Don’t Put Your Hat or Shoes on a Table!

Informant: Sheila Hurley (married name is now Weiss), 79, is my grandmother who was born and raised in Wales by Irish parents. She grew up extremely Catholic: going to church every Sunday and schools directed by the Nuns of her local parish. She was influenced by the Irish heritage and customs of her parents and relatives that lived in her small town. She lived in Wales until she was 18 years old and then moved to New York to pursue a career in modeling. She now lives in Santa Monica, California where she raised her two daughters and helped raise her 3 grandchildren.

Sheila told me, “Never put your shoes or hat down on a table, it is a very bad thing to do and really looked down upon in the Irish culture.”

This particular custom that is now often translated into a superstition comes from the idea of simple politeness. Shoes are very dirty, you walk on the ground and there are so many germs that a shoe can collect. Putting that item down on a table (where people typically eat or sit down to converse) is rude because you are making that area dirty. Similarly, a hat is worn on someone’s head and that is not a particularly clean place either. This custom comes from basic hygiene and being genuinely courteous.

I see this custom as a basic form of politeness and cleanliness. It is rude and flat out disgusting to eat off an area that has been contaminated with the germs that are on someone’s shoes. It is just a very specific thing to make of so much importance, and thats why it stands out in the culture. It makes sense why it would be frowned upon.