Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Long Tao

The Thai word for shoes is long tao. As in much of Asian culture, Thais treat the wearing of shoes a little differently than many of us in the West.

As people who have visited our home in Ohio may remember, Thais do not wear shoes in the home. Its actually pretty practical in that it keeps the house a lot cleaner, preventing the tracking of mud. When we lived on Portsmouth, we were pretty strict about the rule, but we mellowed a bit when we moved to the suburbs. Here in Thailand the shoe ban is in full force. The only time I don't like it is when I just put on my gym shoes and realize that I left something in the house. I don't particularly relish taking them off, going back upstairs, and then redonning them. In the overall scheme of things, its a pretty minor point.

They also do not wear them in certain public places like temples. There will be a shoe rack where people leave their shoes. I'm surprised that there aren't more shoes stolen at these places, but I don't think that it is generally a problem. But if someone tells you that they got their shoes at the temple, I guess that means that some poor sap walked home barefoot.

Another intersting difference is wearing shoes to work. In the U.S., employees who have to walk a bit as part of their work commute might wear comfortable shoes on the way to work, and change into their nicer work shoes when they arrive. I've done this myself when I would ride my bike 6 miles to work and carry it up 17 flights of stairs. Yeah, the carrying up the stairs was a bit excessive, but I had a bike stolen while parked in the building. Plus I liked doing it just because it wasn't easy.

Thais have a different arrangement when it comes to shoes in the workplace. Some Thais will wear their really nice shoes on the way to work, but once they arrive, they change into a more comfortable pair. Its not unusual to see someone wearing flip flops or crocs at my wife's work. While I would like to attribute this to Thais sense of comfort over fashion, I think its actually the opposite. They wear the nice shoes when people in public can see them, and something comfortable behind the closed doors of work.

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