By Promod Puri
The sign on the front door read, “please remove your shoes.”
It was not a Hindu temple, Gurdwara or a mosque, where such is the custom or a religious edict. But the newly-build home of a friend who had a house-warming party a few years ago.
When we arrived, there already was quite a spread of shoes and sandals all over the front entrance. The four-word notice was polite, but terse in its message. The host did not want the new flooring and expensive carpeting inside to be spoiled by any soiled footwears of the incoming guests.
Understandably, I also removed my shoes. Otherwise, my black pair was absolutely dirt-free with a shine like a new. I put them in the far corner for easy on my memory when leaving the place.
Removing shoes as we visit friends or relatives is somewhat an uncomfortable advisory for some or many people including myself. Wearing them is part of a complete dress up. We make sure the shoes we’re wearing are clean and well-polished. Taking them off at the very entrance of a visiting home is undressing a part of my body, which loses the comfort, warmth, and snugness of the footwear.
Anyway, that is a personal choice where one feels comfortable. But besides being a personal preference, the issue is if wearing shoes inside a home is unhygienic. Does the practice bring in harmful bacteria from outside getting inside?
Yes, they do. Shoes are the vehicles offering free rides to bacteria like E. Coli, which stick to the outside of shoes, and they cause intestinal infections, even meningitis.
The transmission happens when shoes are touched by hands, and the latter touch face or mouth. Or the same hands picking up the food dropped on the floor and eaten.
Contamination by shoes, however, is considered much less health hazard than many other culprits, like cats and dogs who enter homes with uncleaned paws. And then there are hundreds of surfaces and objects which we touch and pick up the germs and bacteria. For example escalator railings, gas station pumps, ATM machines, etc. etc. as well as the money we handle, our toilets and bathroom floors, vacuum cleaners, sponge dish cleaners, all carry millions of bugs.
The contamination sources are all around. Shoes contribute an insignificant measure of bacterial contaminants. In fact, there is a theory that shoes also bring along dirt which can help stimulate autoimmune systems, particularly among children and people over 65.
Besides, the health reasons, which are not dire, taking shoes off is more of etiquette according to the house policy of inviting hosts. My house-warming friend, in the meanwhile, has relaxed the entrance code, which in now guests’ choice.
(Promod Puri is a writer and author of Hinduism, beyond rituals, customs, and traditions. Websites: promodpuri.com, progressivehindudialogue.com, and promodpuri.blogspot.com)