Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It's not a cold weather thing




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Occasionally some people suggest that the difference between countries where shoes are removed and where they are kept on is the climate. This is pretty misleading.

It is true that most countries with harsh winters like Canada and Finland are in the shoes-off camp, while the gentle weather of Mediterranean Europe is enjoyed by Spanish and Italians who for the most part, keep their shoes on indoors.

However, there are many countries with warm climates that practice the shoes-off rule. These include:

Morocco

Guyana

India

Hawaii (USA)

United Arab Emirates

Saudi Arabia

Bangladesh

Malaysia

Thailand

Nauru

Fiji

Maldives

Sri Lanka


And in some countries which have cold winters, but warm summers, for instance Albania and Croatia, shoes are removed over the whole year, winter and summer.

The fact is that whether the weather is hot or cold, dirt is still dirt. The fact that the weather outside is warm does not mean that the streets and the soil outside is clean.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Elderly Couple On Christmas Day

My parents invited an elderly couple over for dinner on Christmas day. They both removed their shoes on entering, despite my mother's protests that "We are not posh."

This couple run the trailer park (which in the UK has no class connotations) on which they live, so I suppose they are used to their shoes being muddy.

Often elderly people are thought of as being unable or unwilling to remove their shoes, but this is not always the case. The gentleman was diabetic. Some medical practitioners (particularly in the USA) give quite rigorous advice to diabetics, encouraging them never to go without shoes. Not all medical practioners take this drastic line and not all diabetics follow it either. Not all people with diabetes develop problems with their feet, though they need to make sure they look after them. The NHS website has a link to Diabetes UK, which gives advice about footcare, but does not insist on the 'wear shoes all the time' rule. It says:

'Fortunately, you do not usually need to do anything very different from other people – general advice on footcare applies to you.'


I thought it interesting that my mother though having a shoes-off rule was 'posh.' Generally people seem to think requiring shoes off is 'tacky.' Nevertheless, when she visited some relatives over the weekend, she took some slippers with her to wear, so I am obviously having an impact.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Fictional People (Stereotypes?) Part 6

Natasha

Natasha is 31 and lives with her husband, Stan, on a council estate in Bedfordshire. They have been married for just a year, but had been living together for several years previously. Natasha has three children, one of whom was from a previous boyfriend.

Stan works as a mechanic. Natasha recently started working part-time in a sandwich shop. She had not worked prior to this since she was a teenager. Natasha left school when she was 16 and got pregnant soon after that.

Natasha has a shoes-off policy in her home.

This was a recent decision, after the council redecorated her house and put in a new wooden floor. Natasha was immensely proud of the improvements and decided she wanted to make an effort to keep the place looking nice. She had been a single mother for a number of years and had lived in some flats that were pretty grotty. She was poor then and she and her husband don't have a lot of money to throw around these days either. Her attitude is that you should value what you have got and look after it.

Some of Stan's mates moaned about having to shed their shoes when visiting, but Natasha soon put them in their place, "Fussing like a bunch of girls, you lot. Do you think your hard do you, moaning about your cold feet?"

With three children, it is not easy to keep their house clean, so reducing the dirt from foot traffic went a long way.

Natasha had also been prompted to institute the no-shoes rule when she read in Hello magazine that Mishelle Beckfield, the wife of the famous footballer Wayne Beckfield, required people to take their shoes in her home. Natasha adores Mishelle Beckfield. She would love to dress like her, but lacked both the disposable income and the slender figure of the footballer's wife.


Mishelle Beckfield

As with many of the more prominent WAGs, Mishelle had a fair dose of luck on her side. Like many young women, she had spend a fair bit of time in the pubs and clubs where the young players of a minor football club used to hang out. She became the girlfriend of one of the players, and with her boundless enthusiasm behind him, Wayne became the star of a major football team within a matter of years, and scored a crucial goal for England in the World Cup. Their marriage had been a major media event that was featured in the celebrity rags of every soccer-loving nation.

Mishelle very much enjoys the celebrity lifestyle and has been able to meet film stars, supermodels pop musicians and was even the dinner guest of a French philosopher (whose conversation she did not find particularly interesting). Mishelle appeared in the reality show "You're a celebrity, I presume?" in which celebrities got to explore jungles in remote parts of the world. While she enjoyed the media attention, she found it something of an ordeal and needed a number of shopping trips to recover.

Mishelle has a shoes-off policy in her homes, which include her Georgian estate in the home counties, her villa in the south of France, her luxury apartments in New York and Paris, and you could probably include her yacht, on which she spends a fair amount of time.

It was actually the yacht that got Mishelle wedded to the idea of having a shoes-off policy in her homes. Before getting her own yacht, she had spent plenty of time in other peoples' yachts. She knew the drill; a yacht is a stiletto free zone. However much you might spend on shoes, they were not acceptable on a yacht. This was not too much of an hassle with her perfectly pedicured feet.

