Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Great Shoe Debate

The Great Shoe Debate

Fairly good post on this subject.

Plastic Sheeting on Furniture?

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People say some daft things in internet discussion threads. Often when the shoes-off rule is discussed, people suggest that those with shoes-off homes probably leave the plastic sheeting on their furniture.

Does anybody really do that?

There is simply no comparison. Furniture is not going to be damaged by people sitting on it (unless they put their shoes on it- which some silly people do). But your shoes can certainly make a mess of floors and carpets.

Removing shoes at the door wil make you feel more comfortable. Sitting on a sofa with plastic sheeting is horrible, especially in the summer when one is wearing a t-shirt and shorts.

And plastic sheeting on furniture looks really silly anyway.

So I very much doubt that many people who keep their homes shoe-free really do leave plastic sheeting on their furniture.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

At a risk of being boiled with my own pudding and having a sprig of Holly skewered through my heart, I am going to say:

Merry Christmas

Or Merry Saturnalia to all you Jehovah's Witnesses and any like-minded extreme KJV-Fundamentalists who want to enjoy having a family holiday but do not want to get tangled in any pagan stuff.

By the way, a lot of people get slippers as a Christmas present. It is one of those things that makes a great present (provided you know the recipient's shoe-size). If you do, please take it as a sign that you really ought to make your home a shoe-free zone. It will certainly make for a more relaxed atmosphere during the holiday season.

Have a clean and godly Christmas this year.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Hospitality part 2

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Guests are aware when they visit a home that the hosts have boundaries that cannot be crossed.

Guests know or should know that they cannot go wandering about upstairs, looking in their hosts' bedrooms. They ought to be careful in conversation that they do not mention subjects that may cause offence to the host. If the host has strong views on a subject, it is best not to argue with him or her. Guests know that they cannot bring their pet dog to somebody else's home unless the host has expressly said this is acceptable. Even if the host is an animal lover, permission to bring a pet dog must be sought.

It is now recognised by most people that when you visit the home of a non-smoker, they should not smoke inside. If they need to smoke, they should put their coat on and go outside. There are still some people, probably mostly from the upper strata of British society who think it is rude to forbid smoking in one's home. However, this view is very much in a minority.

It is important to recognise these boundaries when one visits a home and if hosts prefer, even if they do not insist on it, removal of shoes, this should be complied with by guests. To ignore this boundary is, as stated in the previous post, taking hospitality for granted.

Some people would object to comparisons with smoking pointing out the health risks of smoking, compared with the minor ill effects to health of wearing shoes past the door. However, it is not so much the health risks that should deter smoking in a non-smoking home. Nobody is going to get lung cancer because a few guests smoked at a dinner party. They are unlikely to even develope a cough because of it. No, the reason one should not smoke in a non-smoking home is simply because the smells and mess are not convenient for such hosts. It is simply impolite. Likewise it is not convenient to impose the dirt and dust of your shoes in the home of a person who would object to it.

Some would argue that it is polite for guests to remove their shoes if this is what the hosts do, but it is impolite for the host to request shoes-off. They feel that it is better to leave the responsiblity of politness to guests. To my mind, this is not quite logical. If guests have the responsibility to comply with the preference of their hosts, then it is surely quite reasonable for guests to make their preference known.

Part of the reason why a verbal request for shoes-off may be necesary is because etiquette is so uncertain and in such a state fo flux on this point. While it may be a good idea to remove one's shoes when one is welcomed by a shoe-less host, as this may be a shoes-off home, such a gesture might be taken as impolite by some. There are some who go shoe-less in their home who would be surpised by guests going shoe-less. It is probably necessary for those who desire shoe-removal to make their wish known.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Hospitality

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There are some who think that asking guests to remove their shoes is contrary to the principle of hospitality. Again, this is a culturally relative matter. Albania and Turkey are countries in which hospitality is greatly valued and yet is expected in those countries that guests remove their shoes.

The shoes-on people argue that a hostess should primarily be concerned with her guests comfort and not with the state of her carpet or floor. However, most guests will feel more comfortable after removing their shoes. They may, admittedly, be uncomfortable because they are embarassed about their feet or they feel their shoes are part of their outfit. Those problems can be dealt with by letting guests know in advance that shoes-off is expected and so they can either bring slippers or plan their outfits with bare or stocking feet in mind. Any embarassment should be minimal if guests are not taken by surprise.

In my opinion, those who insist that guests should be allowed to keep their shoes on take hospitality for granted.

When I get my own house or apartment, I may well invite you. I will give you the best seat. I will cook for you. I will serve you the best food I can. I will give you whatever you want to drink, whether it be alcoholic or not. I will give you my undivided attention. I will entertain you with conversation. If you live nearby, I will drive you home in my car. If not, I will let you stay the night. I will wash up the dishes and cutelry you have used and clean up any mess you make. Given that I am willing to do all this for you, do you really think it is so unreasonable that I ask you to take your shoes off?

Friday, December 15, 2006

It is not Selfish to ask Visitors to Remove their Shoes

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Some people claim it is selfish to ask visitors to remove their shoes. They think that it shows excessive concern for one's carpet or flooring.

