Saturday, December 29, 2007

Not much new I am afraid

According to the site metre, less and less of you are coming to visit. That could be because a lot of you are on holiday for Christmas and New Year.

But it may be because I just keep re-posting the same old posts.

I am sorry. However, it is hard to come up with anything new to say about this subject. I have written more words on this subject than anybody else on the internet, but it is still rare when I come up with anything new.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Culture

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Some people in Britain and the USA have an interesting perspective on this subject. They feel happy taking off their shoes at the home of an Asian person whose culture demands removal of shoes, but consider it deeply rude for a British or American person to insist on visitors to her home removing their shoes.

There are two problems with this attitude. Firstly, there is a touch of cultural arrogance about it. It implies that the Asian custom of removing shoes is purely of spiritual or cultural significance with no practical value. Maybe Asian people are primarily concerned about keeping their homes clean! Behind the pretended respect for a foreign culture, there is the unspoken assumption that Western practice is superior.

Secondly, this attitude seems to take a rather static view of culture, seeing it as a set of chains that bind people to particular rules of behaviour. In fact, culture is dynamic and fluid, it changes over time.

It seems to me to be quite obvious that if a person of Asian descent can be considered British while keeping her home shoe-free, it is perfectly acceptable for a White British person to keep her home shoe-free.

It may be the norm in Britain and most of the USA for shoes to stay on in homes now, but this may change. In fact, I believe it probably will. Many White Americans and even British people are adopting the custom of shoes-off in homes.

We are living in a global village with increased immigration, travel and communication between different cultures. There is tremendous potential for different cultural practices to migrate across geographical boundaries.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Very Good

My sister and her boyfriend were staying here for a few days this Christmas. They were very good and always removed their shoes at the door. My sisters boyfriend brought some slippers and my sister borrowed some belonging to my mother.

Discovering Reverance

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The comfort aspect of shoe removal is both a strength and a weakness of the case for shoes off at the door.

It is certainly the case that most people will feel more comfortable for having removed their shoes. A 'no-shoes' home is a place of comfort.

The problem is that the western association of removing shoes with comfort and informality may make people more reluctant to accept the idea of removing shoes on more formal occasions even in the home. People may think that it is somehow inappropriate or impolite to go shoeless at a dinner party.

The problem is that in western culture, we have no concept of removing shoes as an act of reverance. The closest thing in the west would be Roman Catholics going barefoot at shrines like St. Patrick's Mount. To us in the west, it is more respectful to keep shoes on than to take them off.

In contrast, in most oriental cultures there is an assocaition of shoes-off with reverance. Muslims do not remove their shoes in Mosques to be more comfortable (though I believe they usually have lovely carpets); they remove them because the Mosque is sacred. Japanese pupils remove their outdoor footwear on arriving at school, not just in order to keep it cleaner, but because the school is a place of authority that is worthy of their esteem.

I dare say that British people will come to appreciate this association of shoes-off with reverance more and more. School pupils in this country are often taken to visit non-Christian places of worship where their shoes must be removed. Thailand has become a very popular tourist destination for British people and there they experience going barefoot in Buddhist temples. More and more they will learn to show respect and reverance to the homes of their friends by taking off their shoes.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Medical Conditions

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If you read internet discussions about the subject of the shoes-off rule, you will find countless people who claim to have a medical condition that means they must wear shoes all the time. If these discussions were representative of the population; nearly half the people in the USA have such a medical condition. I do not believe a word of it.

Yes, there are some people who do have a genuine medical reason for not removing their shoes. We must make exceptions for them.

Some people say having a shoes-off policy causes embarassment for such people because they must reveal their condition. However, this is quite unnecessary. A person with a medical condition can simply say:



I am sorry, I can't take my shoes off. Doctor's orders.




She does not need to reveal the nature of her condition. She does not need to give any embarassing details. There is really no problem here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Shoes-Off at Parties?

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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 part 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 relaxed at a party? Certainly, the host and guests can make an 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.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Refuseniks

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If asked to remove their shoes, most people are polite enough to comply. However, it is always possible that there may be some refuseniks.

