Field Note #121: Cultural Shoes
A very common practice in Nepal and other Asian countries is to take off one’s shoes before entering a home. I have grown-up going to my Indian relatives’ houses and taking off my shoes. I have never liked the practice. I am a definite shoe guy and do not like when my feet are exposed. I do the practice out of respect to culture, and it has taught me a valuable lesson, in my opinion. I was returning from the gym one night, and it was extremely dark. When a country has less electricity, it is always going to be darker. As I was walking, I had a thought as to what I might be stepping in. In the daylight hours, one can see an assortment of different animal feces, trash, water puddles or debris that can cause one to fall. I arrived back at my home, and I took off my shoes. Then a thought clicked in my mind, and it was that people do this because they do not want whatever they stepped in outside to be on the floors of their house. The thought was simple, and I am sure it is a common answer to why people do that.
The bigger lesson I learned through the removal of my shoes is that I never have to do that when I am at my house in the U.S. I do not really have to think about what animal feces I might have stepped in that day because we do not have to worry about that being on our neighborhood sidewalks or streets. We do not have to worry about all the trash and organic waste flowing from the streets to our water supply. We only have to worry about that when one rude person has not picked up after their dog. We do not have to worry when we turn on the tap in our house, for we know that the local government has a waste treatment plant. It is little things that people in developed nations can lose sight of. We have such good streets, sidewalks and public utilities. We can walk in our houses without taking off our shoes, but on the other hand we might want to start taking them off. It is the beautiful thing about two different cultures. You can think one way is good, and the other way is also good. The great thing is you can take the good things from both. My shoes may actually pick up some gross things in the streets of America, and they pick up some gross things in Nepal as well. In the end, we can all take off our shoes, walk into a clean house and realize that even the idea of having a house to be in is pretty great, even having water to wash any extra grime from my feet or getting a drink of water straight from my kitchen sink. We all can start to take off our culture’s shoes and slide into someone else’s slippers realizing they are clean too.
- Pavan, Nepal IPM