On the contrary it is not selfish at all.

Firstly, there is an health issue involved. Peoples' shoes pick up dust and animal excrement which is not good for one's health and especially bad for the health of one's children. If one has babies or small children that play on the floor it is extremely sensible to keep one's home shoe-free.

There are many worries today about the health risks posed by pollution, toxins and chemicals. Personally, I think many of these health scares are exagerrated. Many of the supposed health risks have not been scientifically verified. However, it is best to keep as much nasty stuff out of the house as possible.

Secondly, the notion of selfishness here is relative. In a country where shoe-removing is the norm, like Finland or Russia, it would hardly be selfish to insist on shoes-off.

In Britain or the USA, where keeping shoes on is the norm, there are many people who would like to insitute a shoes-off policy, but who are afraid of causing offence or being deemed 'selfish.' If a person is brave enough to insist on shoes-off, she makes it easier for those other people who feel that they would like to make their homes shoe-free. In time, the norms of the UK and the USA may change and shoe-removing may become as normal as it is in Thailand or Sweden.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Should One Provide Slippers for Guests?

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In some Eastern European and Asian countries, guests change from their shoes into slippers provided by the host.

Some argue that if you intend to have a shoes-off policy in your home, you should keep some slippers for guests to wear. This will make them feel more comfortable and prevent embarassments such as foot odour and holes in socks.

This is a fairly good idea, but I am not so sure. If slippers are provided, then they must either be disposable plastic slippers or else slippers that can go in the washing machine. It would be quite unreasonable to expect guests to wear slippers that have been worn by somebody else that day. I am not sure whether most slippers are machine washable. Some guests might not even trust you that they really have been cleaned and may prefer to stay in bare or stocking feet.

I think the practise of providing guest slippers might be just a bit too weird for British. Many British people will have been to a house where shoes-off was required, but not many people will have been offered guest slippers to wear, unless it was in another country. I think a lot of English guests would prefer to go shoe-less, rather than wear slippers that are not their own.

I think it is a good idea to buy slippers for family and regular visitors and keep them at your house. These should be worn only by the person they are provided for. Hopefully, one's family and close friends would be delighted by this consideration.

Providing clean socks is a different matter. I would suggest keeping a supply of clean socks in different sizes by the door for guests who are not comfortable going barefoot.

I think it is very sensible to let visitors know in advance that one has a shoes-off rule in one's home. That way, they can be sure to wear socks without holes or bring their own slippers if they prefer.

Friday, December 08, 2006

This Week's NATIONAL ETIQUETTE AWARD goes to....Fiji!

Fiji Page in Wikipedia

Official Fiji Travel Guide

Lonely Planet: Fiji Travel Information

I hereby grant the National Etiquette Award to Fiji, as it is customary in that country to remove shoes when entering homes.

This week a military coup took place in Fiji that looks set to restore dictatorship. Fiji has been a very popular holiday destination, with its beautiful beaches, but it has a history of military rule. We can only hope and pray that there is no bloodshed and that democracy is restored as soon as possible.

The population of Fiji is divided between native Fijians of Melanesian origin and people from the subcontinent of India whose ancestors were inroduced as labourers by the British. The Fijians were almost entirely converted to Christianity long ago, but the Indians are mostly Hindus. However, some of the Indian population have converted to Christianity. Racial tension between the two communities have made evangelism difficult.

Slippers that look like Shoes

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I do not as a rule always remove my shoes when visiting other people's homes. In Britain, removing shoes is not the norm and might be considered odd or even rude. However, some people would like visitors to remove their shoes, but are afraid to make the request. I should very much like to encourage those people by my behaviour.

Hence, I only remove my shoes if the host is not wearing shoes and possibly not even then if I know they wear shoes at home sometimes.

However, some people wear slippers that look like shoes. This really can cause confusion, Men may wear leather slippers or moccasins that could pass as shoes. It was fashionable a couple of years ago to wear these slip-on sneakers. Some people started wearing them indoors as slippers. At the moment, it is very fashionable for girls to wear outdoor shoes that are identical to slippers. If somebody is wearing those indoors, how am I suppposed to know if they are slippers or not? In the summer, some people may use indoor-only flip flops as slippers.

So people, if you would like people to remove their shoes in your house, but are too polite to say, please wear slippers that look like slippers and leave lots of shoes by the door to make it obvious.

Or better still, just pluck up the courage to say "We remove our shoes in this house." You may be surpised how gracious people will be.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Slip-On Shoes

I am going to Japan in January for a two-month mission trip.

Most of the guide books recommend wearing shoes without laces in Japan, as shoes are not only removed in homes, but all kinds of buildings, with exceptions like supermarkets and railway stations.

Hence, I got two pairs of slip-on shoes today; a pair of smart leather shoes from Clarks (reduced to £29.99) and some slip-on sneakers (reduced to £10!).

I am not that used to wearing slip-on shoes. I have very narrow feet, so they are not ideal for me. People in Asian countries are blessed with rather broader feet than us Anglo-Saxons. However, they will make it easier for me to remove shoes when visiting friends in this country as well as Japan.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Shoes-Off at Parties?