If somebody refuses to remove her shoes, the host has several options:

1. Not let them in.

2. Let them in, but express one's unhappiness. Not invite them in again.

3. Let them in, express one's unhappiness, but invite them again hoping that next time they will comply.

4. Let them in and say nothing. Not invite them again.

5. Let them in and say nothing. Invite them again in hope that next time they will be more polite.

There is not right or wrong response. Whether you let them in and whether you invite them again entirely depends upon your wishes.

You have every right to refuse to admit somebody to your home. If a person is visiting to sell you a product or service, or to promote their religious organisation (usually Jehovah's Witnesses are polite enough to offer shoes-off) then you might well refuse to let them in. On the other hand, if your boss is visiting, it might be a bad idea to refuse to let her in!

If the visitor is not a close friend, but a person you have invited to dinner in order to make close acquaintance with, you have every right to never let them darken your door again. On the other hand, you may not want to loose a close friend over the issue. However, you might feel more comfortable expressing your unhappiness to a close friend than to a occasional visitor.

There is simply no right or wrong response to refuseniks.

Would you let somebody in your house if they refused to remove their shoes when asked?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Encourage but not insist?

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Some people say that it is fine to encourage people to remove their shoes, but one should not insist that they do so.

There is a fine line between insisting on people removing their shoes and encouraging people to take them off. There are a number of things one could say that are subtle encouragements:



We take our shoes off here.

You might like to take your shoes off.



These imply strongly that the host wants the guest to remove her shoes. I do not see that insisting or asking is worse than encouraging. If you encourage people to take their shoes off, then you have started from the assumption that people will be willing to take them off. By encouraging, you apply a degree of moral pressure to comply.

I think a lot of people would not want the uncertainty of just being encouraged. I was dating a girl a few years ago when I was not 100% sold out to the shoes-off rule. She asked me if she should remove her shoes. I told her that we removed our shoes but she did not have to. She was actually uncomfortable at this answer and asked me whether I wanted her to take them off or not.

Sometimes it is simpler just to be straight with people and ask them to remove their shoes. No need to beat around the bush.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Barefeet

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In the UK and the USA a lot of people feel a sense of disgust and abjection towards feet. Of course, in many Asian countries, the foot is considered to be unclean. However, this is in connection with the fact that the foot touches the ground. Thus, shoes are considered to be far more unclean than the naked foot. In an Asian home, barefeet are acceptable, but shoes are not. This is actually the very opposite of the western abjection of the foot.

It is very common in internet discussions about shoes-off in homes for the subject of barefeet to be raised. It is argued that barefeet are disgusting, more so than the dirt on peoples' shoes. Of course, if you do feel that feet are disgusting, you can still ask visitors to remove their shoes if you lend then flip flops or socks to wear. Angie mentioned this in a previous post.

It is very likely that the sense of disgust about barefeet will decline. Sandals and flip flops have become incredibly popular in the UK and the USA. People are becoming more used to exposed feet. And ladies (and maybe some men) are spending good money on keeping them looking nice.

The argument that feet are more unhygienic than shoes is quite wrong. Unless a person has been going barefoot outdoors, they will not have been picking up the awful things that the soles of shoes pick up (though sandal-shod feet do get a bit dusty). You may think your feet are disgusting, however, you undoubtedly have more germs on your hands than on your feet. Feet are usually remarkably cleaner than the average pair of hands.

One should remember that the oils on barefeet are acidic and can cause some wear on carpets, though not as much as shoes. Thus, it is best to restrict going barefoot on carpets to spring and summer, and thus wear socks or slippers in winter.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Article on Swedish Culture

Sweden: the world's most modern country?

This article claims that the custom of removing shoes at the door became the norm in Sweden in the 1960s. The article claims:

“It is a commonly held opinion in Sweden that it is bourgeois to keep your shoes on indoors. This is probably inherited from the 1960s when the radical left wished to distance itself from middle-class habits such as indoor shoes.”


