Sunday, March 01, 2009

Of Shoes and Freedom

So, the poll has closed. Thanks for voting, everyone. Shoe-wearers, at least part-time, come in at 41% and non-shoe wearers come in at 58%. Where the other 1% fit, I don't know, but apparently no one wears shoes only when cold. I'm wondering now why I didn't respond that way, because that is closest to the truth for me. I personally wear shoes all day in the winter and otherwise cold weather, and during the summer I don't even wear shoes outside consistently.

So, what's the deal. The shoe issue has been for me one of those little cultural tiffs that come with the vocation to marriage. You know, one person's family's culturally ingrained truths butting up against her spouse's family's culturally ingrained truths.

For me, the issue really gets extremely pronounced when I am visiting someone. I believe this is something formed in me by my grandparents. During my childhood I often spent a week or two with my grandparents, which provided many deeply formative moments that I drank up like a dry sponge. I have always loved family stories, and once my grandmother told me of the great sacrifice that had to be made by her father, by no means a warm and cuddly figure, for her and her siblings to all have shoes. Grandma took shoes seriously. And the only time I saw my grandparents without shoes was before sleeping. I gathered from them that shoes had an emotional quality connected with human dignity.

Ok, then I did my time in Japan where I got desperately frustrated with needing to leave one's shoes outside, put on slippers to come in, and then change into different slippers to go to the bathroom. In my own apartment I eventually stopped feeling guilty for occasionally stepping on my tatami with shoes on (though it did take some effort).

But the kicker came when now-hubby and I went to visit my mother's cousin in the country during our engagement. My husband took off his shoes and left them near the door, and these relatives gave him every reassurance: "Go ahead, leave them on! No reason to take them off!" Subtext: "Because you are welcome here!" This gave expression to something I felt very deeply: if someone is welcome in my house, then all of them is welcome, including their shoes and the dirt on them. It is the depths of rudeness to ask a guest to remove his shoes.

There. Got that all sorted out.

But then, what do I do when I visit hubby's clan and discover they are non-shoe wearers, and a couple of them actually do ask people to remove their shoes? I swallow really, really hard, and I (sometimes grudgingly) take off my shoes. And I take several years to come to terms with this.

This is such a small thing, but to me it speaks of the issue of force, freedom, and charity. I've heard some people speak about differences like this. They say "I love these people, and I want to make them happy, so I just do what they want me to, out of love!" And I admire the sentiments of these Little Misses Sunshine. Perhaps I feel forced more easily than the average person. Or I react to feelings of force more strongly. I truly don't feel my problem is that I am snotty and selfish, unless perhaps my selfishness is in that I don't always articulate what I feel to others, especially when it is not something Little Miss Sunshine would say. I am ponderous and serious, and yes I take even things like why I wear shoes very seriously.

So, maybe the next time someone cheeses me off over some common place issue, out of charity I will expound with long oration all of my feelings about the subject. See, I guess at heart this is an issue of the fear of being looked at as if I had three heads. Don't normal people just acquiesce? So be it; I'm not "normal" then.

Or maybe I just need to find some of these in adult sizes:


Suzanne said...

Ha! For me it's winter outer garments -- you would be amazed at how many strangers feel comfortable with addressing a 42 year-old woman with the observation, "Young lady! Put on a coat!"

Laura A said...

Rats, missed the poll! But I'll add my two cents: Manhattanites are generally shoe removers. The reason? Hardwood floors and downstairs neighbors (and perhaps the ickiness of New York City streets).

That said, I'm not legalistic about it. I've never asked anyone to remove their shoes in my home, nor would I. I occasionally wear them myself for short periods of time to save my socks when I'm getting ready to go out, but I feel self-conscious about the noise and don't do it for long.

But, as to the larger point, yes, it sometimes it does require a lot of charity to overcome small differences. And it makes one feel welcome when others can do the same.

Angela said...

Great insight! I always take my shoes off in the house, and I think it is because it makes me feel like I am at home. In Italy we took off shoes because of the downstairs neighbors. For guests, they can do whatever they want. I'd say half take off their shoes, half don't.

My husband, oddly, insists on wearing shoes when there are guests in the house. He tried to convince me to do the same, but, no.

My mother-in-law has a weird routine of taking on and off her slippers depending on whether she is on carpet or not. Then there is a specific pair of sandals for wearing on the back porch. After observing her, I realized that shoes were not allowed, but she never asked.

As to the "accepting the whole person" thing... I'm not so sure anyone else is thinking of it in those terms. They are just shoes, after all, not part of the person. Generally, the people who take off their shoes in my house and whose houses where I take off my own shoes happen to be the ones who are closer friends, so I guess I'd have a different take on it. But, yes, I get the overall point.