"Ummm... Do you mind taking off your shoes?"
After I was married and had my own home, I instigated the No Shoes rule, too. When we visited Hawaii, I considered buying a plaque that said, "Please remove your shoes. It's the Hawaiian way." Except that a) I'm not Hawaiian; and b) I don't live in Hawaii. So, I couldn't figure out how I would justify that reasoning.
By the time I became a mother, non-Asians seemed to be jumping on the No Shoes bandwagon. Baby playgroup discussions covered concerns with thimerosal in vaccinations and phthalates in plastics. Leaving our shoes at the door was a way to keep environmental toxins out of the home. And of course, it's de rigueur for the kiddos to go shoeless at almost any indoor playscape.
Then, I moved to Malaysia.
Suddenly, the world flipped and what seems awkward in the United States is the norm here. When we came for our exploratory trip and looked at a bazillion rentals, we had to remove our shoes a bazillion times. Take my advice. Wear slip-on shoes when house hunting.
Everyone automatically takes off their shoes without asking. Some homes have the most beautiful, ornately carved, wooden shoe chests. If you're dressing up to attend a party at someone's home, the pressure is off to find just the right shoes for your outfit. No more standing around in heels all night! However, I do seem to get pedicures more frequently. Thank goodness they're cheap.
What's interesting is that the whole No Shoes custom extends beyond homes in Malaysia. When we visit our pediatrician, we leave our shoes on the doorstep before walking into the building. Frankly, this would have completely freaked me out in Texas because I would have been convinced that there was some highly contagious foot disease (Warts! Fungus!) ready to leap off the floor and burrow into my child's precious foot. But I just go with the flow here and take them off without worrying.
At a store called SSF, all customers must remove their shoes before heading to the 2nd story of the shop. It would be like browsing around a Crate and Barrel in America and then having to take off your shoes partway through the store. I always seem to go down a different set of stairs than the ones I head up, so I have to walk back to the first stairs to retrieve my footwear.
Of course, the No Shoes policy spreads all throughout Asia. I was impressed in Kyoto, Japan, by the highly organized system of numbered shelves to store the shoes for hundreds of visitors to the Sanjusangen Buddhist shrine. It was comparable to remembering where you parked your car in a large lot. They even had special shoe storage sections set aside for tour groups!
|At Penang's Reclining Buddha Thai Temple|
You are required to remove shoes, so perhaps someone is to stand guard while others tour.
Luckily, no one has ever made off with my shoes like when Sex and the City's Carrie finds her pricey Manolo Blahniks missing after leaving them at a friend's door. There's also that scene in Slumdog Millionaire where the kids steal shoes at the the Taj Mahal. This may be due to the cruddy taste in footwear that set in after Pregnancy #3 made my feet too-wide-for-regular-width but too-narrow-for-wide-width.
Back in Texas, we almost accidentally stole some other kids' brown Crocs when we were leaving the Chik-fil-A play area. Can you blame us? They are so common, and when you're waging the "No, you cannot go down the slide just one more time" battle, you grab the shoes that look right without inspecting them too closely. Good thing the mama of the rightful owner noticed.
In summary, the good thing about Malaysia is that I am now Normal! (Well, in that one aspect.) Yippee! No more awkward requests occasionally followed by the stink eye for asking guests to Please Remove Your Shoes.