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03 October 2023

Will you let visitors walk in with shoes into your home?

By Majorie van Leijen

It does not seem that big a deal and wars are yet to be fought over it, but asking people with different backgrounds whether they take off their shoes upon entering the house results in varied responses.

It is seen more in Asian countries; shoes are lined up right next to the doorway and sometimes do not even make it inside, they are waiting patiently on the balcony or staircase until the owner leaves his house.

"In Russia it might be a seasonal matter," says the Russian lady Helen Pashkin. When somebody would enter the house with his shoes, he might be bringing along snow, rain or mud."

However, it is not so much about what you do in your own house. It is someone entering yours, marching into the living room with the same shoes he just used to stroll down the streets, or conscious enough to take off the footwear but bringing along an odour that was not meant to enter your house either.

In the UAE, houses are divided into private and public spaces, explains Ahmad, an Emirati man who prefers to mention his first name only. "In the personal space such as your bedroom, nobody will ever wear shoes, because this area will not be visited by guests. But in the kitchen, it should be possible for people to enter with shoes. This is a public place."

Ahmad does not prefer to wear shoes inside the house himself, but says that in the public areas of his house, there is one rule more important than any other: respect the other. "In our country this rule exceeds any other rule there might be," he says. This means that he would never tell his guest to take off or keep on the shoes he or she is wearing. "It is up to the guest, and we should respect different ideas about this practice, even in our own house."

Being asked to take of your shoes can lead to awkward situations, as Zein Obeyd from Syria can recall. "One of my friends once refused to take off his shoes when we visited another family. I was very embarrassed and did not understand what the matter was until we left, and he told me that his socks only covered half of his feet. The other part of his socks was ravaged."

Sherine Effat from Egypt agrees with the politeness rule. "Our own preference should not count. It is the politeness that comes first. This norm is more important than someone walking in with his or her shoes, which I personally do not prefer," says the young woman who believes that in her culture it is a personal issue anyway.

Everything changes when it comes to her husband, though. "My husband is from Lebanon and as in Egypt, we are not raised with any specific rule towards this end. He just walks in with his shoes wherever he wants and I cannot stop him from doing so, I tried every means," says the frustrated Sherine.

Aya from Kirghizstan faced a similar situation, although she proved more successful in convincing her husband. "I married a Moroccan and he often brings home friends. For them, it is not an issue. They walk in with their shoes, something I really cannot accept. I keep the house clean. It must be clean. It is, in my eyes, very disrespectful not to take off your shoes when entering somebody's house. So I told them about it. Now they know."

Most people agree that when they enter another house, they should respect the rules of the person they are visiting, although it sometimes seems hard to discover what those rules are. "I look if I see any shoes next to the doorway. That usually indicates that people leave their shoes right there," says Helen Srivastava from the UK. But, as Sherine claims, shoes are not supposed to be seen in her culture. "There might not be a common understanding about entering with shoes, but the house must look clean and shoes should be put away.

What often comes as a surprise is the fact that some people might prefer you stick with your footwear. On Expatwoman, a website for female expats all over the world, one woman accurately describes why it is that she rather has shoes than feet: "I get grossed out by looking at people's bare feet, and think that the bare feet of people wearing sandals all day or runners without socks - must be more disgusting and dirty than the shoes themselves. Of course, to each his own, but I don't want my babies crawling where your potentially athlete's foot ridden, fungus crawling feet have just been."

Also Robin from the Netherlands recalls a situation in which he wished nobody ever took off his shoes: "We were all sitting in my family house; my father, my friends and me. We were watching soccer, but there was a terrible feet smell that everybody must have noticed. Then, not to embarrass anyone, my father found the solution. He said: somebody has smelly feet. Let us all wear our shoes! Then it must disappear."