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Should you wear shoes indoors? (No, and here’s why)

Most people never stop to ask why. Learn how cultural assumptions expose invisible scripts and can help you create your Rich Life.

Ramit Sethi

The New York Times wrote an entire piece called Should You Take Your Shoes Off at Home?

They consulted several experts to discuss this great philosophical question.

There’s just one problem. They forgot to ask one person: Ramit Sethi.

Like all Indian people, I can give you the correct answer to the question.


Who leaves their shoes on? Your sweaty feet remain constricted for hours and hours. You track disgusting dirt into your house and onto your floors. You ruin your floors and rugs faster, requiring more frequent vacuuming. (Oh, wait, let me guess — you don’t use a vacuum, do you? You use a fucking swiffer and spend your Sunday brunches telling friends, “It’s awesome! It’s just like vacuuming!”) No, it is not.

But if you’ve grown up walking into your house with shoes, the entire concept of taking them off can seem totally foreign to you. As the saying goes, “If you want to know what water is, don’t ask the fish.”

I call these assumptions “invisible scripts,” or beliefs so deeply embedded, we don’t even realize they affect our attitudes and behaviors.

For example, when you think of an outdoor market with thousands of people, smells assaulting your senses, yelling and noises…what’s the first word that goes through your mind?

Was it…

  • “Ugh”
  • “No thanks”
  • “Too crowded”

To BILLIONS of people, that’s completely normal.

To you and me — shopping in our air-conditioned stores (and more likely, Amazon) — it seems overwhelming.

The more and more I experience different parts of the world, the more I see how many cultural assumptions we take for granted. And I see an opportunity to pick and choose from the best to create OUR Rich Lives. (I’ve been sharing my travel experiences on my Instagram account. Follow me there.)

Not the Rich Life that society tells us, or our parents or friends. The one WE want.

Do we really want to get a mortgage, buy a suburban house, and move away from our friends and family because “we need more space?” Maybe. Maybe not.

Do we really want to work all day, check email on weekends, and take 7 days of vacation a year to “get away”…and then tell our friends that we “need a vacation from our vacation?”

I feel fortunate to have grown up in two cultures — born in America, yet raised by immigrant parents — so I’ve had the opportunity to see how completely different people think.

I’ve seen the amazing parts of American culture…but also the beliefs we unknowingly pursue, not realizing they directly lead to us being unhappy.

Recently, I talked to a couple friends about this. Two friends at the gym were talking about arranged marriages when I walked up. One of them joked, “Hey man, you guys have a lot of weird customs in India.” I said, “Oh yeah? Like what?”

“Like arranged marriages…and the caste system. What the fuck, man?”

(These are my friends. They meant it in good fun.)

I loved it.

Because I then got to say, “Yeah, I can see how you would think those are pretty weird. Kind of like the weird stuff people do in this country.”

They looked at me blankly. What? Americans do weird stuff? How can that be?

Oh, how about complaining about having no friends, yet the minute we have kids, we move away to suburbia, distancing themselves by literally miles from the nearest person, then we complain about their commute and being placed in an old folks’ home?

Or how about normalizing our gargantuan food portions, seeing the predictable results, and then saying, “No — it can’t be food portions. It’s genetics!”

Or, finally, feet. Our puritanical hatred of feet (“eww, you touched my foot, gross”) is matched only by how this country sexualizes feet (I don’t get it, but you do you). This inexplicable puritanical/sexual mix might be the perfect description for America.

Back to my friends at the gym. My favorite part of this story is the completely blank looks on their faces — BOTH of them. They literally could not comprehend how Americans do anything weird. To them, all of this is completely normal.

Imagine growing up in America, watching American movies, thinking everything we do is normal. To us, it is. But there are a whole set of invisible cultural scripts we assume are universal…and they’re not.

  • Moving out at 18
  • Distrusting our government
  • That you should be able to buy a perfect basket of strawberries 365 days/year
  • That you must be “evil” to be rich
  • Having lawns
  • Asking for the check and getting it immediately
  • That being busy means we’re important
  • That life should have a “happy ending”
  • That it’s better to let 10 guilty people go free than to imprison one innocent person
  • That our goal should be to be “happy” (and to teach our kids the same)
  • Believing our role as parents is to teach our kids “independence”
  • Dating multiple people before getting married

(More invisible scripts here.)

I agree with some of those — but disagree with others.

What are the assumptions you make? (How would you even discover them?) And if you decide to change one to create YOUR Rich Life, what would it be?

Please reply here. I read every response.

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  1. avatar

    Hi Ramit, spot on post! We have the same script with the shoes in our culture (New Zealand Maori) for the same reasons.

    Our funerals (tangihana) are also weird to other people, but for me it feels right. Also helps kids to accept death as a normal part of life instead of hiding them from the truth when someone dies.

    Thanks for your posts. Always insightful.

  2. avatar

    Living in Sweden:
    1. The Swedes open presents on Christmas Eve in the evening (Julafton). Opening them onChristmas Day is weird!
    2. Swedes take shoes off indoors (they got us on that one).
    3. You are supposed to eat Cake before Cookies if invited home to someone (some old tradition).
    4. You are supposed to lay both silverware hanging together on ONE side of the plate when done eating — a sign to the others you have finished your meal (rude otherwise).

    Yeah, some traditions are just stupid. I think the "Openness" factor of the Big 5 personality traits is a good predictor for picking up on silly traditions.

    *Ramit, it would be nice to see a blog post about teaching kids about money. A TOP 10 for example. My son came home saying that rich people were evil — Don't know where he heard it!