Why We Are A No Shoes House
I haven’t done any hard research, I can’t give you any statistics, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that I’ve never met a single Texan who takes their shoes off in the house. I’m talking about your traditional cowboy-boots-wearing, skinny jeans-and-heels-wearing folks who leave their shoes on, whether it’s their own home or a party elsewhere.
Now, I’m not going to lie. This Texan-in-your-house-shoe-wearing-tradition freaked me out a bit when I first moved down to Austin. First, I’m from Minnesota, where it snows nine months out of the year, and people are just used to taking off their shoes out of common courtesy to not muck around snow and salt and grime across people’s wood floors. But, second, I’m East Indian, which means I was culturally raised to not where shoes inside the house. For both reasons, when friends and family alike first came tromping through our home with their dirty shoes on, I couldn’t believe my eyes.
I know it might sound odd, but the issue of taking off one’s shoes was one of the biggest cultural shocks for me when my family moved down south four years ago.
I’m so used to seeing piles of shoes outside our front door back up in the Midwest (and you’d see the same in India, whether for a house party or a huge Indian wedding!). There are your snow boots, your rain boots, your long and short winter boots of all different shapes and sizes. But rarely do you see cowboy boots. I don’t think that’s really a fashion statement up north. Here in Texas, ya’ll’s cowboy boots really are, in the words of Nancy Sinatra, “made for walking” and I rarely see Texans take their boots off, unless they’re going to sleep or shower.
But, in all seriousness, the question of whether to take one’s shoes off when entering a person’s home really is an important cultural marker. In my neighborhood, there are many homes besides ours where shoes can be seen piled high outside. These are the homes of people from Burma, Venezuela, Honduras, Hong Kong and elsewhere. We live in a very diverse area of East Austin, and I find myself sharing a common value with these other minorities.
You see, to take off one’s shoes is more than just a common courtesy. It means more than just an effort to help keep your host’s house clean.
In Indian culture, taking off one’s shoes in our own home or someone else’s is a sign of respect.
For example, I’ve normally cleaned the house ruthlessly before house guests arrived and, when they take their shoes off, I feel that my efforts have been honored. But more than that, religiously-speaking, the dirt on one’s shoes reflect the dirty parts of our own character. When we remove our shoes outside the home, we show our host that we are entering in with our best foot forward, so to speak. In removing your shoes, you are saying that you will act honorably and respectfully in their home and leave “your baggage” outside.
I am definitely making my best effort to make all my guests feel welcome in my home, even if that means leaving their shoes on. But, perhaps, now that you know why we take our shoes off, you will understand if someone makes the same request to you. It’s not meant to be rude or to make offense. Some of us just come from a very different culture with different norms, and things like taking your shoes off is akin to immersing yourself into our culture. Hope you can come over soon!