In some cultures, a person’s home is where lasting friendships are built. Both extending and receiving hospitality are therefore usually important skills in cross-cultural ministry. Different cultures have different ideas about what hospitality looks like so it is also important to learn how to adapt for these various situations.
The question of shoe culture can seem so simple that I hesitated to write about it. However, I have seen well-meaning people of God be completely oblivious to the shoe culture of a home. Since shoe culture can sometimes reflect ideas about modesty or ideas about sacred space, learning how to adapt to shoe cultures can help you avoid offending a host (or guests).
What do you do with your shoes when you enter a home? There are three basic categories of shoe culture: shoes off, shoes on and no tradition. What makes adapting to shoe culture rather easy is that it’s usually not too hard to figure out which shoe culture a home has.
First, as you approach the front door, notice whether there are shoes just outside or not. If there are, this is a big clue that it is a shoes-off home. If I see shoes outside, I often remove my shoes then and there.
Next, if there are no shoes outside, then as you walk in, look for a bunch of shoes just inside the door. Also glance at your host’s feet. If your host is not wearing shoes, it may be a shoes-off home. If your host is wearing shoes and there are no piles of shoes nearby, it may be a shoes-on home.
While it is usually acceptable to match the host, feel free to ask directly about your shoes. In some cultures, it is rude to say “no.” So ask in an open-ended way, such as “What should I do with my shoes?” (
Also, wear slippers if your host offers them. This may be a standard way of welcoming guests and/or helping you look decent according to cultural standards.
If you are the host, try to help people from other shoe cultures feel “at home” in your home. Having slippers available for guests of the opposite shoe culture is one possible solution.
Enjoy building friendships!