Monday, 8 October 2007
Flip Flops On The Threshold
Thailand has many customs that the foreigner must comply with and one of these is that you take off your shoes when you go into a house. The feet are symbolically the lowest part of the body and the shoes are associated with them. It’s not just about bringing dirt into the house as the Thais may wander barefoot in the mud, then casually saunter into the house. It’s that you dishonour the house if you walk into it with your shoes on.
In a warm climate it’s a very practical custom too and it enables families to keep their houses immaculately clean. Even so not every floor is that spotless and there are times you can feel the grit underfoot and within a few moments the soles of your feet are black. You can’t ask to keep your shoes on though as this would be doubly insulting.
Toilets can be another horror as floors are always awash and that means paddling through the soup barefoot if you want a pee. Back home, toilets and bathrooms are often carpeted! How very strange that is.
The foreigner of course just has to adapt to the local customs and it’s not difficult to learn to live with them. Most sensible of course is wearing flip flops or thongs that you can slip in and out of easily. We farang tend to use those pricey walking sandals with velcro straps though and they’re a pain to get on and off, but then that’s our own fault.
One consequence of the shoes-off rule is that at the threshold of every house there’s usually an untidy scattering of shoes left lying around. There’s often more shoes than people in the house but it can be useful as an indicator of who’s at home. So you should always leave some out for the burglars when you go away!
In our block in Bangkok where we have our studio apartment (do I mean concrete cell), there are perhaps fifty rooms and as Cat’s a social animal, when I get back from town she could be in any of them. So that I don’t lose my wife, I have an intimate knowledge of her shoes and that way I can find her without knocking on too many doors.
It might make a good plot line in a novel. Hero comes back home late one night and examines the shoes outside. There amongst them he sees the shoes of his arch rival who’s there to have his wicked way. He reaches for his gun…
I’ll bet it’s happened many times over!