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.