Shoe In, Shoe Out (#317)

When you marry across cultures, there are bound to be a few differences.

Some differences are jarring at first—like my husband’s Chinese-American family openly discussing money. If you’re open-minded, however, you can learn to embrace coupons and brag about how much money you saved.

Other differences seem insurmountable, especially when much vaunted Western autonomy clashes with Asian filial piety. That’s when it’s important to distance yourself from the issue. I found that 3,000 miles proved effective. Mostly.

But every so often, a practice from another culture makes you say, “That’s brilliant! Why don’t we do that?!”

Like shoes.

*****

Most Asian-Americans don’t wear shoes in the house (no matter what you saw in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before). Multicultural blogger Mabel Kwong has a great post on all the reasons why.

My husband grew up in Hawaii, leaving his shoes outside. I grew up on the East Coast, where the only shoes I took off before coming inside were snow boots. (In rural area with lots of winter snow and spring muck, some North American homes have “mud rooms” for outdoor shoes.)

When I moved into my husband’s townhouse, I left my shoes in the front hallway and never looked back. Sometimes my white guests looked at me askance when I told them to take of their shoes. One even commented, “No shoes? Weird.”

I said, “Dude. Weird is allowing people to track all the dirt on their shoes all over your house. As Vacuumer-in-Chief, I endorse the no-shoe rule!”

When we moved into our little house, there wasn’t a convenient indoor space for shoes. We left shoes on the porch by the welcome mat or at our backdoor.

The first things to make me reconsider the no-shoe rule were our rescue dogs. When ninety-pound Woofie stepped on my bare foot, it HURT. Because the giant goofball neither knew (nor cared!) where his massive paws were, Woofie crushed my toes daily. Even seventy-pound Fey, who was far more considerate with her comparatively dainty paws, could draw blood if she made a misstep, thanks to her strong shar-pei claws. Furry leather slippers with suede exteriorI finally bought super sturdy (super expensive!) slippers and wore those even through the hottest summer.

Problem solved.

Then my old, white neighbors very considerately warned me that thieves in California targeted houses with shoes outside the house. Apparently Asian-Americans have a reputation (at least among thieves) for keeping a lot of cash in the house. I pooh-poohed this claim—until some would-be burglars tried to get by Fey the Fierce. (Spoiler alert: Fey was having none of it.) After the attempt, however, I found the perfect welcome mat/ warning sign to surround with shoes:

Welcome mat reading: "We like big mutts and we cannot lie" with silhouette of large dog.

No one has tried to break in since.

My child and his non-Asian friends, running in, out, and around the house with Nerf weaponry, often neglected to put on or take off their shoes. (The heat of battle has that effect.)  Many times I’d have to remind them that “no shoes in the house” was useless if they ran around in socks outside and then wore those same dirty, debris-covered socks inside.

Baby D, impatient child that he is, hated having to take the time to remove his sneakers when he had to go back inside for a single forgotten item. But as the Vacuumer-in-Chief refused to relax her no-shoe policy, he adapted. He skirted the no-shoe rule by hopping back into the house on one unshod foot—while holding his still-sneakered foot up high. The kid would hop through the entire house at least 3 times a week, hunting for his backpack or water bottle.

More than one coach has commented on Baby D’s extraordinary balance and leg strength. Credit the no-shoe policy. (You’d think the kid would eventually learn to do a mental checklist before going outside and putting on his shoes, but YOU’D BE WRONG.)

There’s one final issue with leaving shoes outside: critters. While SoCal lacks the over-abundance of insect life that characterizes the East Coast, we do have crickets, brown and black widow spiders, and lizards. I always warned Baby D to shake out his shoes before putting them on.

Lizard inside an athletic shoe
Lizard in my shoe. Not an uncommon occurrence at our house.

Unfortunately, the kid has to do things the hard way. Baby D returned from soccer practice last week indignant. “Mom! When I got to the field and put my foot in my cleat, there was a lump! So I reached in and grabbed it and it was a lizard!”

“Guess you won’t forget to shake out your cleats before you put them in your soccer bag again, will you?”

