• Notwithstanding career-changing toilet-slipper transgressions, by the end of my Japan-stint I was pretty much conditioned to 'lose the shoes'... (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Shoes off or on inside the house? Issues like this can make or break an inter-cultural relationship. Under Asian influence, Ian Rose goes footloose.
By
Ian Rose

27 Apr 2017 - 12:23 PM  UPDATED 27 Apr 2017 - 12:24 PM

As the Anglo end of an Anglo-Vietnamese domestic alliance, there have been a few adjustments I’ve had to make in the name of harmonious union. Some have come more easily than others.

Handing out little red envelopes of cash to virtual strangers at the Lunar New Year, when Christmas has only recently cleaned me out, always smarts. I’ve never understood cognac with a meal, but was sold on salted fruit the first time I tried it. I feel palpable throbs of guilt in sending the kids to Vietnamese school on a Sunday, but a few hours to wallow in peace never go amiss.

And then there’s the ‘no shoes in the house’ thing.

Through my twenties, every threshold at which I was required to ditch my footwear ticked a box in my head marked “uptight/bourgeois”.

Growing up in England, whenever I visited a friend’s home with a no-shoes-indoors regime, I’d assume the parents to be the kind of anally-retentive cleanliness zealots who would secretly have loved to keep their furniture in its plastic wrapping, whose other secrets probably included weekend satanism.

Through my twenties, every threshold at which I was required to ditch my footwear ticked a box in my head marked “uptight/bourgeois”.

Not for my place, such strictures. Guests were free to wander in fully shod, then kick off just as I did, wherever the mood took us, so that the trail of upturned boots and still-laced sneakers through various house-shares became a living testimony to how free-wheelin’, laid-back and bohemian we all were. Ah, heady days. (Though the looseness of this arrangement did, at times, lead to one-missing-Converse-rage).

Then, at 32, I spent a couple of years living and working in Japan and, as part of the when-in-Rome policy that also saw me endure communal baths and karaoke sessions with co-workers, I had a whole new bunch of footwear etiquette to navigate.

Not just taking shoes off when arriving at home, work or a restaurant, but also putting the right kind of goddam slippers on.

There was that moment, during one of many semi-mandatory after-work get-togethers, when I shuffled back to our izakaya cubicle from a bathroom visit, to be greeted by a sea of faces staring in abject horror at my feet (they were sitting on the floor, so had a good view), and a collective gasp which left at least one of my fellow diners choking on their tempura.

Not just taking shoes off when arriving at home, work or a restaurant, but also putting the right kind of goddam slippers on. 

I’d forgotten to remove my toilet slippers and put my restaurant slippers back on, see. I might have gotten away with it, too, if not for the pesky, pink Hello Kitty insignia on the front.

Notwithstanding career-changing toilet-slipper transgressions, by the end of my Japan-stint I was pretty much conditioned to lose the shoes on entering a domicile, my own or anyone else’s.

It just seemed to make sense. I’ve kept the habit ever since.

So it’s been no skin off my nose, or indeed my hardened heels, to submit to the no-shoes rule in the Eurasian household in which I now find myself dad. In terms of my cultural preference, I guess I’ve made a shift. And it didn’t hurt a bit.

It appears to be the healthy choice, too. A couple of years ago, researchers at the University of Houston found that forty per cent of shoes carried the clostridium difficile bacteria. This little baby can cause colonic inflammation, which ain’t no kind of party. Shoes off at the door, was their study’s recommendation.

Unfortunately, our six year-old son, while very good at removing his shoes when he comes home, isn’t so good at putting them back on before he goes outside again, generally about three minutes later. And it kind of defeats the object when his socks are as likely to teem with clostridium difficile as his shoes.

Still, these kids are Anglo-Vietnamese Australian, and in this Anglo-Vietnamese Australian home, we take our shoes off at the door, that’s the way it goes, it’s what we do.

I just wish I could say the missing Converse rage was a thing of the past.

Comment: 'Australian values' and other ripper tunes to dog-whistle
After hearing Malcolm Turnbull’s latest announcement, Ian Rose - a permanent resident who yearns for the privilege of citizenship - isn’t sure if his integration credentials have got what it takes (though the British passport might just nudge him through).
Living with Spiderboy: Raising a child with ASD
When you’re a parent of a child with high-functioning autism, you learn to make allowances. But should borderline arachnophobe Ian Rose allow his son a pet spider for his birthday?
Tangled wires: ASD and diagnosis dilemmas
Ian Rose isn’t sure about the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis for his son. But a family holiday proves they’re going to need the kind of support it can bring.
Marrying outside 'your kind'
Tongues wagged when Australian-born Turkish journalist Dilvin Yasa married her English husband ten years ago, but it's a decision she says was the best she's ever made.