Saturday, July 4, 2009

Case of the Missing Shoes

Nick and I both grew up taking off our shoes before or when we entered the house. In Taiwan and India, where our parents grew up, shoes are usually taken off before you enter the house. The thinking is twofold--the outside stays out, and, practically, the house stays cleaner. In front of everyone's door are piles of shoes, and depending on the family, it runs from super-organized to a huge mess. 

A mess of shoes at the front door

In the US, we mostly take off our shoes right after we step into the house. There's usually a foyer area, and I guess it's mentally seen as part of the outside. Similar to the genkan idea in Japan, where the front area--even though it's actually inside your door--is considered public space. 

An example of a Japanese genkan

Here in Mexico, we don't have a foyer area, but we've chosen to take off our shoes right when we walk in. We sort of delineated a 3-4 step "foyer" area that we give ourselves permission to put and keep our shoes on. (Ha! Now that I think about it, it's funny how we both unspokenly decided on our shoe rule.) Anyway, it's not a common practice here in Mexico, and we usually remind guests to take their shoes off when they enter. The usually remark back is, "Oh, I hope my socks don't have any holes in it." Some, if they're only stepping in for a moment, would rather stand near the door than take off their shoes. 

Recently, I've been thinking a lot our shoe habits because two incidents have prompted Nick and me to talk about our taking-off-our-shoes options. When Nick's parents were here, we were caught in a huge rainstorm and all our shoes were wet. We all decided to take our shoes off outside the door and leave them until they dried. 

Before we went to bed, I asked Nick to take in the shoes. When he opened the door ALL THE SHOES WERE MISSING!! Nick's parents were already in bed, but the mystery woke us all up and we convened on the couch. Nick went downstairs to ask the doorman if he knew anything about the shoes, and he did. He embarrassingly said that he threw them in the trash because we had our shoes where we usually put our trash out for him. So, around midnight, Nick went to the trash bin and reclaimed our shoes. 

Today, again, I encountered our other doorman mistaking my shoes for trash. Yesterday, I left my shoes outside again because they were wet. When I opened the door to put out the trash, I saw my doorman with my shoes in his hand. He asked, "Are these trash?" And I, in my amazement that this was happening again said, "No, no, no." 

We are a little bewildered that our doormen keep mistaking the shoes outside our door for trash. Obviously we're having a cultural miscommunication, and they must be as baffled by what we're doing as we are by what they're doing. When it happened once, we thought something was wrong with our doorman; when it happened again, I realized the cultural difference. We considered a sign--something to the effect of "Our shoes are not trash!"--but I think a little explanation will do the job. 


  1. Im sure if there are only 2 door men then telling them both would do the trick. Im surprised they were actually in the dumpster though. Even here if I throw out anything that could be possibly reused someone always takes off with it before the trash comes. Im surprised if they thought you were throwing out good shoes they didn't keep them for themselves.

  2. That's so funny! My husband and I both take our shoes off when we enter the house, a practice I caught from friends and that my husband caught from me. Now that we're living in Mexico we're trying to find a way to make it work, since his relatives just look at us in bewilderment and leave their shoes on. So far, my shoes have gone missing when relatives try them on, but they haven't yet ended up in the trash!

  3. Missing?!?! We haven't come up with any missing shoes recently, probably because we stopped putting our shoes outside. Sometimes we consider leaving a wet umbrella outside, but given the season, we don't want to be short of umbrellas either.

  4. I think removing shoes at the door is such an excellent thing to do. I am glad you have imported it to Mexico. I hope one day it catches on there.

    I have an whole blog about removing shoes in homes: Shoes Off at the Door, Please You might like to take a look.