Perhaps some of the many Swedish visitors to this blog may be able to clarify this.

While I am pretty Right-wing politically and a member of the Conservative party, I cannot help feeling that removing shoes at the door (apart from in Asian countries) is not very Right-wing at all.

There is something very modernist about the informality of shoes-off that does not sit easily with a conservatism that hearkens back to past generations.

I think as I have become more entrenched in my 'no-shoes past the door' position, I have become more liberal in my attitudes. I have become very pro-immigration. I have become more positive about modern Britain and in favour of a modernising approach to Conservative politics (I think David Cameron is great).

Welcome

It is very nice to have so many Swedish people visiting here over the last couple of days.

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 surprised by guests going shoe-less. It is probably necessary for those who desire shoe-removal to make their wish known.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Hospitality

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There are some who think that asking guests to remove their shoes is contrary to the principle of hospitality.

This is a culturally relative matter. Albania and Turkey are countries in which hospitality is greatly valued and yet it 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?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Chicago Tribune: You're welcome- but not your shoes

Chicago Tribune: You're welcome- but not your shoes

An article on the shoes-off rule that offers a number of opinions. Veterans of this debate will have read them all before.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

You Tube: Crazy Girl Getting Arrested

You Tube: Crazy Girl Getting Arrested

In some American police stations it is the practice to make persons in custody take their shoes off, just like in the UK.

In this video, a girl is arrested after a road rage incident.

Her boots are removed when she is placed in the cell. It does not look like the boots had laces; presumbably the cops were concerned about her kicking the cell door rather than self-harming.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Neat Freaks?

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It is commonly thought that people who insist on shoes-off in their homes are neat freaks who are obsessed with keeping their homes clean and tidy.

I dare say that there are some people who prefer shoes-off who are genuine neat freaks. And those who are Obsessive-Compulsive about cleanliness may well be among the shoes-off community.

Of course this is culturally relative. In Japan it is thought that money is dirty and unhygeinic because it is handled by untold numbers of people. Japanese people also regard any objects placed in bathrooms, such as books or ornaments to be 'dirty'. A person in a western society who held such attitudes would almost certainly be regarded as Obsessive-Compulsive.

I have known a number of people who really were excessive in their desire to keep their homes clean. Interestingly, these people did not require visitors to remove their shoes. I suspect that they probably spent so much time in cleaning their homes that they were happy to waste time cleaning up afer their visitors.

Many people who keep their homes shoe-free are not domestic goddesses who like nothing better than spending whole days doing spring cleaning. Rather, they are busy working people who have far better things to do. They do not want to clean up for the sake of it, but they know that living in a clean environment is healthier and far more pleasent. Knowing that time is precious they would rather keep the mess to the minimum and spend as little time as possible cleaning up after their visitors. Prevention is better than cure.

Nobody needs a house that is spotless, but it is pointless to allow dirt and dust to accumulate when it could easily be kept out by leaving shoes at the door. A floor is meant to be walked upon, but that does not mean that one should not reduce wear and tear and save time and money.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Housewarming Party

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If you are moving into a new house or apartment and you want to make a clean start and have a no-shoes rule, you have an ideal opportunity to kick it off with an housewarming party.

The best thing to do is to indicate clearly on invitations that you will be requiring shoes-off. That way people will have no surpises. They can bring slippers, wear clean socks with no holes or a floaty skirt that looks great with barefeet (Trinny and Susanah actually recommend that hostesses of dinner parties should wear a long skirt with barefeet or slippers).

Having an housewarming party is such an excellent way to send the message that your new house will be a shoe-free zone. Even those of your friends who do not come will see on the invitation that you want shoes-off.

Requiring shoes-off at a housewarming party sends the message that you are really serious about the rule and that it is not just an exception for a wet winter evening. After all, some people with shoeless homes actually make an exception and allow shoes-on in parties. However, having shoes-off at an housewarming makes it clear that you want the house to stay as it was when you bought it.