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Shoe Enough

November 2010
Shoe Enough

Dear PMG:

When is the Indian community in America going to get with the times? It seems like everyone from dadis to doctors insist on taking off their shoes when they enter someone’s home. Of course, at home they are equally insistent (in their overly polite way) in telling others to remove their shoes.

I’ve had it up to here with this shoe removal. People have foot odor and socks with holes in them. And even the least athletic Indians seem to have athlete’s foot. But none of them seem to have any issue with popping off their chappals, boots, sneakers, loafers, and Manolo Blahniks when they enter a home.

Upon stepping into other people’s homes, I’ve seen all kinds of creative approaches to separate me from my footwear. There was the couple who announced their Hawaiian vacation by affixing to their door a small tile that read, “Mahalo for removing your shoes.” Then there was the smiley face with the oh-so-funny “We don’t live in your shoe, so please don’t shoe into our home.” Ha, ha, ha.

What’s the big deal here? Did the great Mahatma take off his shoes when he went to England? I think not. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Dear Friend,

“The Parsis used to be regarded as the most civilized people amongst Indians….

Of course no one could be without shoes and stockings…. But I can see today that we feel all the freer and lighter for having cast off the tinsel of ‘civilization.’” (M. K. Gandhi).

To be sure, there is no excuse for poor hygiene: if your feet perspire excessively, please use powder (preferably with a lavender perfume). And socks that have holes in them, or perhaps are mismatched, can be a source of irritation. But we can all find a bit of humor in the cultural differences that make life so interesting in these not-so United States. Indeed, we might all be “freer and lighter” if we loosened up a bit.

Perhaps the concept of Rome can be extended to each home rather than to America as a whole. I suggest a change to your aphorism: When at the Joshi home, do as the Joshis do. Or when with the Jones family, do as the Joneses do.

Some families think of their homes as castles; they like the idea of galloping about with galoshes on. They live perfectly fine lives and are inclined to vacuum quite regularly. Others believe their homes to be temples; they prefer a clean separation at the portal between the polluting outside world and the inner sanctum sanctorum. They sweep no less frequently and seem quite happy folding their feet up on their sofas and chairs.

It’s rather easy to respect both ways of being without losing your own sense of self and civilization.

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