How I Learned My Lesson

October 10, 2006

In Taiwan it is the custom to never wear shoes in the house.  Most people leave their shoes outside their door and have slippers that they wear inside.   I usually remove my shoes when I go into my apartment as well, after all things  stay cleaner and it’s more comfortable that way, but it’s not that important to me so now and then, for example if I’m just home to grab a quick bite to eat between classes, I don’t bother.

Such was the case on Saturday afternoon.  I had just sat down for lunch when I heard my doorbell ring.  It was the first time I had ever heard my doorbell, actually, so it was a bit startling.  I opened the front door to see a tiny little old Taiwanese woman shuffling towards me.  “um… Ni Hao…” I said uncertainly to the stranger.  She launched into a angry sounding tirade in Chinese, gesturing wildly and incomprehensibly.  I gave her my best helplessly confused foreigner look. “Wo ting bu dong,” I insisted “I don’t understand.”  She stopped for a second and stared at me, then started the scolding again. 

A younger woman, maybe her daughter, came tentatively up the stairs.  “I don’t understand,” I told her, hoping she spoke English.  Apparently not, because she just stood there looking embarrassed while the old lady tried to push her way past me to my apartment. “uh.. excuse me…” I said, stepping in front of her.  Who was this person?

I noticed that she seemed to be pointing to my feet frequently.  “Xiezi”, I heard her say a couple times.  OK, I know that one, she’s talking about shoes.  Maybe she wants me to take off mine?  But why should she care?  She pointed at my neighbors line of shoes outside their door and nodded vigorously.

Eventually, the situation became clear to me. How, I do not know.  But as it turns out (I think…) these people live below me and do not appreciate the sound of me walking around in my shoes.  Probably the grand total of walking in shoes that day had been to go from my main room to the kitchen and back again, but whatever.  I quickly pulled my shoes off and set them neatly beside my door to demonstrate my willingness to comply. “Ok, Ok, Hao, Hao” I said agreeably.  She nodded and the women turned to leave, the younger one throwing me one last embarrassed look over her shoulder.

That will teach me to ignore local customs.


  1. lol…this is funny. I would have been horrified by a scolding old woman appearing at my door.

  2. Many Asian buildings like yours are made entirely of cast cement, which you’d think would be a very silent floor–but actually we learned when we lived in Hangzhou that vibrations really carried through the floors. I remember being in the apartment under ours once when Quinn was toddling about, just learning to walk,and he must have tumbled. I can still clearly remember the exact DOOOIIINNNG sound of his head cracking onto that concrete floor (this may explain a lot about your little brother, LOL!)–it was so loud. Perhaps it is a similar effect in the apartment underneath yours.

    Good story though! Great way to get to know the neighbors. @@

  3. Actually, while the noise explanation makes sense and is probably what set her off, it may not be the right one as to why she was so insistant.
    My understanding is that wearing shoes inside bring something bad to your house.
    I read people making fun of taiwanese about how ghosts would come inhabit their shoes if they were inside 😀 but i have absolutely no idea how far goes the joke from the truth.

  4. Yes, I’ve heard this too. However, I somewhat doubt that she would have bothered me about it if her intention was just a friendly warning against unwanted supernatural visitors or some such thing. Whatever the reason, I guess I’ll stop wearing shoes in the house. Or just tread very lightly and carry my ghostbusting kit when I do.

  5. My observation is that all Asian people practice the custom of removing shoes at the door, even those who are transplanted and living in the states. The reason why is that 5000 years ago they discovered stocking feet make nice little dust mops. Bare feet will also detect pebbles and sand. The more people you have walking in your house with bare feet and stocking feet, the cleaner the floor will be. Tell your friends you read it here first. I’m sure that’s what the old woman was trying to say.

  6. Removing shoes in homes is an excellent custom.

    I have dedicated an entire blog to this subject.

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