Friday, October 30, 2009

What if?

New Statesman magazine features a light-hearted column by Dominic Sandbrook which speculates about how things might have turned out differently. This week's column speculated on what might have been if Britain had voted not to join the EEC in 1975.

Aside from Tony Benn becoming chancellor of the exchequer, the article suggests that Britain would have developed very intimate relations with Iceland, Norway and Sweden. In this might-have-been world, Britain becomes like the Nordic countries a slightly dull but orderly and socially progressive country immersed in Scandinavian culture:

There are always those who think that we would have been better off staying in the EEC, and that today's Britain, with its environmentally friendly monarchy, its entrenched social democracy and its taste for meatballs, is all a bit dull. But it's surely a small price to pay for trains that run on time, redistributive taxes and the world's leading whaling industry. And who wants to be like Italy, anyway?

No doubt in such an imaginary world, Britain would be a nation of progressive people who always remove their shoes at the door, just like Norway, Sweden and Iceland.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Apartment Therapy: The Benefits of Leaving Your Shoes at the Door

Apartment Therapy: The Benefits of Leaving Your Shoes at the Door

Is anybody keeping count of all the punch-ups on Apartment Therapy over this subject?


Here is my childish streak coming out. I am a huge fan of Gerry Anderson's 1960s puppet show Stingray. I have the complete series on DVD.

Stingray was the series Gerry Anderson created before Thunderbirds. It is about a submarine called Stingray and its crew. Stingray's crew battle underwater aliens and save the world countless times. Although Thunderbirds is much more popular, in my opinion, Stingray was much better because the characters were much more richly developed. Much of the character development revolves around the love triangle between Stingray's captain, Troy Tempest, his girlfriend Lt. Atlanta Shore and the mysterious and silent girl from under the sea, Marina. Perhaps a surpising element in a program for children. Personally, I think Troy is an horrible character. He is so smug about having two women in love with him. He seems to play them off against each other without being able to comitt to either.

The 1960s standards of the show are amusing; the main characters are frequently shown smoking and drinking. They are also remarkably gung-ho: "It's an unknown craft, Commander!" "Fire hydroponic missiles immediately!" Probably, having a central female character who cannot speak would not go down to well in contemporary television either.

Stingray departs from the tendency of science fiction to always have characters wearing shoes all the time. Marina is always barefoot (apart from in two episodes). We see a close-up of her feet in the episode "Hostages of the Deep", which revels that her toes are webbed like a duck. These are not created by the puppet, but are a close-up of human feet wearing prosthetics. Many of the alien baddies are also barefoot, including the mighty Titan and his spy, Agent X20.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Medical Conditions


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 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.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Germs are not necessarilly the issue

A lot of people think those who ask for shoes-off in their homes are 'germaphobes.' It is certainly true that a lot of people who have a shoes-off policy are parents of small children who are concerned about germs being walked in on peoples' shoes. This is a quite legitimate concern.

This concern is often countered by the so-called 'hygiene hypothesis.' This holds that allergies are currently on the rise because peoples' homes are too clean and modern children are not sufficiently exposed to bacteria. There is evidence to support this theory, even if the jury is still out.

Even assuming that the 'hygiene hypothesis' is correct, there is no obvious way to decide how much dirt is healthy. Very few parents would be happy about cooking in a dirty kitchen, or having their children sleep in filthy rooms. While some bacteria is good and healthy, some bacteria can cause all sorts of diseases.

More importantly, there are some things that your shoes picky up that are not germs, but very much in the unwanted category: lead, pesticide, weed killer, dog excrement, roundworms, dust, pollen, plant sap, mold, toxoplasmosis (a parasite which is transmitted through animal excrement and which can survive in infected soil), cigarette ash, arsenic, mecury, asbestos, cadmium and thallium.

Simply put, your shoes can pick up anything. Please keep them out of the house.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Good Point on Hints

Removing shoes came up in yet another discussion on Apartment Therapy. A commenter called akay made a great point:

Everyone -- regardless of their inside footwear policy -- usually has a couple of shoes by the door, so this barely qualifies as a hint.

A lot of people suggest that if you just leave some shoes by the door, it is enough of hint that shoes-off is preferred. Ideally, people would take a hint, but in reality I don't think this will always happen. As akay points out, even people who don't have a shoes-off policy will often leave shoes by the door, so it is not really a hint.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Party Themes


I you are hosting a party and you want it to be fancy-dress, but don't want to mess up your carpet, you could incorporate shoelessness into the theme. There are a number of possible fancy dress themes that would fit:

1950s Sock Hop

1960s Hippie party

Pyjama party

Silly Slipper party- get guests to bring the silliest slippers they can find.

Hawaian Night

Japanese Evening

Ancient Greek themed pary

Ancient Egyptian themed party

Flintstones party

If anybody can think of any others, please suggest them in the comments.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fictional People (Stereotypes?) Part 3


Tim is 22 and lives in Birmingham where he works as an IT technician at the university.

