Recently, I fleshed out a few reasons why many Asians tend to leave their shoes at the door and go barefoot at home.
In reality, some of us don’t share this love of taking our shoes off before going indoors. Some of us especially in the Western world don’t recoil in horror at the thought of stamping around our bedrooms and kitchens with our shoes on.
There are legitimate reasons that explain why wearing shoes at home is perfectly normal behaviour for some. The notion that it is a cultural thing is probably the most believable one. Choosing to wear shoes at home is akin to just another everyday life choice or custom: some of us eat with chopsticks while some with forks and spoons. Some of us eat chicken feet and some of us don’t.
Admittedly, awkwardly stooping over, bending down or squatting to remove or put on our shoes can be a hassle. And painful if we have bad backs. Taking off our shoes to go indoors to get something that we’ve left at home only to put on our footwear two minutes later before venturing out again can be understandably frustrating.
It can be frustrating too for those who frequently move in and out of the house. Gardens and sizeable backyards are notable features of housing properties in the West and for a number of Caucasians, lounging in their own backyards – five paces from their bedrooms – is a favourable pastime. So perhaps it’s just more convenient for these Caucasians to leave their shoes on literally 24/7 since they’re likely to shuttle outdoors quite a bit.
Or laziness could be a reason.
Maybe some wear shoes at home because shoes keep feet warm, particularly in winter. Also, it is rather unpleasant a feeling to step on tiles in the kitchen or bathroom and feel our feet get colder and colder by the minute. Who likes cold feet?
Perhaps those who find it normal to walk around the house with their shoes on have a different perception of cleanliness to those who don’t, and that’s why they do. Perhaps this is the case with pet owners who let their dogs and cats run all over the house with their grubby paws after coming back from a stroll in the park with their animals. Or, in their opinion, the floor at home could be unsanitary, with crumbs and bits and pieces of trash everywhere, and shoes function to keep the feet clean indoors.
Some may see shoes as part of their outfits and so like to keep them on for as long as possible. Even at home.
There is also the possibility that some simply can’t bear the sight of bare feet. Or regard feet as unhygienic and germy, put off by the fact that feet constantly swell, smell, sweat and are prone to develop nail fungal infections. So keeping feet enclosed and hidden by wearing shoes sits well with them.
Then there are some who aren’t fans of wearing shoes at home but find the idea of going barefoot at home distasteful. As pointed out in the comments section in my previous post discussing the phenomenon of taking shoes off before going indoors, some wear “home slippers” or stockings as opposed to going all-out barefoot at home.
Nothing wrong with this. In a sense, this gives weight to the idea that wearing shoes at home is really just a cultural thing.
Do you wear shoes at home?
I’m Swedish and people here take their shoes off. I would consider it very rude for someone to step into my kitchen with dirty shoes on their feet. If you go to a party at someone’s house you either walk around barefoot/in your socks or you bring clean shoes to wear indoors. These rules don’t apply for people of upper class, they tend to keep their shoes on. Tricky, but interesting!
Yes, this is a tricky phenomenon indeed. Sometimes when I go to someone’s house and they answer the door in their shoes, I would assume they wear shoes in the house. But I’m never comfortable with wearing shoes indoors – and I often don’t know whether I should take them off or leave them on when visiting. I usually do anyway, because if they came to my house, that’s what I want them to do.
Personally, I prefer to wear house slippers in my ‘abode,’ and my street shoes or slippers provided by the host when visiting someone else’s home. I wear slippers at home because I can’t stand the thought of tracking “outside dirt” through my space; but prefer to wear my shoes in other people’s homes because I’ve found that others aren’t as sensitive to the dirt problem. My rule of thumb is to follow the lead of my host. I recently used someone’s bathroom, while out on a visit, and my white socks were black with filth after I was done. I could actually tell that I didn’t want to walk through there the minute I opened the door, but it would have looked strange to turn around, put my shoes on, and then go back to their bathroom. Luckily, I discovered that this person wears street shoes indoors, so now I leave my street shoes on during visits. Additionally, my stepmother is Korean, so unlike the way I was raised, she always has about 14 pairs of slippers for guests by the front door, and of course, they’re all too small for big ‘American’ feet…:-D
Thanks for reading Vivien. It’s probably best we follow the host’s lead when we visit their places, it’s showing respect to their house customs. I hope you managed to make your socks white again when you went home.
