“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.
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.