Mishelle had noticed that the wood floors in her homes seemed to take a fair amount of punishment from stiletto heels, both from hers and those of her friends. Sure, she had plenty of money coming in from her husband's lucrative transfer deal and the royalties from her ghost-written autobiography, but why throw it down the drain on repair bills? Take care of the thousands, and the millions will look after themselves.

The nation's most desired hostess wasted no time in laying down the law. If her friends could look glamorous in their bare feet at boat parties, they could look just as glamorous sans stilettos when visiting her. The gossip columns managed to get a few snarky comments about her shoes-off rule, but what did Mishelle care? She was used to journalists bitching and she suspected they were probably just as precious about their crumby little apartments in London.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Shoes Off At A Party?


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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.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Warning! There Will Be No Warning

The British Department for the Environment, Farming, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has announced that farmers do not need to give prior notice before using pesticides on their crops.

This means that if you live in the UK you cannot be sure whether your area is contaminated by pesticides.

Regardless of whether this decision is right or wrong, it is vital that if you live in a rural area, you consider the risk of pesticide contamination. Your shoes may pick up traces of the stuff. Make sure you remove them at the door and ask visitors to remove their shoes.

Intermission from normal service



This is me at the graduation ceremony, at which I was awarded my PhD for research in theology (University of Gloucestershire). The ceremony was a couple of weeks ago at Cheltenham racecourse. Still reading this blog, Victoriap?

One of the professors who questioned me in the oral exam stumbled across this blog by chance last year. She told me her son and his girlfriend have a shoes-off policy in their place. Good for them.

I know you don't get to see many pictures of me, but I thought I would make an exception. There are other pictures of me online, but I am not going to tell you where to find them.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

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.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Achoo!: Shoes Off Means Less Allergies

Achoo!: Shoes Off Means Less Allergies

'Shoes track into the house everything that they've encountered outdoors. In addition to plain old dirt, this includes pesticides found in soil, pollen grains, mold spores, pet dander, and more. With all the allergens in your home already and the efforts you make to reduce them, the last thing you need to do is bring more into the house and spread them all over the place. Institute a shoes-off policy and slip on some cozy slippers instead – it's for your health!'

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. It is argued that this will make them feel more comfortable and prevent embarassments such as foot odour and holes in socks.

I am not inclined to think so. 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 barefoot, rather than wear slippers that are not their own. In conversations I have had with people about Japan, I have noticed people go 'ew' at the idea of wearing borrowed slippers.



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.

It might be 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.

Monday, December 06, 2010

'elf and safety'

There was an article about Finnish schools in the Guardian today. In the last year I have seen quite a few articles about the Finnish education system. They usually point out how much better their record of success is compared to British schools and how different some of their methods are. Invariably they mention the fact that Finnish school children are shoeless in the classroom.

It does seem that quite a few British schools are moving in the Finnish direction of having pupils remove their shoes. I can imagine health and safety might slow this trend down a bit, however.

I do get the impression that on the continent, there is not the same rigorous culture of 'elf and safety' that we have in the United Kingdom. In some European countries you get nurses and supermarket staff wearing open-toed sandals, something that would not be permitted in the UK.

I am not one of those right-wing bores who collect and share stories about 'elf and safety gone mad.' I find those people rather tiresome. A lot of these stories that do the rounds have been exaggerated or even made up by the press. On the other hand, one can imagine that an obsession with health and safety can sometimes cause a lot of misery.

I hope health and safety concerns don't prevent more British schools from adopting the very sensible Finnish practice of shoes-off in the classroom. It protects floors and carpets paid for by the taxpayer, teaches children about respect and creates a quiet and peaceful atmosphere.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Choice


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Some people are of the opinion that it is very important that guests have the choice of whether to keep their shoes on or not.

However, it is not as simple as that. Some choices may impose on the choices of others.

Some visitors may want to take their shoes off, but may fear that doing so will be considered rude. Being informed that shoes-off is encouraged will be a great welcome for these people.

The shoes-on folks might then argue, "Yes, but you can still let people keep their shoes on without imposing on the people who prefer to go shoeless."

However, this is not the case. Firstly, those people who want to take their shoes off may fear, if there are lots of other guests, particularly at a party, that their feet may get squashed by other peoples' shoes. In a crowded party, it can be hard to avoid having people tread on your toes.

Secondly, people who take their shoes off will prefer to walk on a floor that is cleaner. In fact, there is another issue here, as Angie pointed out in a previous post. Some guests will enjoy sitting on the floor. And sitting on the floor is a much more pleasent experience when it is clean. So allowing guests the choice of wearing shoes imposes on those who like to sit on the floor.

The simple truth is that no host can please everybody. However, there are far more good reasons to insist on shoes coming off at the door than for allowing shoes to stay on. Let guests chose between slippers, socks ot barefeet. That is choice enough.