Taking off your shoes–Hawaiian custom

Informant: Although it’s just an Asian thing in general, to take off your shoes before you enter a house, everyone in Hawaii does that. It’s second nature. Even Caucasian people who have been living in Hawaii for a long time, or for their whole lives. They’ll automatically take off their shoes before they come in the house.

Me: Does anyone not do it?

Informant: No, no. You just… do it. It’s just a thing we’ve always done. That’s why, when I moved to northern California in seventh grade, I was so shocked. I thought everyone did that. I thought it was just a universal thing. I didn’t realize it was just us. I was so shocked when my friend came into my house with her shoes on. I said “oh my gosh, what are you doing!?” and she asked what I was talking about. We were both so confused. And I told her to take her shoes off and she asked me why.

Me: Do you know why? Is it to be polite, or is it related to superstition?

Informant: I don’t know about superstition… Yeah, it’s politeness. It’s just how we are. We don’t want to make our house dirty. Have you ever gone into an Asian person’s house and had it be dirty? No! It’s always clean. (laughing) So I guess that went from being part of Asian culture to being in Hawaiian culture.


At other points during our interview, my informant talked about the large number of Asian immigrants in Hawaii. These immigrants maintaining the custom of taking off their shoes before entering a house makes sense; these traditions were held onto to counteract against losing what they considered to be their former, or maybe even “true,” cultural identity. What is interesting is that it spread to non-immigrants as well. While my informant did not know why this was, it suggests that there is respect among Hawaiians for these immigrants. They not only respect the custom enough to practice it in Asian immigrant homes, but also to adapt the custom in their own homes. It could also speak to the proximity of immigrants and non-immigrants. Non-immigrants may be in such close quarters with Asian immigrants that they are constant observers to these customs, eventually causing them to absorb them as their own. In general, it suggests that native Hawaiians have a welcoming attitude toward immigrants and immigrant culture.