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An Indian village that banned shoes (bbc.com)
54 points by MiriamWeiner 47 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 63 comments

> “In a country where people often go barefoot indoors – considering it a gesture of respect and a nod to hygiene...“

It’s not “often”, but “almost always”. It’s highly uncommon to wear footwear indoors (except in cold places where people have a separate set of footwear for indoor use).

In India footwear that’s been outside the house is considered dirty and unhygienic. It’s also disrespectful to wear it inside another person’s home or at temples. People would even avoid, whenever possible, carrying their footwear in hand (like in this village) or wash their hands well once they put the footwear down.

Culturally, one way to insult someone deeply in public in India is to hit them with one’s footwear (usually slippers). It’s also common, at least in some movies, that a girl who’s been harassed by a guy usually beats him up with her slippers. There have even been political incidents where someone who’s against a politician has thrown shoes or slippers at them at public gatherings (sometimes this has happened in the legislative assemblies too, where people from rival parties have done it to each other). This kind of usage seems somewhat common even in other Asian countries.

Talking about this village, a place where temperatures could be around 35°C (about 95°F) or more for many months in the year during daytime, walking barefoot may be difficult unless one is used to it. Maybe there aren’t many paved roads there either, since those could get even hotter.

The first time I saw anyone wearing shoes (and putting them up on coffee tables and such) inside their own house was in America.

That’s not an option in the tiny European country I grew up in or anywhere in Asia I’ve been.

I think it’s barbaric behavior. You literally step on vomit, needles, dog shit and what not outside and then you drag that inside your own bedroom? What the fuck.

As far as what to wear when you take your shoes off in someone’s house - there’s always slippers for guests, many pairs. Or you just walk around in your socks.

Yeah - reminds me of the time when I was shocked when I first saw american TV shows where the character just gets on the bed or sofa with their shoes on ... and I thought, "Don't they realise how unhygienic that is?"

> You literally step on vomit, needles, dog shit...

Slow down there, hyperbole.

Also, GASP you eat plants that GREW in that shit for months.

It turns out most of the stuff you step in just won't hurt you in modern society.

And if you have pets (mainly dogs) they're going to bring some dirt in anyways.

I can understand taking off shoes on particularly muddy days, but otherwise who cares? A little dirt and grime is part of life, and exposure has been shown to be good for allergies.

Well we all have shit in our body does not mean we should not wash our hands after taking a dump.

India also turns out to be super dusty where people mostly walk instead of driving around in car. So the shoes are filthy too. I use to wash my sports shoes every month when I was in India. In USA I have not really washed them for years. There is simply no need.

I wash the plants that "GREW in the shit" before I eat them, though? And no, you can't put your shoes up on my coffee table after walking through the hospital, nope. Go spread that MRSA somewhere else, my immune system is fine.

I don't wear shoes inside the house, but what do you do in this case where your bare feet are the shoes? Wear slippers?

No. Even these people in this village would wash their feet before entering the house since they've been walking barefoot and have had their feet carrying dirt and what not. Washing one's feet before entering your home (or a temple) is quite common in India.

I spent six months living in a rural New Zealand town when I was 11. About 95% of people there (including me) were barefoot everywhere—in the home, at school, at the grocery store, at the doctor's office. Some sports were predominantly barefoot too (I was on my school's cross-country team and everyone ran barefoot, but I was also on a soccer team where we used cleats). There was no stigma against wearing shoes anywhere, but the majority of people still chose not to.

Did I ever get thorns or glass in my foot? Yes. Did I ever regret going barefoot? No. It was completely liberating in a way that's hard to describe.

I have been walking around San Francisco barefoot with my 2-year-old kid for a year.

We get told on a daily basis that we should watch out for broken glass on the sidewalk, but the only (minor) foot punctures we’ve had are (1) I stepped on a fish bone in my own kitchen, and (2) my kid stepped on a thumbtack near a picnic table at the playground. (Edit: to be clear, there is regularly broken glass on the sidewalk, which we step around.)

