Wed10012014

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No shoes, please

I enforce a strict, no-shoes-in-the-house policy in my home. Everyone in our family walks around bare- or stocking-footed. If my kids are playing outside, and need a quick bathroom break, but don't want to go to the trouble of untying and retying their shoelaces, they need special dispensation from me, and have to wipe the bottoms of their sneakers vigorously on the outdoor mat before entering, which is why I often catch my son tip-toeing into the house, trying to bypass all the red tape.

Parker, the family dog, has use of the outdoor facilities, so he doesn't normally have to sneak back in, but on the other hand, he gets paw-checked when he's been playing in mud or sand. He hates the delay because he desperately needs to rush into the house to check if his empty dog dish erupted any food while he was away.

I am Japanese-American, and have been slipping my shoes off before entering a home - anyone's home - all my life. I understand, however, that not everyone has been raised in this particular tradition. My in-laws, for example, are notoriously forgetful about the no-shoes rule, and clomp around in their mules until I request immediate removal. They resent this; I have heard them mutter mutinously under their breaths in Spanish, forgetting that I was born and raised in el barrio of East L.A., and took four years of Spanish in high school, so I can tell when people are complaining about taking off their zapatos. Once, I even yelled at my father-in-law - who is both my elder and a guest - for refusing to comply, which isn't exactly what you would call traditional Japanese hospitality. But the no-shoes rule is literally the only thing I will not back down on when it comes to maintaining customs, and believe me, I cave on just about everything else. And in case you are curious, I do make exceptions, but not often, and always for very good reasons.

Reactions to the no-shoes rule aren't always negative. Indeed, I have had family and friends accommodate with such eagerness that they are practically removing their shoes halfway up the driveway before even reaching our front door. Those are the ones who had undoubtedly spoken with my father-in-law before arriving. Others are even grateful to strip off their stifling leathers, and sigh as if released from some sort of bondage. Still others have trained themselves, or have visited my home often enough that shoe removal is unrehearsed and natural, done with neither comment nor a sense of exceptional compliance.

In the end, however, it isn't important how people take it when I request that their shoes remain at the door; it's a matter of interpretation, really. Take it as an opportunity to share my values and my cultural heritage, take it as an invitation to relax, take it with a bit of hostility, take it anyway you like. Just remember: in my house, we're all in our stocking feet.

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