Modern Manners: Shoe-Free Households

Either my shoes stay or I don't

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By David Hammond

I value few things more than my friends, and when they're good enough to come by for dinner, my primary goal is to help them feel welcome and comfortable in my home.

When I visit them, I try to be a good guest: if they're teetotalers, I rarely ever arrive falling-down drunk; if they're Tea Partiers, I sensitively do not bring up the touchy topic of reality; if religious folk, I avoid overt references to the godless universe in which we all spin, anchorless if not for the warmth and camaraderie of our cherished amigos.

Several of my friends run shoe-free households: when you arrive, you're asked to remove footwear before stepping into their homes. During times of inclement weather, when slush and slop cover my boots, this is fully understandable – in fact, you don't even have to ask; bada-bing, I'm shoeless. What I cannot understand or abide is the request to doff my Doc Martens by the door when the weather is fine, my shoes perfectly clean, and the chance of damaging floors close to zero. Of course, homeowners can make any request they desire of those who enter their private domiciles, but that doesn't mean that any such request is reasonable or that I will comply with the more absurd requests willingly and without at least perfunctory bitching.

About this issue I am not doctrinaire. I will remove my shoes at Asian restaurants (as required), Islamic mosques, and before going to bed. Otherwise, either my shoes stay or I don't.

I respect the homes of my friends. I would never think to smoke in their space, put feet on furniture, or sleep with their spouses (unless explicitly requested to do so). However, when I'm asked to take off my shoes, the message I receive is that the host feels their property (rugs, floors, etc., which presumably might be damaged by my shoes) or their sense of propriety or ritual (which apparently involves the perverse ceremony of disrobing my feet at the door) takes precedence over the comfort of their guests; i.e., me.

No doubt about it: going shoe-less outside one's own home is an uncomfortable experience. Walking around a strange house exposes the gentle toes to various stubbing obstacles, and in the winter, wearing shoes keeps the lower extremities warm. In addition, I'm not a very tall person (just "average height") and removing my shoes causes me to lose some altitude, and I could use the extra inch (still referring to vertical dimensions, of course).

Anyway, I am actively avoiding dinner dates at households where friends ask me to shed offending articles of pedestrian protective gear before entering. When they come to my house, they sometimes ask, "Should I remove my shoes," to which I reply, with exaggerated incredulousness, "Why no! Why in the world would you want to do that? Come on in."

 

Reader Comments

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Mike from Phoenix, AZ  

Posted: September 9th, 2013 1:04 AM

I am a <A href="http://www.waterworksphoenix.com/Window_Washing.html">window cleaner in Phoenix, AZ</A>. I have noticed that most of my window cleaning customers in Phoenix answer the door barefoot or there are shoes left right inside or just outside the door. After lots of etiquette research I have started removing my shoes before entering all of my customer's homes. I have received all positive responses and will continue this practice.

Violet Aura  

Posted: July 31st, 2013 3:20 PM

David, the overly clean environment craze of the last decade or two has been linked to a rise in asthma and perhaps all the allergies that were not around when I was growing up in the '70s. Never did we have to worry about peanuts. I think that is a phenomenon of the '90s and beyond. And antibacterial soap has also fallen out of favor for the same reason.

David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 31st, 2013 2:53 PM

Maintaining a hyper-sterile environment, Jean, may not be in the best interests of your health. To quote a recent New York Times article, "Children from extremely clean homes may be more likely to develop asthma and hay fever than those who grow up on farms or in families that allow a bit of dirt in the house, researchers are reporting. Dirt and manure may be beneficial because they are swarming with bacteria, which can help an infant's immune system to mature and develop tolerance." Read whole article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/09/19/us/environment-rich-in-germs-may-reduce-risk-of-asthma.html

Jean from Bozeman, Montana  

Posted: July 28th, 2013 7:28 PM

Shoes are protective wear, mainly geared for pavement and concrete, not expensive carpeting. Shoes are frequently worn in public restrooms, where urine and a host of diseases make their way to the bathroom floors. Shoes and boots are a magnet for the bacteria and viruses. Everyone should be concerned about what those innocent enough looking shoes are carrying. I challenge the author to wear his shoes publicly for one day. Then take them to a private lab, and have th bacteria/viruses identified

David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 13th, 2013 11:52 PM

Aaron, you seem to imply this topic is not worth discussing and then you proceed to discuss it. I don't understand your point. You do have one, right?

Aaron from Denver  

Posted: July 13th, 2013 8:42 PM

With all the things there are in this world that are truly disturbing, why anyone would waste any energy about removing their shoes at the door is baffling. Many visitors automatically take their shoes off at the door. We don't have a no-shoes rule and never imply that anyone needs to remove their shoes (unless muddy, snowy outside). But I think a lot of people feel more comfortable and at home when they remove their shoes and we do pride ourselves on our "homey" home.

