Taking off my shoes: ‘How clean is the dirt in America?’

Kristine Sydney
'In America, unless it’s raining or snowing, I rarely take my shoes off in someone’s home'

Of the many things I wondered about America, one curiosity was dirt. How clean was American dirt? In every picture and movie I had seen, everyone was frolicking in the grass or in the city, running home, and walking inside without taking her shoes off.

Even while typing this now, I remember how viscerally I reacted to a scene from some romantic comedy film in which two high school seniors get into bed together, her head against his heaving, sweaty chest.  Eric Stoltz and Mary Stuart Masterson  should have been enough sexy fodder for my romantic imagination. Instead, I was mesmerized by the fact that they kept their sneakers on.

In Filipino homes, one takes off her shoesbefore  switching into a pair of house slippers.  At Filipino parties, one will often find a neat row lining the front door. My father, days before my plane takes off from JFK and lands at the Ninoy International Airport (NAIA), will have bought me a new pair of flip-flops and written my name on them in permanent marker.  

I’ll often  misplace mine and I’ll  start to walk around our house barefoot, before my mother takes hers off and gives them to me.

My sisters and I wear different shoe sizes, but, when it comes to flip-flops, they’re interchangeable, with one of us screaming down a flight of stairs, “One of you took my slippers!” My associating “house footwear” with home is so deeply ingrained in me that when I would visit my sister and her husband, I would grab a pair of wool socks from a basket in his study. It was a year before I learned  that those “guest socks” I delighted in wearing every holiday belonged to my brother-in-law.

In America, unless it’s raining or snowing, I rarely take my shoes off in someone’s home. I used to insist that I remove my boots/ mules/ heels, I felt so awkward, standing at the threshold. I  remember a Sex and the City episode in which Carrie — and much of the audience – thought the host rude for asking her to take her shoes off.

I didn’t think the request was strange, but I had learned early on that when in Rome, keep your sandals on.

I figured living in the US involved  some changing. For the privilege of living here, I had to leave some things behind,  and a pair of slippers was not much of a loss, if it were one at all. I was not particularly saddened by this. For my part, I knew they were just shoes and Swiffer-ing  after the guests left was fine. The art of losing isn’t hard to master and, when one is no longer in Kansas, Toto, it’s surprisingly, unsettlingly, easy.

And yet – every afternoon when J. gets home, he props himself up against the door frame, unties his laces, and slips into  his fleece-lined slippers. This daily routine, this tiny movement, of removing his shoes, it stirs such warmth in me.  

He thinks it’s easy,”not a big deal,” and he tells me he’s more comfortable out of his shoes, anyway. He has a Moroccan tapestry on the living room floor and he appreciates how clean it is. For him, it’s  an ordinary gesture, but, it moves me, as I imagine a home where, with care,
almost anything I thought I lost is retrievable. – Rappler.com

Kristine Sydney is a private high school English teacher in the United States, where she has lived for 20 years. Born in the Philippines and raised in Saudi Arabia, she attended boarding school and college in the US, where she practiced her Tagalog by reading Liwayway. She writes about immigration, Air Supply adoration, and her intercultural relationship on her blog kosheradobo.com. Follow her on Twitter @kosheradobo.

Read previous stories from this author
OFW life: Building the home you’ll never live in
• Pacquiao ‘insult’ a cultural misunderstanding
• How asking ‘Are you Filipino?’ can save a life
• Our interracial and interfaith marriage: Yes, color matters









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