you’ll know you’ll definitely be comfortable wearing them.

      So I think it’s a great suggestion for Robin to bring along a pair of socks/slippers when out visiting! I personally have never thought about bringing my own “house footwear” with me when I go to other’s places, but now I think I will.

  8. Thanks Mabel. Here in the UK many people take slippers with them when visiting. Most homes here still have carpets. I suspect that may be the reason that so many homes are shoe free. Carpets are incredibly expensive here as well. But not everyone asks their guests to take off their shoes.its an easy and civilised habit to get used to.

  9. One of the first things I noticed when I moved to Taiwan were all of the shoes outside of people’s doors. I remember when the man came to change the gas for my water heater—he always took off his slippers even though his feet were wet and tracked in mud, anyway. I like it, though. I’m going to insist that my family take off their shoes inside someday. I *do* think it’s easier to forget in places where there is more carpet, though. I always had tile flooring in Asia. Here at home, there is carpet everywhere and the dirt is harder to see. Great post!!!!!

    • I remember when I was living in Malaysia and Singapore, the man who came to deliver the gas (in a big tank) always took off his shoes too – and his bare feet left marks all over our tiled floor! Now that you mention that it’s easy to forget to take shoes off in carpeted places, we don’t really see specks of dirt or dust or hair on dark or brown carpets unless we look really closely – they all just blend in really well with the carpet. Although our flat here in Melbourne is mostly carpeted, we still insist on taking our shoes off. Very interesting that you are a fan of taking off shoes. I haven’t met many Caucasians who like taking their shoes off. Thanks for stopping by!

      • Hi Mabel, it is becoming much more common place here in the US to take off your shoes when entering a home. As I mentioned earlier I ask that my guests do when they visit. I would say about 70% of my friends prefer that shoes not be worn in their home.
        The woman who had me to dinner last week will be visitng our office next week. I will have her to dinner and it will be interesting to see if she brings slippers or goes in her stocking feet.

        • That’s very interesting, many of you in the US taking your shoes off before entering a home. Perhaps it’s a sign of changing times and we all might one day prefer to go shoeless at home. I hope your female colleague has a good time at your place this coming week. I reckon she’ll bring her own slippers :)

      • The woman whose home I visited last week was in my city this week and I invited her to my home for dinner.
        I answered the door dressed as I had been at the office save for my shoes. I was in stocking feet.
        She came in, we exchanged the usual pleasantries, she handed me a bottle of wine and said. Is it ok if I leave my shoes here?
        I thanked her we walked into the living room and while I was getting us a glass of wine, she must have taken a pair of fold up slippers from her purse because when I returned she had them on. So Mable you were correct, she considers wearing slippers the norm and she did bring her own!
        I guess if I ever visit her again I will have to bring slippers to put on after shedding my shoes

        • Thanks for the update Robin! Very interesting to see that she did not request or make a mention of wearing her own pair of fold-up slippers when you answered the door, and just silently slipped them on when you weren’t looking. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but I guess for me it would be polite to say that you’ve brought your own slippers. Yes, you’re right in that she considers wearing slippers indoors the norm and you should bring your own fold-ups to her place! Best of luck in finding a comfy pair!

    • I notice in movie or tv series in US that they don’t take off their shoes. I said to myself maybe Americans prefer a clean feet although isn’t that they make their floor dirty. It make me think that it doesn’t matter their floor is dirty because they always wear shoes. hmmmm.. just sharing my thoughts. :-)

      • Very observant you are, Mark. Yes, a lot of American/Western TV series and films depict characters lounging at home with their shoes on. You really never see them stop outside their front doors, stoop down and struggle to take their shoes off while trying to keep their balance… :)

      • I suspect the reason that you don’t see shoe removal on TV has to do with money. TV shows have many commericals in a 30 or 60 minute show. Having characters stop to remove their shoes would cut into the time available for commerical. Commercials=$$$’s

        • Hi robin! yes its true that the producer think to cut in the scene of actor removing shoes. That thing also cross my mind but the thing is at least they can shoot the scene where the character/actor shows walking inside the house barefoot.. One example my favorite classic TV show “Friends”. They always wear their shoes inside their apartment and even in their bedroom one of the irony in the TV series that Monica is very particular in the cleanliness yet she allow her friends come into her apartment with a shoes on. Anyway it is just an observation although sometime it makes you think..

