A friend of mine who is from Japan told me that his professor in USA puts the feet up while talking to him. He was saying that he felt very bad with that. Is this acceptable culture in USA academia?

  • 9
    Try a google search for "obama feet on desk"...
    – silvado
    Nov 1, 2012 at 8:10
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    Possibly useful to know what level of student. Nov 1, 2012 at 13:18
  • 17
    Do you mean "put their feet up" as in "puts their feet on the desk" or "balances a foot upon the knee?" Those are considered two very different actions.
    – aeismail
    Nov 2, 2012 at 2:05
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    Or do you mean "put feet on student"? This is unacceptable behaviour in almost all cultures. Jun 5, 2015 at 10:44
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    In countries where putting the feet on the table tends to defy etiquette, it can also be a sign of power to do so. For example, in German, a mid-tier employee or researcher would never put their feet on the table in a professional environment, whereas a professor or senior executive might. Jun 5, 2015 at 14:21

4 Answers 4


I've done my PhD in Japan, and have had much contact with professors in America and Japan.

The academic relationship and work culture in both countries are very different. In America it is generally not regarded as bad when someone puts their feet on the table while talking to you.

I had bosses and advisors in the US who did this. However, in Japan, the advisor-student relationship is more respectful and professional.

I would like to tell you that you should ask the professor to refrain from putting their feet on the table, but if they do it in their office, it is pretty much up to them. Since the office is the professor's space, I do not think it is your friend's business to ask them not to do it.

  • 16
    Agree except that asking the prof. to restrain from doing that. I believe It's common and acceptable behavior in America.
    – Nobody
    Nov 1, 2012 at 5:34
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    Commonplace or not, if it makes the student uncomfortable, the student has a right to request it not be done. Again, given the generally more collegial relationship between professor and grad student in the US, you are more likely to receive a favorable response.
    – Ben Norris
    Nov 1, 2012 at 10:50
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    My PhD advisor in the States used to take his shoes off and put his feet up. He almost always had holes in his socks. The way I looked at it was his office/lab his rules (within State and Federal laws). Further the more comfortable he was the more time and feedback I got.
    – StrongBad
    Jun 18, 2013 at 14:13
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    -1 for advising them to ask the professor not to do that. That is culturally incorrect. In the US, that would basically be you making a demand about a trivial matter to a person that you should culturally be showing deference to. Also, just weird. I understand that it's uncomfortable for you, from your description--what I'm telling you is that from the US side, you're going to come across as neurotic if you bring this up.
    – msouth
    May 8, 2015 at 5:48
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    You clearly did not understand my answer, first I say "I would like to tell you....," and then I say " I do not think is the place of your friend....." May 9, 2015 at 0:27

In the orient showing somebody your feet/shoes is a sign of disrespect.

A person who puts his feet on the desk in the western world shows that he (this is mostly done by males) is at ease/relaxed in an informal atmosphere. However, also in the west this behavior is normally only shown by people who are talking to their subordinates or peers at their own hierarchical level.

  • 4
    The emphasis is on informal. My German professors have never been that informal in their office.
    – user9482
    Jun 5, 2015 at 10:05
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    Agreed. None of the profs I know in Germany or Switzerland do this, not even the younger and "more relaxed" ones.
    – Nox
    Jun 5, 2015 at 13:04
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    Well, when I was a PhD student, many professors have been doing this (e.g., put their feet on the table--and they even wore shorts!). Today, when I talk to students I also try to behave informally. I do not believe that formality has anything to do with science. Formality is something that belongs to hierarchy and authority. I do not have any personal authority over my students. It is science that should be the authority in academia.
    – Dilworth
    Jun 6, 2015 at 17:06
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    You're over-generalizing cultural norms here, both for the "west" and the "east".
    – einpoklum
    Jan 29, 2017 at 15:46

Perhaps your friend could tell the Professor, in a somewhat apologetic tone if he doesn't feel confident enough about their relationship, that in his cultrual background, putting your feet on the table is an offensive act, and while s/he is certain the Professor does not mean it, s/he (the PhD candidate) is very distracted by it, so s/he is asking for the Professor's consideration on this matter.

That is, the request to not do this can be made with deference rather than as a form of rebuke.


Your question is "How to respond to the situation". The answer is quite simple in my opinion: do not respond, unless you really cannot tolerate it in which case you don't really have a choice but to respond.

  • 1
    Why would you encourage OP's friend to put up with something that bothers him with no recourse?
    – einpoklum
    Jan 29, 2017 at 21:31
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    @einpoklum The OP's friend seems to have an internal emotional issue; that's his issue to deal with, not the professor's. It'd be different if the professor were say, smoking in their office, and the student was choking on the smoke - that's a physical issue that would need to be dealt with. In the US, making a demand like that of the professor would be considered controlling behavior.
    – Nat
    Jan 31, 2017 at 14:49
  • @ChemicalEngineer: You're essentially denying that actions without a physical impact can reasonably be seen as offensive and inappropriate. Suppose the teacher would also hang up his dirty socks in the office and OP's friend had to smell them. He wouldn't choke, it would just be very offensive to him. It would still be an "internal emotional issue", wouldn't it?
    – einpoklum
    Jan 31, 2017 at 15:51
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    @einpoklum As an opposite example, what if the OP was's friend was discomforted by the professor's choice to wear a shirt; would it be appropriate for them to ask the professor to disrobe? These questions of appropriateness are handled by social convention; apparently the OP's friend would be within social norms to ask the professor to change their behavior in Japan, but not in the US. It seems plausible that, at some point in human history, there was a society in which hanging dirty socks was socially acceptable.
    – Nat
    Jan 31, 2017 at 16:53
  • @ChemicalEngineer: In your example, the professor hasn't done something active and out-of-the-ordinary (i.e. not what everyone does), while in both OP's friend's case and my example, s/he has. I think OP's friend is justified in voicing his/her discomfort in some way in these circumstances.
    – einpoklum
    Jan 31, 2017 at 16:58

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