Say What?? Travel Photo: Foot Etiquette

Buddhist temples, much like all religious structures, have a certain code of etiquette attached to them, the most important of which deal with ones feet. Often times, it can be difficult for western visitors to know these rules, so someone in the dzong (former fortress now serving as a temple and civic center) in Punakha, Bhutan was so kind as to put up the following sign as a reminder:

"Notice: Shoes Out Legs In From Next Point. By Room Management"

It’s quite simply really. Leave your shoes outside and be careful what you do with your feet, as they should be kept towards your body as opposed to towards another person, or even worse, a Buddha image.

Many Asian countries see the the feet as disgusting. They are the dirtiest parts of the body and, as such, the least “holy” per say. In the same regard, the head is considered the most important and “holiest” part of the body. As such, it is considered a grave insult to step over someone or even point your feet towards someone.

So, if you go to Asia, follow this sign’s simple directions. If there’s a pile of shoes outside, take off your shoes, especially before entering  a temple of home. And by all means, don’t put your feet up!

Say What?? is a thrice weekly series featuring numerous hilarious signs from my travels. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for updates! Or better yet, subscribe to my RSS feed to receive them automatically!
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4 Responses to Say What?? Travel Photo: Foot Etiquette

  1. Mike March 14, 2013 at 9:49 pm #

    Greetings Aaron.

    I have been a practicing Buddhist for a little bit now, and officially took refuge about a month ago.

    I have a question about the specifics of the foot etiquette. It is fairly obvious you should cross your legs when sitting in front of the Lama or statue, but does it also apply if you are standing? For instance, if I were to go to a monastery, and I were to speak with a monk, or stand in front of a statue, would it be rude to stand with my feet like this? l l I’m simply wondering as I would like to visit a local monastery here in Canada, and it would very much help to know if I should stand with my feet in a V shape. If you do not know, no worries.

    Peace to you 🙂

    • Aaron March 15, 2013 at 6:43 pm #

      I’ve been to many a monastery and temple and I’ve never heard of anyone taking offense to a normal standing positon. I believe rules of feet actually relate to the bottoms of your feet. If you think about it, the things that are considered rude, like steppping over someone or sitting with your legs stretched out, all involve the bottoms of your feet. I may be incorrect on this, but I certainly don’t believe it would be improper to stand normally. However, if you hear otherwise, please let me know!

      • Mike March 21, 2013 at 11:14 pm #

        Ah, that makes a lot of sense, since it’s the bottoms that touch the ground. Thanks a lot for your help Aaron!

        Peace to you 🙂

        • Aaron March 22, 2013 at 6:30 pm #

          You’re quite welcome!

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