How important is taking your shoes off in Asia?
Removing footwear is a cultural custom in Asia. At least indoors. In people’s homes and houses I understand this perfectly. But, in hotels and guest houses?
It’s one of the most irritating things I’ve come across …
My non-foot fetish
Anyone who’s been reading my journals from around about the Turkey travel blog section onwards will know I have a thing about taking my shoes off. I don’t like it.
It’s not that I have stinky feet or anything, I don’t. It’s simply a personal thing.
And, no I don’t wear sandals either. I hate them. I wear big heavy trekking boots, even in the heat. My feet remain hallowed ground in terms of hygiene; which after seven years of no-return travel is not that bad.
The shoe removal rules in hotels on my journey so far …
Aside from religious places, and homes, this is how it’s panned out in regards to shoe removal in budget accommodation.
Europe, never had a problem. Turkey & Iran again, I never had a problem. Pakistan homes certainly, but not in any guesthouse accommodation I stayed in, and so it continues on into India where it pops on occasion. Shoe removal in accommodation takes a break in Nepal, and Tibet. China is okay with shoes in hotels as is the Philippines. Again, this is for accommodation, not when visiting homes.
Then came Malaysia, followed by Thailand, and all of sudden it was shoe removal time in budget accommodation. Strangely, not in moderate to above accommodation.
Just a recap so far …
In homes and houses many people don’t like to wear shoes indoors for sanitary reasons. And, to a degree, cultural beliefs such as bringing in bad luck etc. I regard this as a personal choice, and yes I still find it annoying – white carpets aside. But as you know, I respect local customs.
I can handle the whole religious thing of removing footwear too. Barely.
However, with guest houses and budget accommodation I have always found shoe removal very annoying and quite frankly: stupid.
In Malaysia this “custom” is commonplace in many budget hotels and guesthouses.
Upon my first hostel in Malaysia I was greeted by a sign outside of reception.
“Please show respect and remove your footwear.”
Let the games begin …
The annoying scenario of taking your shoes of in a hostel in Asia
There was a gaggle of shoes, rubber sandals and boots strewn everywhere. I put my backpacks down and began un-strapping my boots. Entered reception and asked to see a room. The girl showed me upstairs. I noted she was wearing sandals. Meanwhile, I felt my socks pick up bits of floor stickiness as we went.
I took the room and hustled back down to pick up my boots. They had already been knocked over. A giant stand filled with backpacker footwear glared at me as I snuck my boots upstairs to the safety of my room. My socks feeling very nasty by now.
It’s near impossible to get good socks over here, so bear with me on the sock preservation thing.
Man up, I hear people say. After seven years of travel, my feet are still as good as new. There’s a reason for that. I’ve seen the plasters, cracked skin and fungal infections of several fellow travelers. No thanks.
Footwear removal is an old obsession of no regard
Another town another hostel. Same rule, only this time there’s a human traffic jam as backpackers, student groups and various types in between all knelt, bent, sat and staggered in a cacophony of shoe removal and replacing. Then came me with backpacks in tow looking to do the same thing.
Bumping and nudging each other I watch a pair of shoes tumble-down the stairs.
Another reception ahead awash with dusty footprints. My room this time was 2 floors up.
A sign said “please remove your footwear when entering living area”
It said nothing about wearing footwear on the stairs. I was one of about 5% who dared to tout the rule and left my shoes on.
The insanity of shoe removal within hostels in Malaysia or quite frankly anywhere
Worse still are the bathrooms. Some Malaysian bathrooms are spotless. Others, well, even a greasy wet floor is enough to make me run back for boots or sandals. Worse yet is in a hostel overrun by teenagers who can’t aim, nor flush, nor grasp the concept of a paperless toilet.
I want my feet totally covered up, and I don’t want to wear the dusty rubber sandals provided in the room that 1001 people have also worn too. I have my own for the shower. But I’m wearing my trekking boots in those shared toilets.
Yes, I have been traveling for a long time, and yes this still bugs me.
In a house I perfectly understand all the shoe removal thing. Shoes bring in dirt.
Though, looking at some people’s feet, perhaps a foot-bath before entering a house would be an added bonus. Open feet in sandals collect the same amount of dirt as the top of a shoe. Probably more when you consider what’s going on in between the toes and skin fissures of some feet.
But in hotels and hotels??? Sorry Malaysia, and everywhere else that insists on shoe removal in budget accommodation, you may have some of the most welcoming people; But this whole shoe removal thing just has to go.
Business, culture, respect, tourism
You run guest houses & hostels, not homes. The average “primate” backpacker is a dirty creature who has feet blacker than the average shoe sole. And, they run around your accommodation like that throughout the day and night.
Your receptions and stairwells are awash with people falling over themselves taking them off.
It’s not about Malaysian custom nor culture. If it was then the 3 + star hotels would be doing the same. Likewise restaurants.
And, if that doesn’t make sense. For some reason Malaysia has most of their receptions built at the top of a flight of stairs in budget accommodation. Just where a parent funded GAP year student is likely to topple over and plummet to the sound of a lawsuit. All due to the foot removal frenzy you insist on.
Note to the Malaysian Tourism board
Why can I walk into a 3 star and above hotel and not have a problem leaving my shoes on (boutiques, and “experience local custom type hotel/resorts” excluded)? But then when I walk into a budget guesthouse or hostel it’s a rule?
What’s that you say? You’re trying to give tourists at this income level the warm feeling of a home …
Balderdash. Sorry, but when was the last time you actually stayed in a budget “backpacker” style hostel here? Beer for sale, DVD movie nights, the odd bit of bed swapping and the frequent sound of someone stumbling down the stairs during the early hours. I don’t think this is like an average culturally authentic Malaysian “home”.
In turn my friend, that excuse of trying to make people feel at home is a rubbish excuse.
Nice bamboo blinds, wall hangings and lounge chairs do not make a home like environment alone. Neither does seeing a dozen blackened soled backpackers stomping around the place.
Do your tourism sector in Malaysia a favor. Send a note out to all your budget accommodation asking them to do away with this stupid, dangerous, unhygienic rule. Or if you want to save face, “just ‘suggest’ it at your next conference”.
Save shoe removal for homes, not tourist accommodation!
And yes, I know some budget accommodation is located in homes. This is then the owners choice. Common sense needs to prevail in such circumstances. But do take note of the following.
Kuala Lumpur honesty
Before, booking a place to stay in Malaysia (and Thailand), I always ask if they have WiFi. Now I also prioritize a question along the lines of, “do you make people take their shoes off?”
A Kuala Lumpur guesthouse owner laughed loudly when I told him this. And, that I was very happy to wear my boots inside his establishment. He agreed, and said shoe removal had no place in a hostels anymore.
We then both stared at a British backpacker who seemed to have not found his way to a shower for quite a few days. The owner nodded that this was one of the reasons he didn’t like to take his shoes off at work anymore. (he lived there too)
Grouchy old man, or reality?
Yes, I am that (slightly older) traveler who wears big heavy trekking boots. Yes, I notice the outraged looks on the faces of some of my fellow travelers as they lay sprawled out on the floor removing their footwear and I refuse to stay in such places.
Instead I seek out the guesthouses who know all too well that with a high turnover of guests: keeping shoes on makes sense on so many levels.
That’s my rant, and argument done. Am I the only one who feels this way?
Wrapping things up in Borneo
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