I suppose there is some chance of not paying attention, stepping on something big and sharp, and getting a serious injury, but it frankly seems less likely than getting hit by a car. I think people are in general quite poor at evaluating and balancing risks.

In the advantages column: my kid’s “toddling” phase lasted like 2 months, and he is a faster and more graceful a walker/runner than any kids his age here. (I’m sure compared to someone in a hunting tribe he would be no better than average, but young city kids are weak and awkward.) There is so much information picked up from the ground while trying to move, and so many additional muscles in the foot/lower leg to use when not in a stiff shoe. Not being barefoot when learning to walk is a huge handicap for the little developing brain.

The only places we typically go that really insist on shoes here are occasional restaurants and the public library. More people could get away with walking barefoot in more places than they might expect.

I would be concerned about dirty needles etc. as much as anything, especially in a place like San Francisco. Junkies can carry God-knows-what, but I can respect you for braving that risk.

There are some homeless drug addicts in our neighborhood and I would not be surprised at needles at night or early morning in some nooks or gutters here or there, but the only place I have seen needles in the middle of the day on the sidewalk is near Civic Center.

Still, even if there were regularly needles lying around, the chances of stepping on a needle are vanishingly small. (Have you ever stepped on a needle while wearing shoes? People going barefoot are paying a lot closer attention to the ground.) The chances of picking up something from that are much smaller still. Needles pass diseases when people re-use them to inject stuff into their blood, not when they accidentally step on one.

If worried about disease, there is probably a (still very tiny but) significantly higher risk of stepping on disease-carrying poop while having a cut on the foot.

I mean I don't disagree, but living in a big city (London) it is •very* rare I see a needle in the street (once in the past year?). It never was on a walkable path, always in some sort of gutter. I'd assume the risk to be so close to zero it's negligible, I'd be more worried about breaking my toes hitting them on stuff

> The only places we typically go that really insist on shoes here are occasional restaurants and the public library. More people could get away with walking barefoot in more places than they might expect.

Not in Chicago! I tried it one summer (I was about to go to India and thought it'd be fun to get in the spirit), and got kicked out of every place I frequented: grocery stores, restaurants, book stores, record stores, …. I forget if I ever got in any trouble on public transit.

Ever tried vibrams?

Yes, I wear vibrams when it is uncomfortably cold on the ground, or when going to the library.

>It was completely liberating in a way that's hard to describe.

That's very interesting. I can imagine what you mean, because even though I take off my shoes only once or twice during the day (and at night to sleep, of course), I feel a lot of freedom or relief when I do. Washing the feet and then letting them get some air, does feel quite good, although you stop noticing it after a while, until you put shoes on again for some time and then take them off again.

That sounds lovely. I imagine the weather must have been fairly warm?

I spent a few summers in my youth similarly barefoot in Virginia from June until September. I remember enjoying it, and it's something I often wish I could revisit as an adult.

Most of the houses in South India (I'm from Tamil Nadu) forbid us wearing slipper or shoes inside the house. It's simply unnecessary as our houses are regularly swept and cleaned. I found it weird when I moved to North India where people find it usual to wear slipper inside. The plausible explanation I came up with is cold

Most of the houses in India* (I'm from Gujarat, have friends from Delhi, have relatives living in Mumbai.) If you find people wearing slippers inside, they are a separate pair of slippers only meant to be worn inside the house. We were taught that not removing your shoes/sandals when you visit someone's place is a sign of disrespect.

My family is from Gujarat. Even though neither my parents (born in Uganda) nor I (born in London) have ever lived in India, I still feel strange when I visit a home where shoes are not removed at the door.

Yeah I moved to Canada in uni and it is still so weird when I go to a random place where they don't remove footwear. I'll usually remove my shoes even if there are other people who still have their shoes on.

I'll also ask anyone and everyone who visit my apartment to remove their footwear at the door.

> We were taught that not removing your shoes/sandals when you visit someone's place is a sign of disrespect.

This can be said about central/east europe as well, and our western european friends seem to behave like that too. And I don't mean just removing dirty heavy winter boots, I mean any boots/shoes/sandals/etc used outside.

