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I love the environment as much as the next greenie; I'd just rather you leave it at the door. In other words, please lose the shoes before you cross my threshold. This policy elicits strong passions, both for and against. With holiday parties fast approaching, I decided to get to the bottom of the Great Shoe Debate.
The practice got its 15 minutes of fame in 2003, thanks to a memorable Sex & the City episode that, unfortunately, gave shoe-shucking a bad name. In order to enter the inner sanctum of a friend's baby shower, a horrified Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) is ordered to add her Manolo Blahniks to a pile by the door. On the way out, she discovers her pricey footwear is missing, forcing her to head home in a ratty loaner pair of sneakers.
BTK -- Before the Kid -- my foot fetish only kicked in after the cleaning person did her magic, leaving us with a "go-ahead-and-eat-off-me" floor. On those occasions, I'd stop the DH at the door with an urgent "Take off your shoes!" Eventually, he got the hang of it.
But children really do change everything. Once I had a smiling, sweet-smelling babe scooting around on our wood floors, the thought of all the disgusting, uninvited debris visitors were tracking in made my skin crawl. Suddenly I was a lioness, willing to brave undarned socks and smelly feet -- not to mention nasty looks -- to protect my cub. Matthew's thumb-sucking only added to my anxiety. (On the other hand, some experts now say it's not a bad thing for kids to eat dirt -- that it might help build their immunities. I will try to remember this research when we're taking a second mortgage to cover his braces.) And so I embraced the shoes-off policy.
In my social circle, enforcement usually isn't a problem. Most guests assume they'll be performing a below-the-ankle strip tease, or think to ask before stepping inside. At parties, I almost always see piles of big and little boots, ballet slippers, and running shoes in the front hallway.
But then I got to wondering: What do my friends around the country think of this practice? So I asked them. It turns out that most like the idea.
Susan, the pearl-bedecked pal you met in my post Julia Child: Green Goddess wrote, "I always say I only did three things right as a parent: 1) the remove-your-shoes-at-the-front-door rule; 2) I never kept soda in the house and 3) I can't remember this one, but it does exist!"
Tim commented, "Living in Asia converted me to a shoe-less lifestyle at home and I've never looked back. Once I started thinking about what my shoes walked through during the day, I never wanted to track them through my home again."
Some go out of their way to accommodate their shoeless guests. Stef, who recently instituted the policy, wrote, "We had more than a dozen people over last week for a dinner and no one complained. But one guest asked if I had slippers for her; I gave her socks." Tim added that in Asia, people would generally provide slippers, sandals or flip-flops. "Alas," he admitted, "I'm not that gracious of a host. You'd be stuck in your stocking feet. Sorry!"
The kids, teens, and twentysomethings who were raised on the practice go with the flow. Elise has a "no, really kids, you don't have to take off your shoes here" policy, "but nine out of ten of my son's friends do it, anyway. It's been a hoot to watch the footwear go from size 10 Stride Rites to mammoth, stinky Etnies, Converse, Vans, and Birkenstocks." Robyn, who relishes rural living outside of Austin, wrote, "We live on a farm and consequently, all kinds of stuff gets tracked in. I've noticed, however, that the kids prefer to remove their shoes, even at other folks'."
Turns out it's mostly adults who balk at the idea. Nancy reported that her Dear Husband is very offended, à la Larry David, and "pretty much refuses to go inside if people insist."
However, I was most surprised by Michael's venom. "I HATE, HATE, HATE having to take my shoes off at someone's house," he wrote. "What if my socks smell or don't match?" If you're having guests over, he reasoned, aren't they going to show up nicely dressed, on their best behavior? "Your first job as the host is to make your friends comfy. Your second job is to not freak out if they track something in."
Francine shared Michael's sentiments and offered a friendly suggestion: "If someone has a shoes-off policy, they should put that on the invite so there won't be a roomful of embarrassed people with holes in their socks."
And now, let us return to my house. After I instituted The Rule six years ago, every time my father-in-law came over, he eyed me as if I were a Gulag commander, then marched in fully shod. Finally, my diplomatic mother-in-law put an end to the Cold War by supplying slippers for both of them.
Like AJ, who maintains an "if you'd like to take off your shoes, that'd be great" kind of policy, I've mellowed over time. I pick my battles, especially when it comes to my DH's dad. Truth be told, I don't have a leg to stand on now that my former rug rat has morphed into a kid who cruises through our apartment on his dirty scooter. (When you lack a backyard, basement, or Bungee jump, concessions must be made.)
Which leads me to an even bigger confession: I wear shoes. In the house. All the time.
For the last couple of years I have suffered from painful heel spurs, so when I broke my foot in the summer of '08, it sealed the deal -- I had to opt for support over spotless floors. Now it's a "do as I say, not as I do" rule. I vacuum on a semi-regular basis -- please don't ask how often I pull out the sponge mop -- and try to remember to wipe down my soles. But the only real solution will be springing for a house-only pair of lace-ups.
I guess my father-in-law has the last laugh, after all. Let's just keep it to ourselves.
So when it comes to the Great Shoe Debate, where do you stand? Post away!