Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Shoes Off

Most Americans know this about Asian culture: you take your shoes off when you go in someone's house. I'm not 100% sure it applies to all of Asia but for the most part it applies in Vietnam (except at my house). One thing that I didn't know about the shoes-off culture is that there are "outdoor" and "indoor" shoes. I've been tutoring my neighbor for a few months and whenever I go over his house, I'm handed a pair of slippers to put on. The slippers are meant to be worn from the front door, up the stairs and then taken off before the boy's room. In the room I'm only supposed to wear my socks.

Well, Huyen's family has nearly the same policy. On the ground floor -- where the ceramic shop is -- you can wear your outside shoes. However, if you want to go up the stairs you've got to put on a pair of "upstairs slippers." Then if you want to use the bathroom you've got to take off those slippers and then put on another pair of slippers that are for the bathroom only. The one problem is that the bathroom is on the ground floor. If you can't wrap your mind around this process let me break it down for you:

STEP 1: I was reading a book upstairs and had the urge to tinkle. I got off the bed and put on the "upstairs slippers":
(PICTURE: Upstairs slippers.)

STEP 2: I walked down the stairs and had to take off my "upstairs slippers" and put on my outdoor sandals:

(PICTURE: Outdoor shoes.)

STEP 3: I walked three steps to the bathroom, took off my outdoor sandals and put on the bathroom slippers:
(PICTURE: Bathroom slippers.)

It turns out that there is a reason for this madness. As I was about to leave Huyen's house to come back to Hanoi, Huyen asked if I wanted to use the bathroom. I had just tied my shoes and said, "I'll wait till I'm back in Hanoi. I just double knotted my shoes." The thought of having to change shoes was just too much for me. Huyen told me not to worry about it and to just go into the bathroom. Well, I went into the bathroom and after taking two steps in, I saw why you need special bathroom shoes: two huge mud footprints were where I had just stepped. That bathroom had never seen dirt in its life until Ben August came over.