Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Malaysian Meanders: Please Remove Your Shoes

Malaysian Meanders: Please Remove Your Shoes

"Ummm... Do you mind taking off your shoes?"

'Growing up in Houston, Texas, those words always seemed strange and awkward coming out of my mouth. My parents' house is strictly No Shoes Allowed, and as a child, this always seemed to set us apart. Sure, my aunts and uncles had the same rule. My parents' Filipino friends did, too. Grown-up parties with my folks were always marked by a huge pile of shoes at the door. But none of my friends ever made this request. I only realized this custom extended way beyond my family's circle of influence when I first entered the home of my Taiwanese friend in high school. She was surprised that I didn't automatically remove my shoes. "You're Chinese," she said, "you should know to take them off."

After I was married and had my own home, I instigated the No Shoes rule, too. When we visited Hawaii, I considered buying a plaque that said, "Please remove your shoes. It's the Hawaiian way." Except that a) I'm not Hawaiian; and b) I don't live in Hawaii. So, I couldn't figure out how I would justify that reasoning.

By the time I became a mother, non-Asians seemed to be jumping on the No Shoes bandwagon. Baby playgroup discussions covered concerns with thimerosal in vaccinations and phthalates in plastics. Leaving our shoes at the door was a way to keep environmental toxins out of the home. And of course, it's de rigueur for the kiddos to go shoeless at almost any indoor playscape.'

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