Monday, March 25, 2013

Please Remove Your Shoes

"Ummm... Do you mind taking off your shoes?"
Growing up in Houston, Texas, those words always seemed strange and awkward coming out of my mouth. My parents' house is strictly No Shoes Allowed, and as a child, this always seemed to set us apart. Sure, my aunts and uncles had the same rule. My parents' Filipino friends did, too. Grown-up parties with my folks were always marked by a huge pile of shoes at the door. But none of my friends ever made this request. I only realized this custom extended way beyond my family's circle of influence when I first entered the home of my Taiwanese friend in high school. She was surprised that I didn't automatically remove my shoes. "You're Chinese," she said, "you should know to take them off."

After I was married and had my own home, I instigated the No Shoes rule, too. When we visited Hawaii, I considered buying a plaque that said, "Please remove your shoes. It's the Hawaiian way." Except that a) I'm not Hawaiian; and b) I don't live in Hawaii. So, I couldn't figure out how I would justify that reasoning.

By the time I became a mother, non-Asians seemed to be jumping on the No Shoes bandwagon. Baby playgroup discussions covered concerns with thimerosal in vaccinations and phthalates in plastics. Leaving our shoes at the door was a way to keep environmental toxins out of the home. And of course, it's de rigueur for the kiddos to go shoeless at almost any indoor playscape.

Then, I moved to Malaysia.

Suddenly, the world flipped and what seems awkward in the United States is the norm here. When we came for our exploratory trip and looked at a bazillion rentals, we had to remove our shoes a bazillion times. Take my advice. Wear slip-on shoes when house hunting.

Everyone automatically takes off their shoes without asking. Some homes have the most beautiful, ornately carved, wooden shoe chests. If you're dressing up to attend a party at someone's home, the pressure is off to find just the right shoes for your outfit. No more standing around in heels all night! However, I do seem to get pedicures more frequently. Thank goodness they're cheap.

What's interesting is that the whole No Shoes custom extends beyond homes in Malaysia. When we visit our pediatrician, we leave our shoes on the doorstep before walking into the building. Frankly, this would have completely freaked me out in Texas because I would have been convinced that there was some highly contagious foot disease (Warts! Fungus!) ready to leap off the floor and burrow into my child's precious foot. But I just go with the flow here and take them off without worrying.

At a store called SSF, all customers must remove their shoes before heading to the 2nd story of the shop. It would be like browsing around a Crate and Barrel in America and then having to take off your shoes partway through the store. I always seem to go down a different set of stairs than the ones I head up, so I have to walk back to the first stairs to retrieve my footwear.

Of course, the No Shoes policy spreads all throughout Asia. I was impressed in Kyoto, Japan, by the highly organized system of numbered shelves to store the shoes for hundreds of visitors to the Sanjusangen Buddhist shrine. It was comparable to remembering where you parked your car in a large lot. They even had special shoe storage sections set aside for tour groups!

At Penang's Reclining Buddha Thai Temple
You are required to remove shoes, so perhaps someone is to stand guard while others tour.

Luckily, no one has ever made off with my shoes like when Sex and the City's Carrie finds her pricey Manolo Blahniks missing after leaving them at a friend's door. There's also that scene in Slumdog Millionaire where the kids steal shoes at the the Taj Mahal. This may be due to the cruddy taste in footwear that set in after Pregnancy #3 made my feet too-wide-for-regular-width but too-narrow-for-wide-width.

Back in Texas, we almost accidentally stole some other kids' brown Crocs when we were leaving the Chik-fil-A play area. Can you blame us? They are so common, and when you're waging the "No, you cannot go down the slide just one more time" battle, you grab the shoes that look right without inspecting them too closely. Good thing the mama of the rightful owner noticed.

In summary, the good thing about Malaysia is that I am now Normal! (Well, in that one aspect.) Yippee! No more awkward requests occasionally followed by the stink eye for asking guests to Please Remove Your Shoes.


  1. I am a single woman and I live alone. I have a no shoes rule as well. None of my g/f's mind. They are very happy to shed their shoes at the door and pad about in stocking feet. BTW I live in a suburb outside of NYC

    1. That's great that your friends are cooperative. Some of my friends thought the idea was crazy and refused. (I do make exceptions if there are medical reasons like needing to wear orthotics.)I've always wanted to live near NYC.

    2. I think that their willingness is based partly on the fact that most times they have been in heels all day. We all work in NYC in the financial services area so we need to be dressed up every day.
      Living here in the suburbs and going to NYC every day is in my opinion a great life style. I have the opportunity to see and do things in the city but have the peacefulness of suburbia to go home to!

  2. I like the no shoes rule. It's makes for a much cleaner home. (Less sweeping/ mopping for me :-)

  3. I remember when we had to remove our shoes at the dentist office in KL, it was so strange. Im glad it makes you feel normal haha.

  4. I remember growing up and had to take my shoes off everywhere but I was the opposite of you and didn't enforce this when I had my house. But I still have to take them off at my in-laws. Being a semi-germaphobe, I'm not sure I can handle walking around barefoot in all the places you described. So glad you're feeling normal in Penang. That sign made me smile wondering if men actually tried to steal women's shoes and what they said if they got caught :)

  5. I have always taken off my shoes at the door.Its just second nature for me.In fact i just stepped in the house. My shoes came straight off, my socks came off and went into the laundry basket and then i put my slippers on.It's that simple. My partner also does this as do her kids.


I read each and every comment. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Comment moderation is on, so your comment may not appear immediately.

Web Analytics