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As Christmas (Saturnalia) and New Year draw ever closer, a lot of people will begin planning parties. This is probably not the ideal subject for me, because I am not terribly fond of parties at all. Nevertheless, I have been to parties in the past and I am sure I will go to some in the future. I may even host one in the years to come.

There are some people who are strict about no-shoes in their homes who make an exception for parties. They feel that parties are an occasion when people expect to dress up and this must include shoes. I disagree with their view. I think it is perfectly reasonable to require shoes to be removed for a party.

In Canada and Scandinavia, it is common for people to attend formal parties with a special set of party shoes that are not worn outdoors. This is not really feasible in the UK. I doubt that many British folks have shoes that are never worn oudoors, unless they keep a pair of sneakers to go to the gym. And if those formal party shoes have high-heels, they are unacceptable anyway.

Some people say that party of a party is clearing up afterwards, so you should not make a fuss about mess from people's shoes. This seems a little silly to my mind. People will make more than enough mess at a party without them bringing in dirt on their shoes. There will be plenty of spilled wine and crumbs ground into the carpet without chewing gum and dog dirt from peoples' shoes as well. Also the main party season in the West is Christmas and New Year, when there will be plenty of rain and snow (maybe not snow in England, but plenty of rain). The party season is a wet season.

Some argue that people will feel silly and uncomfortable at a party without their shoes. It is true that people might find it a little odd. But they will probably feel more comfortable for having removed their shoes. If it is made clear in the invitation that shoes willl need to be removed, then it will not come as a shock. Furthermore, if there is alcohol at the party, then most people will be feeling more relaxed.

The main argument levelled against shoes-off at parties is that people dress up for parties. A lot of people, particularly women, will chose their outfits very carefully and they the choice of shoes is part of that selction. For them, a party is an occasion to show off their good taste. They would not want to combine their cocktail dresses with barefeet.

In response I would say that parties are hardly the only occasions for dressing up. Ladies can show off their fancy shoes in restaurants or at the races. Not all parties are such formal occasions. If a party is a smart-casual event, it is actually quite rude to dress up more smartly than other guests.

The host sets the theme of a party. If it is meant to be a fancy dress party, then you should make the effort to find a costume or stay home. If it is an informal party, leave the suit or cocktail dress at home. If it is a no-shoes party, leave the kitten heels at the door.

I keep making this point, but I will make it again: it is best that guests know in advance that shoe-removal is required. If you are printing fancy invitations, make it known there (with some clip-art maybe?). If people know that they will have to take their shoes off, it will not come as a shock and they can plan their outfit with this in mind. They can bring some nice slippers that complement their outfit if they want and they can avoid long trousers that only look right when worn with high heels.

There is the question of whether it is really possible to hold a formal party while people are shoeless. It may be difficult in the West to maintain an air of formality when everybody is without their shoes, but is that really such a bad thing? Is it not better to be realxed at a party? Certainly, the host and guests can make na effort to keep the party formal. Men can look reasonably smart by combining respectable slippers with their suits and women can look pretty elegant in stocking feet. So all is not lost. If shoes-off in homes becomes more common, shoe-lessnes will probably become less associated with being casual and informal.

There are some people who will certainly be far more happy and comfortable to party without their shoes on. As I argued in a previous post, it is not simply a matter of giving these people the choice. At a shoes-on party, those who take it upon themselves to remove their shoes are likely to get their feet squashed and to have to walk on a soggy carpet. Shoes-off for all guests makes it easier for those who want to take their shoes off.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Not Typical

I watched a movie after a dinner party at some friends' house. It was a romantic comedy entitled 'Hitch', starring Wil Smith.

I was surprised to notice several characters in the film removing their shoes before entering a luxury yacht. While people in films do remove their shoes, it is almost always because their feet hurt. People in films are normally oblivious to the destructive effects of shoes on floors.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Athlete's Foot

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An unpleasent fungal infection.

A lot of people mention Athlete's Foot as an argument against people having a shoes-off policy. However, this is a quite unnecessary concern.

Athlete's Foot is generally associated with swimming pools and changing rooms. It is possible to catch Athlete's Foot on one's barefeet at a swimming pool or in a locker room. However, recent research indicates that this is not so likely as was previously thought.

Most importantly, the reason people catch Athlete's Foot in those places is not because people there are barefoot, but because the fungus needs a warm and wet environment. People get exposed to the fungus in the damp conditions. If they fail to dry their feet, the fungus is very comfortable and even more so if the victim puts on sweaty socks.

The fungus will not survive long on the clean, dry floor or carpet of a person's home and so you are very unlikely to catch Athlete's Foot in somebody's house, even if the owner has the condition.

What is more, people who are not wearing socks are likely to put on sandals when they leave, as opposed to closed shoes. Thus, they will not create the right environment for the condition to thrive.

Of course, if you are worried about it, you can always bring some slippers or socks when you visit a shoes-off home.

People who have a shoes-off policy ought to let their visitors know in advance and be willing to lend a pair of clean socks, if not slippers.