The Main Piece
“I never gave another person shoes for any sort of present, then they’ll run away from you.” There is a common belief that by giving a person shoes it will later lead them to leave your life. Although this is simply a superstition, it has caused many people to second guess what kind of gift they want to give anyone who’s relationship they hold valuable. After all, it is a simple act to get the person another gift that could potentially save them from leaving your life.
My informant is my roommate, Sarah Kwan, a current undergraduate student at USC. She had heard about this unspoken rule from her friends back in China. The word for pair in Chinese also means “the splitting of two,” this definition lead to the belief that if one was to give a person a “pair” of shoes, then it was as if they were splitting apart as well. She told me that at first she questioned this because people were technically giving the pair together, thereby not actually splitting the two, but as time went on she began to simply accept the superstition. “I didn’t want to chance anything, it wasn’t like the world was going to end if I never got my friends shoes. I could always get them something else.”
My informant is Sarah Kwan, my roommate and personal friend. Sarah gave me this piece of advice as we were shopping for my friends present. I thought shoes would be a great idea to give my friend because this way he could use it every day. She was shocked to hear that I had never heard this superstition before and strongly recommended that I also not chance anything with my friends.
I personally am not too superstitious, but I can understand why obeying such a simple task is accepted and performed. Friendship is highly valued, not monetarily, but on an emotional level so why would anyone want to put something like that at risk. I thought the shoe superstition sounded unnecessary at first, but I can see where it highlights values such as friendship.
Informant: The evening of December 5th, we’ll leave out our shoes for St. Nick to come by and leave a present in. So when we wake up the morning of the 6th, we look at our shoes and know he was there! We’ve done that since before I can remember, but I think we got the shoes thing from my mom’s dad.
The informant is a student at the University of Southern California. She is originally from Florida, and has younger siblings who also participate in this pre-Christmas tradition. While she and her family also celebrate the more traditional December 25th Christmas, the informant insists that leaving shoes out on the front porch on the night of December 5th has always been a large part of her family’s Christmas festivities.
December 6th is, in western Christian countries, Saint Nicholas’ Day. In countries like Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands, leaving shoes out to be filled with presents from St. Nick is a well-documented practice.
Citation: Carus, Louise. The Real St. Nicholas: Tales of Generosity and Hope from around the World. Wheaton, IL: Quest /Theosophical Pub. House, 2002. Print.
About the Interviewed: Yuki is a Japanese student from the University of Hokkaido, currently studying western art and culture. She’s currently participating in an American homestay at a friend’s house in Southern California. Yuki is ethnically Japanese, and she’s said that her family has lived in Japan for a long time. She’s about 21 years old.
My subject, Yuki, was telling me about the customs involved when entering a Japanese home.
Yuki: “Japanese people don’t wear shoes in the house. We have a Gedabako [shoe rack] for putting shoes when you enter the house.”
I ask Yuki why she thinks that Western People and Japanese People have different ways of doing things.
Yuki: “I don’t understand why westerners wear shoes and walk on the floor. You can get dirty. In Japan, we walk on the floor in our feet, so it’s good to keep the floor clean.”
I tell Yuki that it might be because Japanese floors are lined with tatami mats, which Japanese people sleep, eat, and generally walk upon barefoot.
Yuki: “Not all Japanese people sleep on mats. But it’s important to keep them clean. (laugh) Walking indoors with shoes on is still something I find difficult.”
In Japan, it’s seen as customary to take your shoes off when you enter the home. This is probably because Japanese people typically walk around barefoot, as well as sit upon the floor when they eat and sometimes sleep.
Japan isn’t the only culture in the world that has a custom against using shoes indoors. Countries in Europe, like Germany, Switzerland, and Scandinavia, as well as other Asian countries like Thailand and Korea, also have taboos against getting the floors dirty. I think it’s interesting that certain cultures are fine with the sanitation limits of using shoes indoors, yet others are more wary. Customs are oral traditions that are performed/enforced to maintain a cultural standard.
“You should never gift someone shoes. They’ll wear them and run away from you.”
This folk belief was told to my informant from his mother when he was a child. Because of this, he really never gifted shoes to anyone. Apparently, if you really want to give the gift of shoes to someone, they have to pay you a dollar so they are, in a sense, buying the shoes from you. My informant was not sure as to the meaning behind the belief and how it came about. He suggested that, in the past, perhaps people just did not want the gift of shoes so they came up with this to prevent receiving gifts of shoes.
I have also heard this belief from my mother. It seems to be a pretty widespread belief. I believe that it may have to do with the fear of loved ones leaving. Having loved ones leave you may be one of the most sad and painful experiences. Because people do not want this to happen or do not want to believe this to happen, they may attribute the break in the relationship to something trivial such as the gift of shoes.
Form of Folklore: Gesture
Informant Bio: The informant was born and raised in Glendale, California. Most of the folklore he has been exposed to comes primarily from his father, who is of Arabic decent. Other folklore has been attained either through media sources (i.e. Reddit) or through personal life experiences in America.
Context: The interview was conducted in the living room of another informant’s house in the presence of two other informants.