And that’s very generous of your Korean stepmother – 14 pairs of slippers available for guests (to choose from, I hope!) is a lot of slippers! They can’t all be the same size! 🙂
This is a great post that considers all of the different possible aspects of the shoe-wearing argument really well. I think it’s good to analyze a subject like this to try to understand the different habits of people around the world. Too often we judge without taking time to try to understand the “why.” As I’ve tried to illustrate in various posts on my blog, we are all different, and that’s a good thing. How boring would the world be if we all did everything exactly the same? I usually take my shoes off at home, and I know I will insist on it someday if I ever have children. But that’s just because I’m a clean freak! 😀
Thank you for your kind words, Jess. I think you’re right in saying that sometimes we judge without taking the time to understanding the “why”. I don’t know why this is so, but I suspect some of us fear the “why”, almost certain that there is some kind of evil behind uncovering reasons behind everyday life phenomenons. I think I am a cleaner freak than you, Jess. I wipe my desk before I turn on my laptop every single day and make sure there are no hairs on my bed when I get up each morning 😀
Oh, I don’t know about that. I definitely make sure there aren’t any hairs on my bed in the morning… And no dust on my bookshelf, and no crumbs on the floor, and no smudges on my computer or bedside table… Lol. I’ll bet we’re both pretty bad. 😛
I live in a basement and am woken up a lot by my landlords clomping around their bedroom (above my room) in their shoes-on hardwood, no less. I find this extremely aggravating and asked them to please not wear shoes at night when I’m trying to sleep. Her reply was “I’ll have to think about that. I’m not sure what I’ll do to keep my feet warm.” Um, slippers or socks like the rest of us?!
I grew up where you took your shoes off in the house and when visiting other people’s homes. Why track a bunch of dirt, rain, etc. and make more cleaning work for yourself/others? I’m from a Scandinavian background. I find that the people I know who do wear their shoes indoors are from the UK or Europe. Any thoughts on this? Perhaps taking shoes off is more popular in colder climates (keep snow/muck/etc. out).
We don’t wear shoes insiders mainly for the reason of keeping the floors clean and not bringing in dirt and germs from outside. My wife is Japanese and usually wears slippers but more recently, Ugg boots in winter. I like to be barefoot or I wear socks in the cooler weather. Although our household is “Asian” with regard to no shoes, if some people don’t want to remove their footwear, we don’t mind – for example, my mother. Visitors to our home, both Asian and non Asian usually ask “Should I take off my shoes”, and we usually say “it’s up to you”. You should see the collection of shoes at our front door – it can get rather messy even though we have a shoe rack!
I’ve never gotten around to wearing Ugg boots at home or house slippers in the winter, and my flat is partially tiled too. It sounds like your wife likes them a lot. If they keep the feet warm and you feel comfortable wearing them at home, why not.
That’s very considerate of you to give visitors the option of keeping their footwear on or off at your residence. Just like my parents, though they are Chinese-Malaysian. Wearing footwear or going barefoot is a personal choice, sort of along the lines of our preferences for food – some foods we’ll eat, some foods we won’t.
You strike me as a neat person, so I find it hard to imagine a pile of shoes at your front door!
Mabel – the shoes at the front door are owned by my daughters! I put my shoes away in my wardrobe. You are right – I am a neat and tidy person.
I see. Hope no one trips over her pile of shoes at the front door!