I am English, and was brought up this way, but many of my English friends evidently were not, because they keep their shoes on when coming in unless i ask them to take them off.

But you know what, we don't take our shoes off in the office, do we? Why is that different?

I had an Indian colleague years ago, and she did take her shoes off at work. We'd sit down at a computer to pair on something, and she'd slip her shoes off as she sat down. I must have found that unusual, because i remember it clearly.

I have started taking my shoes off at work, but only a year or two ago. I think it's because i got a pair of heavy boots, and my feet can get too warm wearing them. I will walk to the printer in socks, but i have a pair of smart office slippers for going to the kitchen or bathroom.

But you know what, we don't take our shoes off in the office, do we? Why is that different?

My mother would say: I clean this house, someone else does it in your office!

In Sweden it is not uncommon to remove shoes at work, especially when it's a wooden floor. I know we do it in my company. On the other hand in France it is very uncommon, but it is pretty usual to switch shoes when entering the office. Especially for those who have fancy shoes in Paris and don't want to get them ruined in the metro. So you take sneakers from home to work and switch to nice shining leather shoes at work.

> But you know what, we don't take our shoes off in the office, do we? Why is that different?

In the US, because it makes people uncomfortable, and I have the right to do what makes me comfortable in my house, but not necessarily to do in the office what makes my co-workers uncomfortable. I do often take off my shoes when I'm in my office.

"Only-for-HOME" footwear needs to be stressed. Then there are "bathroom-only" slippers that is specific to 1 bathroom and will be used by all.

I have never been to a place in India (except may be some suave modern urban folks who may follow things differently) where we did not have to remove footwear at doorstep

In addition to temperature, dominant construction materials could have an effect. For example stone is both fairly unforgiving to feet as well as feeling much colder at the same temperature compared to wood, bamboo, etc.

Yes, in winter, even socks are not warm enough. (For others: houses typically don't have heat, and the temperature can drop below 10C / 50F.)

A lot of people in India, more so poor people, and people in rural areas, don't wear any kind of footwear, much of the time. They might just wear shoes or slippers (chappals) when going to a town or city. I see this even today. Even though I know they can get used to it, I always marvel at how they can handle all the potential issues, like heat (gets very high in large parts of India for much of the year), cold, bumpy/sharp surfaces, even glass or nails (although rarer) on the roads. I've seen workers in houses of relatives, which I have visited, who did their work inside and around the house, barefoot.

Thanks for mentioning "chappals" - In my experience (currently month 21 in India over the last 14 years) this term usually refers to a generic type of open-ish, often plastic or rubber, shoe - anything between a "flip-flop" ("thong" for Aussies), "slides", "sandals", or more like "crocs", etc whereas (to a Brit) at least, a "slipper" is quite different (usually softer materials, though some might be similar in style to slides or crocs or moccasins), and intended for indoor use only.

>this term usually refers to a generic type of open-ish, often plastic or rubber, shoe

I don't know if it can be called a shoe, unless you were using the term loosely - I saw that you mentioned slides, sandals, etc. The open-ish part is right, it is an open item of footwear, see below.

Google "bata chappals images" and "hawaiian chappals images" to see two common kinds of footwear that are both informally called "chappals" in India. The former includes ones made out of leather or synthetic materials (what is called PU here, maybe polyurethane, not sure), at least for the cheaper brands (or non-brands). I dislike and never buy the PU or similar type. Feels slimy/slippery and wrong to the skin, and causes more perspiration than either rubber or leather, IME, although rubber and leather cause some too, in higher temperatures during summer.

NP. Good points about the different terms / usages.

Just as in other former colonies or areas where English influence existed, India has adapted English somewhat:


In rural areas, there are very few concrete or asphalt surfaces. The dirt roads don't absorb heat so it rarely affects anything. You also don't find glass or nails scattered around in random places in villages. And you get used to those bumpy surfaces so they don't bother you much

I agree with you except for a few points. There are concrete and asphalt (I suppose you mean what we call tar roads in India) in villages in India. 50-100 years ago there might not have been, but modernization (of some things) has happened, and we have that now - some. Also glass at least, if not nails, can occur at a non-trivial level, due to littering. I see it a fair amount.

