Thursday 1 August 2013

Indian Shoe Etiquette - Don't Put Your Foot in it.

Before I came to India, I would never take my shoes off if I went into someone else's house.  It's just not the norm.  Instead, we usually wipe our shoes on the doormat and then try not to trample through our neighbours' houses carrying mud. Or we try not to pierce their nice solid oak floors with our stiletto heels.  In fact, if someone asks you to take your shoes off in the UK - they're regarded as a bit 'weird' (you know who you are!) And it is certainly not the norm to take your shoes off when entering an office or shop.

In our own homes, we tend to change from our outdoor shoes into cosy slippers when we come inside. Or a pair of fluffy socks.  We usually always have something on our feet right? (Even in the summer).

But here in India - you are expected to slip off your footwear before entering the sanctity of someone else's property.  It is the very polite thing to do. You can either leave your shoes outside in the hall (which is what workmen and staff will usually do), or you can take them off just inside the door. It is also an expectation in some shops and offices - including at the NGO office and clinic where I sometimes tread.  Even an expat visiting another expat's house in India will take off their shoes and of course, it is a must at mosques and temples.

This kind of scene can cause me to panic

For someone who hates the sight of their own feet and also fears what they may tread in, this was initially extremely difficult for me (read my post about Crocs here).  It may also come as a bit of a shock to others who are not used to it. Visiting the slums, there are sometimes situations where you have to leave your shoes outside in a mucky, wet lane, and then somehow jump from there into the room without getting anything on your feet (if for example, all remaining space has been taken up by shoes as in the picture above!)  It's quite an art, I can tell you.  And how panic grips me if, when I return to put my shoes back on later, they have somehow been moved further away!  You then have to tiptoe across everyone else's shoes as if they were stepping stones in order to get to your footwear - without making contact with perceived, hepatitis-fuelled hazards (which of course, in reality, do not exist!)

Whilst travelling and visiting historic sites in India, taking your shoes off always feels like a bit of a gamble. For example when entering The Taj Mahal or other mosque/temple.  When you leave your lovely LK Bennett flatties on top of a pile of plastic flip-flops, are you likely to see them again? I am always reminded of that scene in Slumdog Millionaire, when the young protagonists steal trendy trainers that are so much better than their own, flimsy footwear (or bare feet).  Sometimes, you may get lucky and there will be an Indian 'entrepreneur' who for a 'wery small cost madam', will put your shoes aside on a nice shelf, and personally look after them for you whilst you are inside the monument.  A special service for foreign tourists.  

I have wised up to all of this now and always come prepared when visiting such sites - by being armed with a separate plastic bag in which to put my shoes which I then put inside my large handbag.  I don't know the technicalities behind this - if I am still breaking some sort of moral code by taking the 'unclean' shoes into the property - albeit inside my bag. 

Anyway, I am glad to say that I am very used to not wearing my shoes indoors these days - so much so that it really feels weird to keep my footwear on even in the UK....I'm barefoot all the way now!

"Hmmmm....I think I'll just take these...I love the colour!"

Mr & Mrs - the scene by our own front door.


  1. At the Taj Mahal in Agra they give footwear slip-on covers to foreign tourists along with their high priced tickets and none to the locals. I usually ask for them as I cannot move around easily without my shoes. At the Juma Masjid in Delhi they let you take your shoes in with you and keep them besides you or in a bag wherever you go though it is not the same case in other mosques around the country. At my home it's not a problem if anyone walks in with their shoes!!! At Sikh Gurudwaras it is customary to remove your shoes and socks as well since you pass through a channel of flowing water in which you wash your feet as you enter.

    1. True about the shoe covers...but they're so ugly Aadil! What if someone wants to take my photo? Haha ;)

    2. Yes they look like you are wearing the shoes Neil Armstrong wore on the Moon!!! And one would look like he was doing the Moonwalk!!!

  2. We are in the UK and I have found that many people actually ask that visitors remove their shoes.As a family we also prefer to wear soft comfy slippers around the house. When visiting, we take our slippers with us to change into. By doing this, people are more inclined to do the same when they visit us.
    It is such a civilised and respectful habit to remove your shoes.

    1. I think you're right Mark....I am so used to it now and genuinely do prefer to remove my shoes in someone else's house. I think I have been a complete pleb all my life thus far.... Thanks for visiting!!

  3. Nice post on the everyday differences.

    I've lived the majority of my life in shoeless countries and kept up the habit in the UK too. The thought of tramping all that outdoors dirt into a home is unsettling and I'm not a clean freak by any means.

    Have you found it has influenced your shoe shopping habits? I always gauge them for stepping out and slipping in ease so no buckles or lacing. For temples and other sites I wear cheap, very bright flip flops for the ease of finding them and to reduce the temptation to someone looking for an upgrade.

    1. Hi I always ballerina pumps (have given up on heels due to bad pavements) which are dead easy to get in and out of quickly. Because I have this weird foot phobia thing, I also can't stand wearing flip flops...TOE-POSTS AAAAGH! So I go and find the guy who will look after my shoes or they go in my bag. Or ...if those aren't an option then I have to take a risk I might not see them again (but I am of the perhaps mistaken belief that most people are very honest..especially in places of worship!)



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