Shoes: On Or Off Inside? Why This American In Singapore Struggles With A Common Asian Practice – By Expat Andrea McKenna Brankin

Who knew the issue of taking off or leaving shoes on at home was so controversial?
07 June 2018

There’s an interesting video circulating on my social media lately called “America Vs: Shoes At Home”.

It talks about how it is so dirty that Americans wear shoes indoors and compares it to the differing values of cleanliness and respect in some Asian cultures and, I think, even Germany is listed.

It is definitely one of those things that make you go, “Hmmmmm, I wonder if we Americans have been doing it all wrong?” That’s the point of these videos.

However, I have a major sticking point with this controversy: No one has died. Indeed, if wearing shoes indoors was so dangerous, millions of Americans would have died or would be dying every day. That is not the case. To date, there is no evidence that anyone ever got sick from wearing shoes indoors.

And how about pets? Pets don’t wear shoes (generally speaking), and we let them in our houses both in Singapore and in America. (Cue video on pets wearing shoes – they are very funny!) Of course, some people do wipe their pets’ feet.

In terms of germs, there’s more to that. Many people clean their houses with chemicals to not only to get rid of dirt (from shoes) but also to kill germs. On that note, antibacterial soaps and cleaners are said to have done more damage to create drug-resistant bacteria than anything, save for over-prescribing antibiotic meds. The U.S. Center for Disease Control, for example, has advised not to use antibacterial soap.

That being said, my family has chosen to adopt not wearing shoes indoors in our home here in Singapore. We didn’t think too much about it; we just followed local custom. We even use house slippers sometimes, including my little daughter.

I did think it was surprising the first time I went to a cocktail party here and all the designer shoes like Prada, Tory Burch or Louboutin were just piled up outside the door of the condo. I thought having to take off your shoes ruined a great outfit.

On the flip side, when we visit America, people do think it’s strange when we automatically take off our shoes. Our daughter surely is confused when we tell her it’s OK to keep her sneakers on at Grandma’s house.

I’m trying to find the right words to explain why it’s weird to take your shoes off at homes in America…

I guess it’s because it may come off as rude to think you can just take your shoes off and lounge around someone’s home. You’re a guest.  If you go barefoot in someone’s house, it suggests you are familiar to the place, like it’s your own home. When complete strangers, like workers or delivery people, start slapping their heels on your marble or wood… well, it takes some getting used to!

Subsequently, since living in Singapore, I’ve cut back on my shoe wardrobe significantly, much to the chagrin of my husband, who saw me move here with three basketfuls.

And, as much as I love some cool shoes, as long as we’re in Asia, it’s, “Sorry, Jimmy Choo, but you gotta go.”


About Andrea McKenna Brankin

Andrea McKenna Brankin is a journalist and author from the United States who lives a full life with bipolar disorder. Her book, Bipolar Phoenix, is awaiting a publishing contract. She is also currently a volunteer at the DaySpring Residential Treatment Centre for teen girls in Singapore, providing befriending-family support, therapeutic writing and rugby coaching.


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