Hey, you, take off those shoes!

Wish I had a piece of the hosiery industry in Anchorage, where you remove your footwear after you enter someone’s house. Knowing you’ll be unshod regularly means making sure your feet are decently covered.

Once when I was an Anchorage Daily News reporter I took off my shoes at an interviewee’s home and discovered a rent in one sock. It’s hard to look professional when your big toe has its eye to the peephole.

Obviously Alaska is not the only place where indoor shoe-wearing is frowned upon. People in other cultures live this way too – and so, increasingly, do U.S. residents, as a quick Internet search indicates. Sometimes it’s because they want the carpet to last longer. Sometimes it’s because they don’t want spike-heel scratches on the hardwood.

And sometimes it’s to keep you from tracking in poisons.

Want to know what kinds of environmental nasties hitchhike into your home via shoe leather? Check out this essay by Annie B. Bond in The Huffington Post, which provides links that may turn you green around the gills. It may also keep you from letting your kids play on the floor, ever.

Bond knows all that, yet she feels uncomfortable about enforcing a no-shoes policy. It feels like “an imposition, almost a demand for a level of intimacy (or adherence to fastidious cleaning habits).”

The author is quick to acknowledge the health benefits of removing one’s shoes. Still, her “complex and confusing emotional (response)” persists.

A great social leveler

Years ago I covered the Prince William Sound Theatre Conference in Valdez, Alaska. A lot of theatrical “names” were there, including Edward Albee, John Guare, Lloyd Richards, Jack Gelber, and the late Patricia Neal and August Wilson.

The footwear-off policy was a great leveler of persons, as I noted in an article I wrote for the Chicago Tribune. It’s impossible to think you’re a big shot when you’re wobbling on one foot to deal with a knotted shoelace.

I noticed, however, that no one asked Patricia Neal to remove her shoes. That was likely due to the actor’s health and mobility issues. But I think it may also have been that no one would have dared holler, “Hey, Patsy, off with the brogans!” The woman’s presence was truly formidable. I never heard anyone talk about her except as “Miss Neal,” even when she wasn’t in the room.

(Quick aside: I was at a reception and Miss Neal asked if I would mind retrieving her purse, which was a few feet away from where she sat. Of course I didn’t mind. “Thank you, darling, you’re a divine woman,” she drawled in that marvelous voice. Talk about frisson. Had she asked, I would have given her the contents of my own handbag.)

Possible strategies

I know a therapist who requires clients to remove their shoes in the entryway, where she keeps a big basket of crocheted slippers. This would work most of the time, but not always. For example, blogger Bond’s mother is embarrassed by the appearance of her severely arthritic toes. I expect that having to take shoes off and put them back on might cause physical pain for someone with foot problems.

Right now I don’t have a dog in this hunt. The rug in my apartment is more than 20 years old and looks like low tide: the color of faded mud with dark spots here and there that I hope are old cola spills but that may be due to incontinent pets of former tenants. Or maybe to the tenants themselves; as its former manager, I can attest that this building hasn’t always had the greatest luck with renters.

If and when I get a home of my own, I would prefer that it be a welcoming place. I would not want to order an elderly visitor to kick off her old-lady comforts and put on purple crocheted house shoes. Nor would I want to upset a guest who had an invisible disability and a good reason to want to keep his shoes on.

In fact, I wouldn’t want to decide what constitutes a “good” reason. Thus I expect I’ll provide slippers and ask visitors to use them should they be comfortable doing so. I can always run the vacuum after everyone leaves. (If I remember.)

But I can’t deny that it’s a frugal hack since it makes carpets and flooring last longer, to say nothing of potential health benefits. So to those who ask visitors to dis-shoe, how about some advice for the rest of us? Do you explain why or just lay down the law? How do you deal with people with arthritis, or with holes in their socks?


21 Comments

  1. Elizabeth

    I know one household with a plaque in the entryway that said “Remove Thy Shoes”. Some people might find it a command they had to obey, but it seemed that since it was not a verbal instruction of the host, and the old English got a slight chuckle from most people, that people generally follow the instruction while those who really don’t want to simply act as if they don’t see it.
    In my own home, I remove my shoes every time and have about 12 pairs of shoes lining the entry and stacked in a bench. This prompts many people to ask “Oh, do you want me to take off my shoes?” when they enter, whereas my aging father can simply ignore the pile and keep walking as I haven’t actually instructed anyone to do anything.

  2. I tend to take off shoes as often as possible, so this isn’t something I’ve thought much about for my own home. My in-laws ask everyone to take their shoes off, just about. No such thing even as ‘house shoes’ that you wear only inside. I figure, if we ever had our own home and it was carpeted (I’m not a huge fan of carpets to begin with) then I would probably have the family take their shoes off, but guests…whatever. I mean, we don’t have massive amounts of people coming over every day, so the occasional friend or visitor wearing shoes probably isn’t going to make a huge difference on the wear and tear.

  3. Actually, if you have Achilles tendinitis (one of the hazards of old age), it’s painful to walk around barefooted and can actually aggravate the condition. I need to have a slight lift under my heel to keep the pain under control. This is not obvious and, since I try not to kvetch about my aches and pains, my friends don’t know it.

    Probably I would avoid going to the home of a friend who asked guests to take their shoes off.

    P.S. Thanks for the mention on the soda pop post…WP wouldn’t let me post an afterthought so quickly after putting up the comment I made there.

  4. No comment on the no shoes thing… but even with the invisible disgustingness on the floor… I figure I’m challenging my kid’s immune system by letting him play there. Or on the ground outside. Gotta keep the asthma and allergies at bay.