Baby D glared and said, “No, because I’m keeping them in my bag from now on! Inside the house!

And so it came to pass that the Vacuumer-in-Chief granted a special dispensation allowing soccer cleats in the house.

Because next time, it might not be a lizard.

Black widow spider
Black widow found in my watering can.

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

35 thoughts on “Shoe In, Shoe Out (#317)”

  1. Interesting! As a Brit, I’ve always had the same custom — which was a challenge when the two sons were growing up, and there were days I just groaned and let it go. Hardest one to train was the white American husband.My French sister-in-law has the same rule, and keeps extra slippers by the front door for visitors. Here on the east coast we definitely take shoes off inside the front door; god knows what would be nesting inside them otherwise. (My mum grew up in Egypt in the 1930s — until her dying day she shook her shoes out before putting them on.)

    1. Oh, scorpions, right? Your mum was worried about scorpions? Like cowboys.

      Yes, slippers by the door is an excellent hostess move.

      And white American males are notoriously hard to train. Good work!

      1. Didn’t mean to imply the spouse was actually trained yet. Only been working on it, er…37 years ?!?! Oy.
        And yeah, scorpions. Mum also wouldn’t walk into a room until turning the light on first and waiting a couple of beats “so that anything I don’t want to see has time to scurry into the corners.” Lovely.

  2. Fascinating. I grew up in a completely opposite world. Shoes were worn inside the house always. This had to do with wood floor, splinters, and a lousy heating system. To this day we wear shoes or sandals inside our house– and to not do so would seem foreign to me.

    1. Oh, splinters! Splinters are the worst.

      It was easier to get used to no shoes in our old townhouse, which had wall-to-wall carpeting. Our current house in all hardwood floors, which can get pretty cold in our windy winters.

  3. Maybe it’s because I spent so many of my formative years living in Hawaii, but to this day I never wear shoes in the house. Even during the long South Dakota winter. I might wear slippers or socks, but more often than not, I’m barefoot. It feels weird to me to visit somebody’s house and not be asked to take them off!

    1. Oh, it’s totally because you grew up in Hawaii. Where feet never get cold–and neither does your food! I keep trying to tell my husband you can’t just leave one side dish on the counter while waiting 10 minutes for another to finish cooking unless you want to serve it iced. It’s my pet peeve.

  4. I refuse to go barefoot ever anywhere. My mother said I came out of the womb yelling, “Shoes, I need shoes!” Just before the lockdown my nephew and his wife invited us to his new home for dinner. It was January and cold. Very cold. I’m sensitive to cold but I thought I dressed appropriately with fleece lined pants, heavy sweater, wool socks and fleece lined boots. Then they told me to take my shoes off at the door. They keep the heat at 65. Wool socks were not enough. I thought I would die but I kept silent. It was the first time in 30 years they invited us and I didn’t want to spoil the moment. If I ever get invited again, I’ll take lined slippers! Better still I’ll suggest a summer party.

    1. Even with wool socks?! You poor thing. My slippers are super warm and cozy, but when you’re headed somewhere with a no-shoe policy, you really have to take socks into account. I usually have an extra pair of slippers for guests.

      1. They have never had a no shoe policy before. I went with my 90 year old bro and sis-in-law. My SIL took her slip-ons off and said “Nope this isn’t working for me and put them back on.” My brother like me suffered and complained afterward. Other than freezing it was a pleasant evening.

  5. I grew up running barefoot inside and outside and felt invulnerable. Now it makes more sense to wear something on my feet. I do approve of shedding street footwear though as you enter. More sanitary.

  6. You should do a post on being one and done and how to deal with annoying ass comments that people like to make about this stuff

    1. I might! Thanks for the suggestion. I fully support everyone’s right to have a minimal number of kids (including 0).

      Sounds like you are dealing with some folks who need to mind their own business. Give ’em hell.