N Peters from New Lenox IL  

Posted: April 28th, 2013 4:19 AM

Hi. I saw this article. Shoes carry a lot of germs. When someone walks into my house without taking off their shoes what goes through my mind is all the dirt and germs that they have placed their shoes on...the ground of the world. We like to sit on our area rugs so I don't appreciate it when people do not remove their shoes. PLUS I am the only on my knees washing the floors.

Sigmund from Orlando  

Posted: March 26th, 2013 7:39 PM

I have encountered this a few times. If asked, I comply but I do not like it and I consider it a relatively strong but not absolute reason never to return. If it is very snowy and people's shoes are likely to be loaded with salt and grime, then I understand. But otherwise I think it is a crazy custom and I hope it dies out soon.

Speedway from Oak Park  

Posted: February 24th, 2013 3:03 AM

I found the article interesting as well as all the comments. I don't think I realized how many people do not allow visitors to wear shoes in their homes. I don't think I will look at it the same way ever again. Enlightening.

Clean OP home  

Posted: February 23rd, 2013 9:42 PM

OK, the point David's emailer brings up makes sense. So, maybe the answer should be more along the lines of "depends on the situation". I probably wouldn't want to take my shoes off if someone's floors looked really dirty, but i probably would because that's the custom I grew up with. I clean my floors, but I still feel better if someone removes their shoes. But I'll never tell or even ask someone to do so.

Louisia  

Posted: February 23rd, 2013 5:41 PM

I dont feel welcomed in homes with this policy. OK, so folks want to keep their floors and carpets clean but what ever happened to just cleaning them as a part of the routine household chores?! Personally, my feet feel very uncomfortalbe bare or even with socks alone. At my own home I always wear slippers because of my discomfort with shoeless feet. For those who offer you their socks or slippers, what makes them think I want to wear someone elses footwear? Gross!

susan schwarting from oak park  

Posted: February 20th, 2013 10:48 AM

I teach piano in people's homes, and I remove my shoes at every home I enter. Same holds true when I go visiting. There is plenty of info out there as to why the shoes you wear outside should not be worn inside the home - the reasons are valid. It is a very good practice to follow. Either way these are all just a matter of personal preferences and opinions. I guess I see no reason why people should be offended.

David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: February 20th, 2013 10:23 AM

A reader who wishes to remain anonymous emailed me this: Finally someone who shares my point of view regarding the shoe issue. I completely agree with you that being asked to remove your shoes is simply, rude. My aversion to the practice started with my poor 80 year old father who had "old man's feet". We went to a person's $3 million home and at the door my father was asked to remove his shoes. First off he could not bend over to take them off and he told me quietly that he was afraid his feet smelled. Then he said without his shoes he could not walk well and was afraid to slip and fall. The hostess inquired what was wrong and I had to politely say my father was going home, not feeling well. After that incident I have had a few more memorable ones. A gentleman had a lavish party at his home. At the door the guests were told by the butler to remove their shoes. A guest balked and the host said "He didn't want his $4million floors ruined by her high heels." What a buffoon or better, a stereotypical nouveau riche. The last straw which evoked my now standard response was at my friend's house. She decided to install white oak floors throughout her townhouse, very delicate to say the least. I was asked to take off my shoes and acquiesced the request. By the time I left my feet were filthy, my planter's fascitis was acting up and I was generally in a bad mood. So my reply whenever anyone asks if they should remove their shoes at my home is, "No, we clean our floors." All of these fancy homes were cleaned by staff and the issue that the floors would be ruined is unacceptable. My wood floors are from 1926 and they look great, even after all these years with people walking around with their shoes on. I hope your article made an impact on some of the people that continue this practice. When I spend what I spend on shoes (I am embarrassed to disclose the crazy amounts) I am keeping the shoes ON. Thank you.

Clean OP home  

Posted: February 8th, 2013 12:01 AM

I take my shoes off in everyone's home I enter, regardless of whether I'm asked to or not. I don't understand how someone can think their shoes are "clean" if they are walking around outside. Even if you're not walking in mud, you are tracking in bacteria and other sorts of stuff you probably can't see, but wouldn't want in your home. I don't tell visitors to take their shoes off, but I find it inconsiderate when people don't even ask if they should.

Oakparker from Oak Park  

Posted: February 7th, 2013 11:17 PM

Never thought about people considering me to me a source of germs, when I was asked to take shoes off. I figured they didn't have the time or inclination to clean floors. I do remove shoes when I'm a visitor, but unless a visitor to our place has wet or muddy shoes, we don't worry about people wearing shoes. We even bought a carpeting color that wouldn't show up dirt or pet hair. Yes, we keep our place very clean. We and our adult children have survived just fine having guests wearing shoes.