        • Yes, a very probable reason why we don’t see shoes removal on TV, especially on Western TV series. If I remember correctly, I have seen some characters in Asian soap dramas wear shoes indoors too. Also, I suppose the actors would prefer to wear shoes if they were shooting all day indoors in a home setting.

      • Haha, Mark. Don’t believe everything you see on TV. A guy I dated in Hong Kong seemed to take everything he saw on TV pretty literally, too. The thing about Americans is that they’re REALLY diverse. Here we have people from all over the world, so, really, there’s no uniform way of doing anything… I *will* say, however, that some Americans do wear shoes inside and that slippers in the house are much less common than they are in Asia. Other than that, though, there’s no real “standard.”

    • I am assuming that she considers taking her shoes off when entering a home the polite thing to do. When she entered there was no mention of shoes off. She matter of factly just stated that she was going to take hers off and did so.
      Had I remained in the room she probably would have mentioned something about her slippers. Obviously shoes off and slippers on is her preference. I was happy with what she did as I don’t like shoes worn in my home. It is always less stressful when a guest recognizes this and removes their shoes without having to be asked.
      If the opportunity arises I will ask her today where she bought her slippers.

  10. Hi Mabel.. I have question… how about dogs? i dont know if you have dogs.. I mean the owner usually take their dog outside the house to have a walk with their dog (at least a half mile/mile walk). This dog have no shoes (most of it). Then after a walk the owner and the dog will go home. How do you feel about this regarding the custom of wearing slippers for a dog? i know it is a weird question.. just sharing my thoughts. by the way im hoping you understand my english as im trying to learn this languange (im not yet fluent in english).

    • Hi Mark. Pets running about in homes! Very rarely do you actually see shoes on a dog, cat or any other pet for that matter. I’m sure there is such a thing as “pet shoes” for animals, but they aren’t really that accessible (I don’t know much about pets, sorry). No, I don’t have a dog or any pets at home, primarily because I want to keep my house as clean as possible (to keep allergies at bay) and a pet will most likely bring in what the undersides of shoes will. I have nothing against animals though, they are cute and are fun to play with!

      Thanks for stopping by and reading Mark. Your English is perfectly understandable and all the best with learning it!

  11. What are your thoughts on the fact that the Caucasian workers knew to take their shoes off? Because it is not a custom in Australia, so how would they know to do that?

    • That’s an interesting observation, Lizzie. I would like to think that they are being polite and showing respect to the house owner by not dirtying their floors/carpets. I’ve also heard that for some tradespeople, it is a routine for them to leave their shoes at the doors because they know their shoes have been places. However, I heard that here in Australia, due to OHS rules tradespeople here aren’t allowed to take their shoes off when their visiting houses. Maybe some flaunt the rules, I’m not too sure.

  12. 1st of all ,Middle eastern, Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani…are all Asian.why are only east Asians Asians? Very annoying. BTW it is true-we all leave our shores off.

    • I have come across some Indians who do not identify as Asians. They insist on calling themselves “Indian”. Asian is a broad term, hard to define and holds different meanings for each person. Definitely agree with you that most Asians leave their shoes at the door!

      • Indians are ‘technically’ asians but we are not ‘asians’ if that makes any sense.

        People identify Asians as having particular features which Indians do not have.

        It’s quite simple.

        I take offense when referred to as asian as I do not identify as being asian.

  13. Hello Mabel and friends.

    I myself take my shoes off when Inside my house, not because of cleanliness reasons, but only for comfort, it’s much better to walk barefoot and that’s the only reason why I do it, I walk inside with my work shoes, leave them inside and put my slippers on or walk barefoot.

    I can understand different cultures have their own customs and one of them is to take shoes off which I respect, but I am a tradesman and will not work without my shoes on. Stepping on a Nail, sharp edge can be very painful all because of working with no shoes, we often carry heavy tools/equipment and we use steelcap shoes for that specific reason, so working without shoes is a big risk.

    if we were to make a claim with our health insurance and when describing the job if you say you were working with no shoes on, the claim will be denied for carelessness to Safety, and if you are working for a company who found out you willingly worked without shoes on, you would be most likely sacked.

    Every house is different so we cannot know what risks exist compared to home owners who live there every day. We have tools which always be across the floor and that is another reason why shoes should always be worn. If the home owner requires my shoes to come off, I kindly tell them that I am unable to carry on with the job because it will be potentially unsafe, and leave.