There are really good reasons to wear shoes where sanitation might be suspect. Hookworm is a real and nasty thing.


I find that many American families cargo-cult the "no shoes inside" rule but without the necessary home infrastructure to support it.

A pile of shoes at the garage entrance with no bench to put them on, or expecting you to remove shoes on the wet doormat before stepping onto the carpet inside.

In Japan there seemed to be an entire cottage industry of shoe horns, benches, stools, slippers, and mats designed for the custom. I'd need that in my home before I went all-in with no shoes.

I'm baffled by this. Do Americans really keep their shoes on at home?

What do you do if it is wet and muddy outside?

Do toddlers wear shoes inside as well?

So many questions...

I sort of depends. Usually there's a subjective boundary. In parents place the first floor is tile, and it's acceptable to wear shoes on the first floor. But the others floors are carpeted and you don't wear shoes up there.

In the older house, the one I grew up in, the front door led to an atrium where it is okay to wear shoes. But the hallways and rooms connected to the atrium were off limits for shoes. The Laundry room opened to the outside (namely, our bunny's enclosure) and we also stored some yard tools in the laundry room. It'd be inconvenient to take shoes on and off all the time when going in and out. So the laundry room is fair game for shoes.

At my apartment I do it Asian-style and take them off at the door because there is no natural boundary and because San Francisco streets are especially filthy.

So the answer is: it's chaos and there are no rules.

Ok, this makes sense and is similar to what I am used to from Europe.

It's not something me or any of my friends care about. If your shoes are obviously dirty, as in muddy, you take them off, but otherwise it's not something anyone thinks about. Complete non-issue to us.

Cool, it's like a nature preserve for hookworm.

How is banning shoes taking a practice of hygiene to a “new level”? You can’t take off your feet when you get home, can you?

I wear shoes inside and sometimes while I'm laying in bed. Be mortified.

I like the respect angle though. Far too many people throw their trash on the ground. If not wearing shoes outside makes them rethink their actions I'm all for it.

Edit: Downvoters were mortified.

I'll wear shoes inside but laying in bed is going a little too far. You walk in public restrooms with those shoes (I'm assuming).

Public restrooms, private restrooms, my kitchen, your cook at a restaurant wears them in the restauraunt's kitchen.

I guess the real question is, who wears shoes under their bed covers?

Many people have pets in their home. The home is a bathroom because the animals will shit in it from time to time.

Ignoring the cleanliness aspect, why wear shoes in bed? That just sounds uncomfortable.

I have some issues with my arch and toes and my custom orthotics really help with that. I only really hang them off the side of the bed. Sometimes they are on the bed though.

It also seems a natural progression from walking around the house to laying on the bed to answer some texts.

I do it less in the winter or when it's raining. In that case I don't bother and leave them in the entry way.

You wear your outside shoes in bed? That’s not mortifying, it’s disgusting. You’re rolling in and breathing in whatever came in contact with the soles of your shoes.

And your shoes would be wetter and breed more bacteria if you tend to leave them on that much. Your feet and shoes probably smell much worse than they need to. Regardless of hygiene you are also rolling around in grit in your bed which doesn't seem very comfortable. Yep, I am also mortified!

There are millions (billions?!) of bacteria in your mouth, bathroom, kitchen sink, asshole, etc. Every time you release a fart you are spraying countless bacteria into your pants.

How many sheets do you rip?

Good for them, I never really liked wearing shoes.

more electrons being absorbed into the body! Good for them. Cut out the rubber shoe resistor

Next they should ban the clothes during the summer time. One thing less to worry about. I would totally sign up for that!

"Let them be satisfied with a mere loin-cloth. In our climate, we hardly need more to protect our bodies during the warm months of the year." - Gandhi advocating the boycott of foreign clothes.

Source: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/printrelease.aspx?relid=149833

It should really be more about convenience than a boycott.

It would save so much energy if everyone turned the air conditioning to less cold in Summer and people showed up to work in shorts and Bermuda shirts. The change between outside and inside temperatures makes you catch cold!

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