If you’ve ever been to an Asian country, or even watched an Asian movie, you probably know that people here wear slippers inside the house. The Asian custom of wearing slippers actually differs from country to country. It’s much more strict and complicated in Korea, for example, where a different pair of slippers must be worn in different parts of a house or building.
But here in China, when entering a home, people are often offered a pair of slippers to wear in the house. Outside shoes are taken off at the door, and homes often have built-in cupboards or purchased shelving specifically for the storage of shoes, near the door.
There is a definite sense that the outdoors is dirty–particularly the ground. And no wonder. People spit on the ground. They allow their pets to urinate or defecate on the ground (and usually don’t poop-and-scoop). And it’s not unusual to see a young child or even an adult find a corner they think looks private and urinate outside. Add to that the fact that a lot of China is a big dustbowl due to deforestation, and you’ve got a really good case for thinking what you may have tracked in on your shoes isn’t so wholesome to be spreading around the house. New research actually strongly supports this notion.
But what’s the deal with the slippers, anyway? Why not just tramp around barefoot in the house? Or in your socks?
There is a widespread belief stemming from Chinese medicine that many diseases can be caught through your feet–that cold feet can cause the whole body to be ill. So wearing slippers protects you from the cold floors and keeps you healthy.
There is no one harder to keep in socks than my son. He prefers barefoot even when the floor is freezing cold (which is common here for at least six months of the year). So needless to say, he doesn’t wear slippers a lot either. But when visitors come to the house, I am constantly being scolded for letting him run around in bare feet. They are sure he will become ill. (He’s probably my healthiest kid, just for the record.)
As Canadians, we’re accustomed to removing our shoes at the door, anyway. It’s a Canadian thing. Now we’ve also become accustomed to wearing slippers also–well, most of us.