September 11, 2007

Cultural Lesson #82

Many times here we miss home...we miss the familiar. New cultures can be frustrating when we don't know exactly how to act, or why people do things the way they do. We think "Grrr. If they would just do it this way or like that it would be so much easier!"

But sometimes things come up, like a question from our host out in the village this week, that make us realize just because something from home is familiar, doesn't mean it's easy to understand.

We were asked this question:
"In America do you really walk inside a house with your shoes on?"

American Culture: The Rules of Footwear in a Home

1. If you are visiting someone’s house for the first time and are not friends with the person, do not remove your shoes unless the owner insists. This is usually done inside the home or at the doorway.

2. If you are visiting a friend or relative’s house, you may take your shoes off if you are staying for a while, but its not necessary if the visit is only a few minutes.

3. If you own the home, you can do whatever you want. You can wear shoes anywhere in the house and take them off anywhere: in the garage, your bedroom, the living room, the kitchen, wherever you like (but wives usually appreciate them being stored neatly in the closet).

4. Children may wear shoes inside or leave them outside. Some parents allow their kids to leave their shoes anywhere. Normally, shoes must be put in a closet. If a toddler is wearing the shoes (and so requires help with them) parents may leave the toddler’s shoes on as it’s more convenient for a quick trip to the grocery store or if the kid decides he/she wants to play outside.

5. If your shoes are messy then it is understood that you would have the decency to remove them before entering.

6. Flip-flops, easily removable sandals or shoes that slide on without laces have a set of rules all their own. You may take these off in any person’s house, provided you are sitting down. If you get up, the flip-flop/sandal/slide is usually put back on. If your feet or flip-flops/sandals/slides are emitting an odor, leave them on at all times. If you are at a friend’s house, you can take them off wherever and put them back on when you leave...but it's still understood that leaving them at the door is the best place.

7. Of course, there are some people who wish for everyone (family and all visitors) to take off their shoes before entering - only by experience can you know who these people are. Good luck with that.

What is implied:
* Taking off shoes indicates familiarity with the owner of the house. If you are not on familiar terms, you do not take your shoes off. Included in the instructions “Make yourself at home” is the act of taking off your shoes. A good friend wouldn’t think twice about whether or not he could take off his shoes while visiting, but an Avon Saleswoman would.

* The floor is dirty (even if it’s been vacuumed or mopped twice) and is used for walking on. The floor in the living room is usually open for sitting on while watching TV, but a sofa or recliner is preferred, and the possibility of having to sit on the floor increases if there are a lot of people watching TV. Also, if you are a sweaty kid your mom may instruct you to not sit on the couch because you are dirty…you belong on the floor.

Note: Some of you may be thinking..."wait, that's not how I grew up." Which just proves our point even more...this part of our culture doesn't follow an EXACT rule and many of them are just picked up on the way...outsiders would go 'Grrr!" trying to understand it.

Asian Culture: The Rules of Footwear in a Home

1. Always take your shoes off before entering any home.

What is implied:
* The floor is clean and is a place to sit, eat, and lay on. Shoes are dirty. You have no idea what you’ve stepped in and by taking them off you are showing respect to the owner of the house (and his wife who cleans it).


The Agarwals said...

We learned this lesson really well when we were in seminary! Some of our international friends felt exactly like this- Andrea will likely recall a specific family- and although at times it made me a little nervous (man, I forgot to paint my toe nails!!) it was something we learned to adjust to rather quickly! Although, I think that at first there was an internal "Grrr!!" Glad to hear about this interesting cultural experience- and of course, wearing flip flops sure does make this rule alot easier to apply!

Cara said...

I'm not sure if it was the brevity of the description or the simplistic rules/regulations, but I'm liking the asian culture more and more...and I don't even live there!

SouthAsiaRocks said...

haha! yeah Annie, I remember :) I feel bad for foreigners that come to america... did you see how complicated those rules are??? At least in Asia, you can just automatically take off your shoes and you know you're OK :) haha! Cool post :)