    • I too prefer to walk barefoot at home because this feels more comfortable to me (apart from cleanliness reasons). My feet tend to swell when I wear shoes all day, so I don’t wear them at home.

      Interesting tradesman insights you have there. When you’re working in an unfamiliar property or building with electric-powered tools it makes sense for you to look out for your safety and so wear shoes/boots at all times. I presume this applies to the instances when you’re inspecting places as well. I take my hat off to you for sticking by the rules for your safety – it ultimately means you’ll be able to work more efficiently (for many happy clients) and not worry about getting hurt.

      Thanks for sharing, BJ. I like how you say, “Hello Mabel and friends” :)

  14. I’m actually having the opposite problem! I have marble floors. I know they are hard/cold/uncomfortable without shoes! I have many Asian friends/coworkers that insist upon removing shoes and I can see them struggle with this floor. I have thought about buying slippers but it seems so ridiculous to me! Surely there are exceptions to the rule! I only wish for them to feel comfortable. How can I politely tell them it is quite alright and proper to leave shoes on? I’m from the United States. Thought I’d ask since you seems so thoughtful in your responses!

    • Marble floors! Not very pleasant to walk on barefoot when the weather’s on the cold side, or in winter. That’s an interesting scenario you got there with your Asian friends and colleagues who visit your place. Personally, I take off my shoes when visiting someone’s house that has marbled or tiled flooring all over, even in winter. I always leave my socks on, though, so maybe you might want to suggest this to your visitors, saying it’s okay to leave socks on – and that it might make it more bearable to walk on cold flooring. I’m sure they’ll understand as this is common sense. It’s a really sticky situation. Maybe you could be honest about the situation, mention upfront that it’s okay to wear shoes inside as the floor can make feet cold, which is really unpleasant (it makes the body cold too). And smile the whole way through and keeping the banter light :D

      Thanks for the nice words, John. I really appreciate it.

  15. Hi Mabel, I do house inspections, and always wear plastic slip covers over my shoes, kinda like shower caps for your shoes. I wear these regardless of the nationality of the tenant. But even then, sometimes Asian tenants will insist that I remove my shoes. I find it annoying as I sometime do 25 inspections in one day. I have an electrician friend who says he never removes shoes for WH&S reasons, and if he cant wear his shoes,he wont enter the house to do the work. This shoe removing thing just gets more complicated!

    • Thanks for sharing, JB. Very insightful to hear from someone who works in the field of house inspections. Sounds like a very interesting job, going around to different kinds of houses and meeting people of various backgrounds – some sound stubborn too, and give you a hard time when you come by their house. Hope you have a way of dealing with them. You never know, there might be dangerous objects lying around in the tenants house and you don’t want to be stepping on that. These days I still ask tradesmen and labourers to remove their shoes before entering my flat, but if they decline and cite WH&S reasons, I’m happy to let them come in with their footwear on.

  16. We expect shoes removed in our home too. Because we hate having to mop because grubby shoes have been walked through the apartment ;)

    But we have recently read that leaving shoes outside the home is better for our health – so that’s a good enough reason for us :-)

    • Thanks for sharing. A home is a home, and I can’t see how we can have a cozy home if we have dirt and pieces of small stones everywhere dragged in by our shoes :) But some are okay with this, which is very interesting.

  17. I’m not Asian, but people wearing shoes in the house is a pet peeve, which doesn’t help when my partner keeps his on constantly (common thing in England). I think it creates muck on the floors that can easily be avoided by simply taking them off. I also think its repectful & good manners. Our shoes never get left outside, they’d get stolen where we live, but I have a shoe cupboard for them to be stored neatly out of sight. Also, unless I go out, I will always be bare footed. Hey, maybe I was Asian in a previous life & the habits stuck with me lol!

    • Hope you and your husband don’t fight too much over wearing shoes at home… You are right. Wearing shoes at home brings in dust, dirt, garbage and even concrete into our homes. Not only does this make the house look untidy but germy too – and more housework for us. It’s smart of you to keep your shoes indoors. I do that too, keeping my shoes on a shoe rack just beside my door. It’s one of those cheap slanty shoe-racks that I have and sometimes my shoes keep sliding off :)

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