Month: March 2008

The Shoe Wars

My husband and I are having a little disagreement at the moment. Over—of all things—shoes.

My husband is Chinese, originally from Hong Kong, although he has lived in the US for more than 20 years. I am American (obviously) of mostly Irish and Scottish ancestry. Over the five years of my marriage, I have become intimately acquainted of one major cultural difference between my husband and myself—our attitudes towards shoes.

In China and indeed much of Asia, it is considered rude—even highly offensive—to wear shoes indoors, especially in one’s home. Chinese people are culturally conditioned to remove their shoes before setting foot inside the home. Shoes are therefore stored either in front entryways, or even outside. Indeed, if you are a guest in a Chinese home and you keep your shoes on past the entry threshold, your host has every justification to throw you out.

The reasoning behind this is, our shoes pick up every bit of dirt, filth, mud, and germ on the streets and grounds outdoors, and people obviously don’t want that tracking into their homes. Having been on the streets of Hong Kong myself—where it’s not uncommon to walk in fish guts at the fish market, or chickenshit at the poultry market, ad nauseum—I can certainly understand this. But my husband and I don’t live in Hong Kong. We live in the Chicago suburbs, where fish guts and chickenshit are generally not found on our streets. The streets of Arlington Heights, mind you, are kept so clean by the city services you could practically eat your dinner off them.

Still, for the duration of our marriage, my husband has insisted that absolutely, positively, no shoes can be worn inside our home. I’ve grown accustomed to taking my shoes off as soon as I walk in the door, just like any Chinese person—even though this goes against the grain of my cultural identity. When I was growing up, my Scots-Irish parents and grandparents always insisted I wear shoes indoors at all times. Only illiterate hillbillies and rubes went without shoes, they told me. Shoes at the dinner table and in our bedrooms and in front of the TV were the bastions of polite society, they told me. As long as we cleaned the soles of our shoes on the doormat and didn’t track mud inside, shoes were as necessary as breathing. My grandparents were especially adamant about this, since they’d grown up poor during the Depression and had spent many years of their childhood not even owning a pair of shoes.

Like many women, I love shoes. I own almost 50 pairs. I got used to my husband’s no-shoe policy at home over time, and I never considered it that big a deal as long as I was still working outside the home. I could always wear my many different shoes to work, or out on theatre activities and the like. But now that I’m a stay-at-home mom, I seldom, if ever. wear shoes at all. My shoe collection is collecting dust in the hall closet. I have become the epitome of the stereotypical barefoot housewife. And I have gotten sick of it.

My hubby and I got into an argument last night over shoes. I told him that if I am going to be stuck in the house 95% of the time, I am going to wear shoes. I am sick of going barefoot. He argued that wearing shoes indoors makes the carpets dirty and spreads germs. I argued that millions upon millions of Westerners wear shoes indoors with no dire consequences. He argued that billions of Chinese people would rather eat glass than wear shoes inside. He offered the compromise of me wearing slippers indoors, or only wearing shoes that have never been worn outside. I rejected that.

We remain at an impasse. Stay tuned.