Item: In Arabic culture it is rude to show others the bottom of your foot. So when you sit cross-legged, the bottom of your foot should not be pointing towards them; it should be pointing towards the ground.
Informant Comments: The informant grew up with this idea that showing the bottom of his foot to someone, particularly an elder, is very disrespectful. He developed this etiquette of not showing the bottom of his foot because he was raised in an Arabic cultural surrounding where this disrespectful gesture is considered very rude. The informant does not know exactly why this gesture is considered to be so rude, but has decided to simply stray from doing it so that he never accidental offends anyone.
Analysis: This gesture is considered rude in many Middle Eastern cultures. It seems that the idea behind this gesture is that the bottom of your foot belongs on the floor and showing someone something that belongs on the floor seems to indicate that that person is like the floor. Essentially, this gesture implies that the person doing it is in some way superior to (on top of) the person that it is being done to. While in America, no one would be offended by this gesture, many Middle Easterners would. Thus, this gesture is not universally rude, but one can see how it may be considered rude by those who grow up in an environment where it is disrespectful (i.e. in Arabic culture).
My informant has a diverse familial background. Her maternal side of the family has been living in Pennsylvania for about 300 years, and is deeply entrenched in the Pennsylvania Dutch folkloric traditions. Her paternal family has come to America fairly recently – her grandparents emigrated from Italy shortly before her father was born.
One night, my informant came over to my apartment and immediately panicked because my roommate had her feet on the coffee table.
“In my house, putting shoes on a table means the worst possible luck, usually some kind of death. My dad’s exceptionally superstitious, but this is one of his most strongly held superstitions, so much so that after I go shopping, he confirms that there are no shoes in the shopping bags I place on our table.”
My informant had no idea where superstition originated, or what it meant. Out of curiosity, we looked it up, and found that this was an old mining superstition. When miners died while at work, in mining accidents, their shoes were brought back to their houses and placed on the table.
After hearing this, my informant exclaimed that this made perfect sense. Her town was primarily a mining community, and both of her grandfathers were miners. Her father probably grew up hearing this superstition, and without knowing exactly what it meant, he passed it on his own daughter, who continues to believe in it.
“Don’t buy shoes for someone you love, or they will walk away.”
This is a common Korean superstition; many people believe that buying shoes for someone they love will make them walk away. Essentially, they believe that they are providing the tools needed to walk away.
“For a lot of Middle Eastern people, you can’t- you can’t put them so that the soles are facing up because the bottom of your foot is the lowest part of your body, the most dirty, the um..and if you put your shoe facing up, it’s like an insult to God.”
The informant is a Middle East Studies major at the University of Southern California. She says she learned this folk belief within the last year while studying various beliefs of people in the Middle East. This was a response to the belief in Thai culture that the feet are considered dirty and the head contains knowledge. This Middle Eastern belief as the soles being dirty and as an insult to God is an oicotype of the Thai belief, but adapted to its own culture. While the Thai belief believes that it is rude to other human beings in general to point one’s feet at, pointing soles of shoes towards the sky does not offend other humans in the Middle East, but God. It is a regional variant on the folklore that reveals the nature of each culture.
My informant is of Irish decent, and he told me of an old superstition he learned about shoes in the home. Apparently, the Irish believe that it is bad luck to put one’s shoes on a table in the house. He has no idea as to the reason for such a superstition, all he knows is that in his house whether you believe it or not you’re afraid to find out if it is true.
The reason for this superstition may be unknown, but there is another version that I have come across on the internet. The other version says that it is bad luck to put one’s shoes on the bed, and the reasoning behind it is that it would bring a death in one’s family.
Do not buy shoes for your boyfriend/girlfriend as a present.
My grandma, Kum Soon Youn, first heard this superstition when she was dating a boy in high school. She was trying to find a present to buy for him when she came upon a pair of shoes. As she was standing in line to purchase the shoes, her mother stopped her and warned her against buying them. According to Korean superstition, if a person buys his/her girlfriend/boyfriend a pair of shoes, she/ he will run away from them. They will wear the shoes that they received and escape from their partners. Therefore, giving shoes to the person would not only be encouraging the receivers but also providing them with the means to run away.
When my grandma heard this superstition, it reminded her of the Chinese custom to bind womens feet in the older days. The elders would bend the feet of girls at a young age to keep them small and petite. It is often thought that this method was used to confine women and to prevent them from running away from home. The superstition reminded my grandmother of this tradition because of the idea that men tried to prevent women from running away by binding their feet. She believes that this superstition is based upon the same idea. It seems to be targeted at women, indicating that they should not be given shoes or that they will run away. She therefore thinks that the phrase does not pertain to both men and women but rather serves as a warning to the men not to provide their wives or girlfriends with any means by which they can run away.
When I heard the superstition, I had a different response than my grandma did. I did not think that it was oppressive to women but rather thought it served as a reminder to both genders that people arent always faithful. It seemed to claim that, when provided with the means to run away, or escape from a relationship, people will run away. It remarks at peoples fear of commitment and their desire to seek quick and easy pleasure rather than to make an effort to create a long lasting relationship. Therefore the proverb appears to serve the purpose of reminding those in relationships that their significant other may not always be faithful.