  7. My husband liked to go barefoot, but he never complained about anyone wearing shoes in the house. His only complaint was leaving shoes on the stairs for fear it would be a tripping danger. In the Philippines, I went barefoot in the house a lot. The unfortunate result: I broke a toe, catching it on a chair. Recently, I’ve been having foot problems. The podiatrist recommended always wearing shoes–especially sneakers with a good arch. So I guess my barefoot days are over. Luckily, I seldom walk in the mud.

    1. Oh, stubbing a toe is painful, let alone breaking one! Slippers at least offer some protection.

      When I was doing a lot of baking I actually got some very cushy sneakers, strictly for indoor use. Very helpful, but hard to take off if I had to run outside to deal with pets or child in a hurry.

  8. I have some big repairs going on outside my house right now and everything outside is coated in red dust. The red dust was quickly tracked in and wound up on everything, including my sheets, so I’ve been trying to implement the no-shoes rule. But unfortunately Trixie insists on running around outside bare-pawed and tracking all the dust in anyway. So I’ve given up.

    1. Do you feel like you are living on Mars?

      Yes, keeping animals from tracking in the dirt is harder than keeping the kid from doing it. I use rags and pet wipes (but that’s easier to do on dogs than cats, for sure).

      1. Hahaha. I just tried to imagine myself wiping Trixie’s paws every time she runs into the house from outside (which is like 20 times every hour). Hahahaha.

  9. Ha, I’ve gotten way too used to not wearing shoes over the past 12 months. I don’t own a pair of slippers because I like being in my socks. But I am the person who runs outside sock-footed. I know, bad habit.

    1. So do you have rugs or do you slide around in your socks?

      In an emergency, outdoor sock-wearing is excused. (“But he was gonna shoot me with a Nerf gun!” is not an emergency, much to my son’s disappointment).

      1. Haha, well, I do sweep my deck regularly, so hopefully my socks don’t get too dirty when I walk out there shoeless. In any case, I have mostly carpet, except for in the kitchen, bathroom and laundry room. So, there’s some sliding that occurs in those rooms. I don’t mind it at all. When I visit others, I’m more than happy to take off shoes, regardless of type of flooring. I just make sure to wear clean socks that haven’t been walked in outside. 🙂

  10. Oh man, I am totally with you on this post. I am extremely strict when it comes to shoes in my house. I can’t even fathom how people wear shoes in their homes… especially if they have carpet and not hardwood floors! When I see people do it in movies it really makes me uncomfortable (or heaven forbid, sit on their bed with shoes on!).

    In Japan they have something called a “genkan,” which is an entryway in the house for the dirty “outside” things, like to take off your shoes — it’s almost like a combo of porch + doormat. I wish we had these in the states, that way we don’t have to keep shoes outside and deal with lizards and spiders.

    And that black widow is FRIGHTENING!! Holy crap.

    1. The black widows have given me more than one fright, but they really don’t like shoes. They like damp places and they build very distinctive webs (asymmetrical, almost funnel-like). They’re not hard to spot. I’ve learned to be careful around hoses, sprinkler valves, and watering cans. I’d rather have them than the mosquitos.

      A gentian would be nice. My tiny foyer does not cut it for shoes (and it’s also part of the race track floor plan for dogs/ children).

  11. Some things are easier to get used than pthers, right? (BTW, my MIL just bought something that looks like an umbrella but without the handle and lined with foil, to cover the dishes she cooks first and keep them warm).

  12. Oops, I pressed post before finishing. We also remove shoes at the door and have slippers for guests, but if I forgot something inside I just go in with the shoes on… I’m not a very strict rule enforcer, haha!

  13. Thanks for the shout out. So agree with you Vacuum-In-Chief. I can’t understand why some people wear (outdoor) shoes indoors, apart from those with medical conditions. Have you thought about an indoor shoe rack, perhaps one just by the door when you walk in to put your shoes? Or maybe a shoe rack (like a shoe cabinet that opens and closes) just outside the door – that doesn’t guarantee the critters will get in but I guess it is something to think about.

    1. Unfortunately, the black widows like cabinets more than shoes just left out in the open. Those spiders love to hide in dark structures. Found one in Baby D’s playhouse once. (Relocated her to the banana tree.)

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