He is single and shares a house with two friends.

Tim is very keen on science fiction and owns a large collection of Sci-fi DVDs. He and his friends are also very keen on computer games.

Tim has a shoes-off policy in his house. When he was younger and lived with his parents, he was expected to remove his shoes. When he moved out of the family home, he saw no reason to depart from the norm and got his housemates removing their shoes. Taking care of the carpet just seemed commonsense. Tim's housemates had also grown up expecting to remove shoes in their own homes and when visiting friends. For them, being in socks when in a home was normal for them.

When Tim's girlfriend first visited his house, she was surpised that at a house inhabited by three young men was as clean as it is. She was impressed and had no objection to removing her shoes when visiting.

When watching science fiction movies and t.v. shows, Tim sometimes wonders why characters are seldom shoeless.


Charlotte is 29 and lives with her partner in Reading. She is a pharmacist by profession.

Charlotte is a passionate lover of all things Japanese. She has visited Japan trhee times and she attends Japanese language classes. She has an avid interest in Japanese Anime films. It is a certainty that any exhibition of Japanese art in the Uk will be visited by Charlotte.

Charlotte admits that her Japanese cooking leaves a little to be desired, but it is not for want of trying. She is not brilliant at cooking English food either, but pharmacy was her calling in life, not catering.

She developed this fanatical interest when she visited a museum at the age of nine. In the museum she saw suits of samuarai armour, Japanese statues and other artifacts that fascinated her. Ever since, she took every opportunity to learn something of the country.

Perhaps inevitably, she adopted the custom of removing shoes in her home. Of course, she had several tatami mats in her living room, so wearing shoes was not an option. Charlotte's partner was under strict instructions to follow Japanese etiquette and remove his slippers before stepping on her tatami mats. He did draw the line at changing into toilet slippers when in the bathroom.

Charlotte's friends smile when reminded to remove their shoes. They put it down to her nipponophile craziness.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Shoes Off at a Party?


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, October 12, 2009

Getting Drunk

I once came back to my parents' house after a session at Worcester Beer Festival. I had drunk quite a few pints of strong ale. When I came in, my father immediately reminded me to remove my shoes. I don't think he realised at the time how ingrained the practice of removing shoes was in me. I doubt that even in a drunken state I would forget to remove my shoes. Naturally, with the beer festival being held at a race course, he was worried about all the mud.

I suppose if somebody has only just got into the habit of removing shoes, getting drunk might cause them to lapse.

It's my job to alert people to the consequences of heavy drinking, so here is a good reason not to get drunk: You might forget to remove your shoes and bring all kinds of dirt onto your carpet.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Ankle Tattoos

During night shifts, I often watch a t.v. program called Miami Ink. It is about a tattoo studio in Florida and is remarkably interesting. I don't know what I think about tattoos; I can't see myself getting one.

Amongst ladies I know, tattoos on the ankle or foot are quite popular. I suppose if a lady has a tattoo on her ankle she is unlikely to be bothered by attention being drawn to her feet and will probably not be too bothered by being asked to remove her shoes.

We live in liberated times.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Upstairs Downstairs

Some people have a rule in their house that people may keep their shoes on downstairs, but not upstairs. In a similar manner some people require only overnight guests to remove their shoes.

I understand that the upstairs is a more intimate part of the house and the place where sleeping is done (so a natural place to keep allergy-free). However, I really do not see the need to only go half-way on the shoes-off policy. Who wants a clean carpet upstairs and a dirty one downstairs? Besides most peoples' children will be playing as often on the floors downstairs as the floors upstairs.

It seems much more simpler and straightforward to have the whole house shoe-free.

Monday, October 05, 2009



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?

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Alternate Attitudes

Its my job to talk to patients at the accident and emergency about the dangers of heavy drinking. During my night shift I took a group of young people who had come to the hospital after an nasty incident at a club to a side-room for an interview. One of them had removed her high heels and was in stocking feet. As we entered the A & E ward, a nurse immediately told the girl she needed to put her shoes back on.

Naturally, the hospital staff have to be concerned about health and safety. But it is amazing to contrast this to many hospitals in India where both staff and patients are expected to remove their shoes and go barefoot! In Britain going barefoot in a hospital is seen as a safety hazard, while in India, it is viewed as a standard hygeine measure. It is fascinating that across the world there are such conflicting attitudes to feet and shoes.

Even in Europe attitudes are different. In Finland (a shoes-off country) you will see staff in supermarkets and department stores wearing open-toed sandals, which would rarely be permitted in British stores.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Coffee-coloured people

In these days of aggressive nationalism and communities divided by ethinicity and religion, there are some liberals who yearn for the old days before multi-culturalism, when the idea of the world being a melting pot of coffee-coloured people seemed a great idea.

I suspect that a world of coffee-coloured people would be a world of shoe-removing people. Simple demographics would ensure that the mass of people in Asia would ensure the prominence of the custom of removing shoes in homes.