Why Is It Asian Culture For Us To Remove Our Shoes Before Entering People’s Houses?

Truth be told, I have always thought that removing your shoes before entering your house was something that was practised by all.

Until one day when I went over to my Czech friend’s house. As I was bending down to untie my shoelaces he said: “there’s no need for that”.

I was confused. I looked down at my dirty converse and asked:

“You want me to wear shoes inside your house?”

“Yea, what’s the problem with that?”

Image: Giphy

Part of me was happy that I didn’t need to take off my shoes because I hated the chore of tieing my shoelaces but the other part of me felt uneasy wearing shoes inside a house.

Now that an article written more than a year ago titled “I Think It’s Rude To Ask Guests To Take Off Their Shoes- Here’s Why” has surfaced, it has shed light on the Asian culture of removing shoes before you enter someone’s home.

Why It’s Rude; According To The Lady Who Wrote The Article

Because it can potentially ruin someone’s outfit. 

In the article, she wrote that she went to a Christmas party wearing a festive dress with tights. When she arrived, most guests had their shoes off but she kept hers on because her outfit wasn’t complete without her “adorable half-boots”.

Image: Giphy

Well, while ruining someone’s outfit might be considered rude, I would say that not abiding by your host’s house rule makes you rude AND disrespectful.

Why Do We Remove Our Shoes Before We Enter The House? 

I think I speak for all Singaporean moms out there when I say that hygiene is the number one reason for the habit.

My mother hates it when we step into the house with our shoes on, especially if she had just finished mopping the floor.

According to a 2008 study by the University of Arizona, approximately 421,000 different types of bacteria can be found on shoes.

96% of the shoes examined were found to have coliforms, a bacterial indicator of the level of sanitation of foods and water that is also universally found in faeces of humans and warm-blooded animals.

Image: Giphy

Which could imply that… your shoes are as clean as your shit. Literally.

That could explain why your Singaporean mom is so concerned about hygiene when it comes to having shoes in the house.

Different Practices In Different Asian Countries 

In Singapore, we simply put our shoes on a shoe rack or outside the house. However, the Japanese and Koreans take their level of cleanliness up a notch.

In Japan and Korea, there are small entryways respectively called “genkan” and “hyeon gwan”. These are designed for them to remove their shoes and are lower than the rest of the house.

They would then change into slippers before stepping foot into the main spaces of the house. In Korea, these indoor slippers are called “sil nae hwa”.

This practice retains the integrity of keeping dirty shoes off living spaces.

And for Japan, there is a separate pair of slippers to be worn in the bathroom. This further emphasizes the importance of hygiene, keeping all the germs from the bathroom where they originated.

However, the reason might differ for other Asian households.


It Might Not Always Be For Hygiene 

In Thailand, the head is viewed as the most revered part of the body. It is where the spirit lives.

The feet on the other hand, with its position right at the end of the body, it is the most removed from the spirit.

Hence, they are considered spiritually “dirty”.

While they can’t chop off their feet and leave it outside the house, the shoes are easy to remove.

Removal of shoes for the Thais is commonly practised in their homes and temples. Some small shops also request for customers to go in barefoot.


So, after learning the reasons behind it, is it still rude for us to ask our guests to remove their shoes before entering our house?


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