David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: February 7th, 2013 9:54 PM

Violet Aura, interesting point. I was talking to my wife about this, and at first I mentioned that I thought it was maybe reasonable to leave shoes at the door if there are kids crawling on the floor, but then it dawned on me that maybe it's good for kids to be exposed to some of the bacteria that comes in our shoes. I do believe, as you suggest, that fear-based practices might actually weaken children who are raised in an unnaturally "clean" environment.

Violet Aura  

Posted: February 7th, 2013 6:39 PM

@Real Asian: what about the fecal matter in YOUR bathroom? And for the record, urine is sterile. I am not very concerned with e-coli on the floors...it's usually found on door knobs and benches. Did you know your immune system benefits from a little workout? With all the fear-based practices these days around being clean, it's not surprising that there are more allergies, asthma, etc.

David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: February 7th, 2013 4:33 PM

Real Asian, I'm not "decoding" anything: I've been told by the homeowners that they're concerned about their floors, and I respect their concern -- I won't walk on them. And EHH, I'm old enough to not have toddlers, and neither do any of my usual friends, though I can understand how having loved ones crawling around on the floors would justify removal of footwear upon entering (I'd probably just wait till they grew up before visiting their home). Mike, I'm with you.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: February 7th, 2013 3:22 PM

mike from op, if we were talking about taking your shoes off before entering a men's public bathroom, I could see your point. However, while a home's floors weren't made for eating, they were made (at least mine) for playing on, with my kids. What you bring in to a home on the bottom of your shoes, if far more offensive than anything you'd pick up from a civilized home's floor. Remember that public men's bathroom? ;-)

mike from op  

Posted: February 7th, 2013 2:53 PM

I hate walking around barefoot, or in socks. Just what I want to do is pick up dust and dirt from some ones floor on my socks. If some one asks if I mind taking off my shoes, I answer yes. And don't bother offering me slippers someone else wore. I'm not sticking my feet in used slippers. I won't wear rental bowling shoes and I'm not wearing your nasty slippers.Get over it folks, your floors were made for walking, not eating.

EHH from oak park  

Posted: February 7th, 2013 2:37 PM

My toddler had lead poisoning at age 2. The pediatrician suggested the no-shoe rule because there is no such thing as "perfectly clean" shoes. Every ounce of Oak Park ground has lead dust, thanks to our old houses and constant remodeling. Before you're snide to your friends, why not ask them why they ask shoes to be left at the door. You might learn something.

me, myself and I from RF  

Posted: February 7th, 2013 1:13 PM

If one would respect an Asian Restaurant or a Mosque why not respect my home (more intim than a public place)? I, along with my husband and kids walk bare foot in the house at all times so why would I be in danger to collect some germs from the street, some spit or chewed gum off the side walk? It is a sign of respect for somebody's castle...

Real Asian  

Posted: February 7th, 2013 1:08 PM

If you think that a host's request to remove your shoes is about damaging their floors or property, then you've decoded that message wrong. It's about GERMS. To wear the same pair of shoes throughout your house, that just earlier stepped into a puddle of urine in a public restroom, is just downright nasty Mr. Hammond. I don't blame you for keeping your shoes on in your own house with all that fecal matter on your hardwood. Ick!

Sheree Bixler from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: February 7th, 2013 12:35 PM

I have no problem removing my shoes is asked. However, as David mentioned, I too would like to have slippers, either my own or provided. I don't walk barefoot at home & wouldn't want to be forced to at someone else's home.

Footsie from OP  

Posted: February 5th, 2013 7:51 PM

David, the "wife chasing around cleaning up after you" was a joke -- she waits until the guests leave and then cleans the floors again. LOL.

michelle from river forest  

Posted: February 5th, 2013 6:42 PM

I used to have my guests remove their shoes .... but not any more. Just my son's friends. I don't like taking off my shoes at others homes either.. I also relish in my temporary altitude .... but mostly, I feel dressed with them on.

David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: February 5th, 2013 10:31 AM

Footsie, I respect everyone's right to run their homes in whatever way they please, and the guest-host relationship is two-way, as you say. A good middle-ground solution is for those who run shoe-free households to warn guests (so they can bring their slippers) or actually provide slippers for guests. I must say, scampering after guests to wipe the floor behind them strikes me as very uncomfortable for all involved.

Footsie from Oak Park  

Posted: February 5th, 2013 5:15 AM

In my household, you can keep your shoes on if you like, but my wife will follow behind you wiping up whatever mess you may leave. We are shoe-free and proud that our house is well above average on the cleanliness scale. Hosts and guests should all strive to make each other comfortable, and a happy medium is generally found. In this day and age of divided viewpoints, shoes are the least of our issues. (And, if you can't handle it, we will be happy to find another guest who is more flexible.)

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