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I usually don’t wear shoes in the house, but I don’t have anything against it. I have a pair of shoes that I don’t wear outside often, so they’re not dirty, that I wear inside sometimes because they’re very comfortable and I like how they look. Plus they also keep my feet warmer than just wearing socks.
Very clever, reserving a pair of non-dirty, non-outdoor shoes to wear at home. And true, shoes do keep feet warmer than just socks and maybe even house slippers as well since the former sort of seals the feet completely. Thanks for reading, Alex.
I’m Canadian and Caucasian and it gets very cold here but everyone in my family takes shoes off inside. Either we are barefoot, wearing socks or slippers. The floor gets filthy otherwise which is a sign of a lazy person in my family. It’s rude to leave shoes on in someone elses house because it creates more work when cleaning the floors.
Interesting to hear, Carissa. It really isn’t polite at all to drag in mud and dirt on our shoes all over someone’s floors or carpets especially. Then again, perhaps those who wear shoes indoors are used to this.
If I ever come over to your house, I’ll be sure to take my shoes off. It’s only natural for me 🙂
There is an important consideration for diabetics and others for whom damage to feet could result in amputation or death in some cases. People with nerve damage should never walk around bare foot or in socks only. Even slippers with their thin soles are inadequate protection against sharp objects.
This business of making people take their shoes off indoors is not exactly the sort of welcome I would expect when visiting someone especially if the householder is wandering around in slippers or wearing indoor shoes while the guest is required to pad around in socks.
I would be inclined to make that my last visit if I were subjected to such rude behaviour.
Take a swab of any “clean” floor and you will find millions of bacteria, dust mites and other small creatures. What is brought in from outside is no worse.
Great points on the wearing shoes all the time, even at home. Not all of our feet are conditioned to go barefoot for extended period of time, be it medical reasons or simply the way our feet are shaped.
True that a floor is never entirely clean. The second we clean it, dust flies all over once again.
I think I would make an exception to my shoes-off policy for people who are diabetic or have other health problems that prevent them from going shoeless. That situation has never come up, but I’d be flexible and reasonable if it did.
I always tell first-time visitors in advance that they are welcome to bring their own slippers to my house, if they wish, but few have taken me up on that. I agree that it’s not quite right for a host to wear slippers or indoor shoes, while expecting guests to go in socks or barefeet. I think it’s more polite to be on “even ground,” so to speak.
I personally do not own a pair of slippers or indoor shoes. I enjoy taking off my shoes and have no desire to stuff my feet into slippers, or another pair of shoes that is different than the pair I just took off. If you visit my house, it’s guaranteed that you’ll find me walking around in my socks. It’s one of the comforts of home.
That is a great point you made there, on some who have certain conditions who are required to wear shoes in a bid to feel comfortable.
Guests to our homes have every right to feel comfortable. Then again, each of us have our own right to feel comfortable at home. Sometimes there has to be compromise somewhere.
Like you, I don’t wear slippers or shoes indoors. In the warmer months, I go barefoot. In the cooler months, a pair of thin socks is my preference.
The possibility of someone having a health reason for wanting to keep their shoes on is perhaps a good reason to tell people in advance of a shoes-off policy. If there’s going to be a conflict, maybe it’s better to discuss it beforehand than when the guest is standing in your entryway.
It’s cold here most of the year, but I try to keep my house warm enough to where people will not have cold feet as they walk about in socks. Most people who are shoes-off in their own homes are usually quite fine with going shoeless when visiting others, I’ve found.
“maybe it’s better to discuss it beforehand than when the guest is standing in your entryway” That is an excellent suggestion. But even if the visitor is already standing at the front entrance of my place and they want to keep their shoes on for a medical reason, I’ll be happy with that.
