Monday, December 14, 2009

Shoes off.

You could ask an eight-year-old what's the difference between Koreans and Westerners and receive one of two answers:
1) 몰라
2) You have to take your shoes off inside.

Korean Shoes Off 죽을래?

It's funny to me because this seems so simple. Just take them off. But perhaps there's more to it.

Oh there's about a million blogs, polls, forum posts, wikipedia articles, and freshman-level essays on the subject and history of taking shoes off, but what about the dilemma of when to take them off? Is it possible to offend someone by taking your shoes off when it is simply not necessary? Oil and wax papered floors are gone. Steam carpet cleaners are in. Why do we still do it?

For that matter, flip flops are also a hot little topic, aren't they? I'm here to tell you that I have man-feet. They are pretty horrific. Out of respect for all people I refrain from ever wearing flip-flops in public. I'm doing you a favor - trust me. But why is that such a problem, really? In a Korean home, I can usually just pop off my shoes and call it a day but some more traditional homes mandate socks. Clean socks at that. Free spirited people not content with the mainstream who prefer a sockless lifestyle might find great discomfort in the square Korean society that favors cleanliness over freedom of foot.

I once knew a sweet little kid that is 1/4 Korean. His observations were the stuff of poetry. He once asked a question while at my mother and father's house. He asked "why are you not taking your shoes off? We gotta take our shoes off inside." He's got a point - it's America - why don't I take my shoes off at my parent's house? I would do so at a Korean house (and my own home for that matter) so why not there? In an American household where you might be the only one doing so, it might come off as snooty or distant; comparable to using 존댓말 with your younger sibling. However, the reverse may be true if you are the only one who leaves your shoes on.

Ask a disgruntled 외국인 as to why Koreans take their shoes off and responses range from "Because they're snobby", "Because Korea's so dirty", to "Because they will get arrested if they don't". It's too bad, you know. There are such bigger and better things to get bent out of shape about.

I don't know why we still take off our shoes inside. Conformity is an admirable trait among Koreans so perhaps that is one reason. Tradition is another reason that is better left unchallenged in most cases. Just how wild and crazy is it to be the one person upset about taking off shoes when one enters a home? Sorry all. I don't have an educated answer. All I can tell you is maybe Koreans had me in mind when they prefer socks over bare feet.