  5. I once went to a lady’s house when I was a teenager, who had white carpet and everyone HAD to take off their shoes. I thought it was kind of weird, although I could understand the situation, being white carpet. OTOH, I thought it was kind of silly to have WHITE carpet in Arizona. When I had a problem with my feet hurting a few years ago (now has totally healed thanks to gapsdiet.com) I had to wear shoes at all times, even to go to the toilet at night I had to put my thick soled shoes on or my feet would hurt. So that would definitely be an invisible disability.

  6. Our hardwood floors badly need refinishing, but right now that’s just not in the budget. So I just keep them as clean as I can, and tell visitors “Feel free to take your shoes off if you want to.” Some take the hint, some don’t – it’s not that big a deal. Of course, that could change when/if we get the floors done .

  7. BrushPen

    in our house during my childhood it was always strange to wear shoes in the house. that’s certainly carried over to me today, i always remove my shoes even at a friend’s house, regardless of whether they ask or not.

  8. My carpets are 10 years old and only show minimum wear because of the no shoes no service rule in our house. I have actually had people pitch a fit because I asked them to take their shoes off.
    My grandmother had a saying about asking people not to wear shoes in the house, if they don’t respect your property, they will never respect you. God, I miss her!

  9. I’m one of those with an “invisible disability”. I wear special shoes because my feet are bad. I even wear them at the beach. I cannot go barefoot, or I won’t be able to walk the next day.

    I’m not an old lady – I’m 32. I just have foot problems. So, if I were to go to a home where they insisted I remove my shoes, I probably would never go back.

    OTOH, I can’t keep shoes ON my kids!

  10. Donna Freedman

    @Funny and Milehimama: Me, too. I have plantar fasciitis and wear orthotics. I don’t want to second-guess why people wouldn’t want to take their shoes off. They might not feel comfortable revealing the reason, or the reason might be none of my business. Just my $0.02.
    Thanks for your comments.

  11. I have the no shoe rule, but mostly because I HATE to step in melted snow puddles (which is likely why the rule is more popular here in AK) & am not so fond of mud. I am a renter, so it isn’t my carpet, but it is my comfort. The kicker is that I do have foot problems & have dealt with plantar fasciitis before. When I get home, I kick off my shoes & put on my slippers that have my inserts already in place. As they are clean, I simply take them with me whether I am going to a shoe or non-shoe house. I am comfortable either way.

  12. LindyMint

    I saw the story on Good Morning America not too long ago about the evil demon germs that come into our houses via our shoes…I like to pretend sometimes I never saw that story. It takes all of my energy just to have people over in the first place, so imposing rules upon them is not something I am up for. But I have friends who do apply the no shoe rule, and do it very gracefully. I think how it comes across depends on your own comfort level with asking this of others.

    Maybe a good compromise is to ask shoe-removal of close friends, and forget about it for visitors you don’t know very well.

    • Donna Freedman

      @LindyMint: I agree that you should do what works for you. Like you I’m not comfortable with insisting, for the reasons stated in the piece.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  13. I’m from New Brunswick, Canada and I always take my shoes off, unless the person I’m visiting leaves their shoes on. Sometimes I don’t want to walk around on someone else’s dirty floors though. I think in my part of Canada it’s normal to take off your shoes.

  14. Kelly R.

    I’m from Alberta, Canada and grew up in Ontario, Canada and its pretty much accepted that you take off your shoes when you go to someone’s home. Maybe because we have long winters and boots are snowy, but as Melissa A. states its normal here.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Kelly R: It was normal while I lived in Anchorage, too. I, like Leah, hate stepping in puddles of melted snow in my sock feet. Cold and clammy soles. Yuck.
      I still take off my shoes even though I live in Seattle now. While I was still managing the building, I had to go into an apartment occupied by a young man from Saudi Arabia. His carpet looks pristine because, as evidenced by the footwear near the door, he doesn’t wear shoes in the house. That’s one guy who will get his deposit back.

  15. In Monroe MI, a lot of children and teens are taught “shoes off” in the home and when visiting someone else’s home.

    I once asked “Where did this come from?” since my husband and I had not seen it in other cities where we used to live. We had only heard of it in international cultures.

    Nobody knows. It’s just been local manners for a long time.

  16. abcegc

    For my culture, we always take off our shoes before entering the person’s house. It is a sign of respect for who we are visiting and for their property, in addition to keeping the place clean. Most everyone I know does this as part of the norm. It doesn’t matter if you have socks with holes, your feet stink, etc. That’s why I provide slippers. I have only had to ask one person ever, and I think it was because they forgot. If the person is uncomfortable with doing so because they’re embarrassed or have a medical problem, I would be okay with them keeping their shoes on.

  17. Pamela

    First of all I would not want to put on footwear/slippers that someone else..anyone else… and everyone else has worn..so if I were FORCED to take off my shoes I would walk around in whatever I already have on my feet only. Secondly I would be embarrassed if someone FORCED me to take off my shoes so I like to think I might embarrass someone if I made it an issue. Shoes are fine in my house.

  18. victoria

    nobody gets into our house in shoes. My mother was Canadian and I had it drilled into me that shoes came off at the door. We changed from shoes to slippers when we got home. As we had very expensive carpets it was not an issue. But back to today and also insist on shoes coming off at the door.Slippers for the family, and guests are asked to do as we do

  19. mapster

    I wear shoes in my house all the time, and also tell guests they are welcome to keep theirs on.

    One of my great aunts actually made people keep their shoes on when we went in to her house if you had bare feet. The reason: Her carpet was white and the skin oils from your feet get the carpet way dirtier than the few bits of dust and dirt that might be on your shoes and can be vacuumed up easily.

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