Oh, so, wow. 100 % scary. Arrogant and stuck up to the highest order. This is 2016. Not 312 B.C. for Christ’s sake. I’m sorry that I have to actually tell anyone that. Just because something is “custom” does not make it o.k. and or logical. More proof people will fall for anything. I do know one thing. I need to make it a rule for someone to enter the premise of my household to take all of their rings, pearls, necklaces, jewelry, and piercings off for “thou is thy custom and thy host’s rule”. Two can play these mind games. Yeah, I buy that. The upper class don’t have to take their shoes off because they are not MORONS! Jesus.
This post is very interesting. I, personally, HATE to take off my shoes. I hate feet…the look of them, everything. I live in southern California, and some people take off shoes, some don’t. I do feel that it is very arrogant to ask someone to take off their shoes, like they’re children. I see people who won’t let anyone wear shoes in the house, but let their pets walk all over their house/floors. I have been to MANY houses (some Asian), who want me to take off my shoes, but there’s no way I would… their floor are so gross. I think this whole “take off shoes thing” is so arrogantly presented as “I am cleaner than you….my culture is cleaner than yours” etc. How ridiculous. No one brings mud or snow into houses. Of course they take off their shoes. Where I live there is no snow or mud, and I do keep my shoes on in the house. My children don’t. However, I clean my floors at least twice a day. We do not have shoes lying all over the front entry way, or even piled up. Shoes are kept in closets. We use a mat in the front of the door, and in the doorway. Those are cleaned at least twice a day. I don’t like the feeling of floors, or slipping in socks. Slippers slow me down with my housework.
As for the cleanliness issue, why don’t restaurants make people take off their shoes?
I keep reading how clean it is to go without shoes, but there are so many houses I have been in that have dirty floors. Yes, my socks have gotten dirty walking through their houses.
Sorry to sound harsh, but I keep reading about how Americans are so dirty, etc. and how everyone who takes their shoes off are so clean. They are not. Sometimes these posts get to be bragging sessions.
If you don’t taking your shoes off at home, then you don’t and no need to apologise. It really does boil down to personal preferences and most importantly, what we’re comfortable with. For each of us, our homes are our personal spaces where we can be ourselves; we take pride in decorating our own home and call the shots on what we do or don’t do at home, taking off or leaving shoes on included – which I feel should be respected as I don’t think many of us want others walking over our personal spaces in one way or another.
Agree with you that some floors in some houses are not the cleanest, and I’ve been barefoot in some houses where you could feel grease on the floors. Usually I try not to let this bother me (it really is up to the homeowners how they want to make their homes homely) and focus on the people I’m visiting instead. On ‘my culture is cleaner than yours’ train of thought: from the way it seems to me, all of us have different perceptions of what’s clean and what’s not clean, just like how some of us will eat certain foods and not others.
With restaurants, I suppose there are many more spillages and the presence of food everywhere makes them places where bacteria germinate more often. Walking around in shoes arguably gives us better balance and a better grip, and you wouldn’t want to be falling over in public places like these – and it could be an occupational health and safety requirement that patrons and staff wear shoes in restaurants.
I used to go barefooted all of the time. Indoors and out of doors it did not matter. I am and have always been in and out all day.
In 2003 my son was doing a project for school with toothpicks. In fell off the coffee table and some how lodged in the burber carpet. And then into my foot. After 2 Er visits a week in the hospital, surgery and a $8,000. Hospital bill. I put my shoes on every morning before I get going and I don’t take them off till I am done for the day.
I have 3 dogs in my house and 3 sons and we are very healthy.
I personally don’t want people to have their shoes off in my house to drop off their foot funguses for my children. I would rather clean a muddy floor knowingly. Than to think because someone took their shoes off my floor is clean. Even socks carry fungus and by people taking off their sweaty shoes. They are putting funguses on your floor for your children.
I am sorry to hear what you had to go through stopping on a toothpick at home. Understandably our floors at home can be just like the grounds outside – you don’t know what might be on your floor. It is true that socks carry fungus, and you definitely raise many valid points about wearing shoes indoors. Thank you for sharing.