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Notice to visitors: We’re a shoes-on home

A selection of shoes deposited at the writer’s front door
Ralph Gardner Jr.
A selection of shoes deposited at the writer’s front door

If you’re coming to visit our home don’t worry about removing your shoes. We had lots of guests over the holidays and the first question they’d ask --sometimes they didn’t even ask before slipping out of them -- was “Do you want us to take our shoes off?”

I clicked on a health news website recently with a teaser that wondered, “Should you take your shoes off in the house?” I was hoping the answer was no; that people that ask you to remove your boots, sneakers, whatever at the front door are just being difficult.

Unfortunately, that turns out not to be true. I mean, they may be difficult, but there are legitimate reasons to join the party in your socks. I don’t think I need to enumerate all the things that can hitch a ride in the nooks and crannies of your shoe soles. Suffice it to say that not all bacteria are our friends.

And if you’ve ever visited New York City, where I spend time, one difference between native New Yorkers and everybody else is that they have a sixth sense when it comes to sidestepping some of the surprises, primarily courtesy of dogs, deposited on the street.

On the other hand, I have great faith in the human immune system. I mean, how bad can the risk be of getting sick from something you track in on the bottom of your shoes? Apparently, the chance of illness from improper food preparation is much greater.

My objections to removing my own shoes when I enter somebody ’s home are more psychological than biological. The act creates a sense of vulnerability. It’s not quite the same as being asked by your host to strip naked but it’s a slippery slope.

What elicited this important discussion is a guest of ours on New Year’s Eve. Without asking she’d politely removed her shoes and was sitting in our living room chatting in her bare socks. Her partner, on the other hand, chose to leave her shoes on. If I’d been there to greet them at the front door I’d have assured them the choice was theirs but not to feel any pressure to shed their footwear.

My sense of hospitality overrides whatever fears I might have that they’re dragging the next pandemic into our happy home. Obviously, if one of us is going to take our shoes off everybody should. If not, what’s the point? When visiting friends who I’m aware have a shoes off policy I’ll something bring along a pair of slippers. But that’s a hassle and requires planning.

My default position is to be anti-social. I’ll wear my shoes unless I’m somehow shamed or harassed into removing them. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not embarrassed about my feet. In fact, the only element of my wardrobe that might be described as wild and crazy, in an understated way, are my socks.

I’ll wear a pedestrian pair of black or brown or navy blue socks going about my daily life. But a party calls for something more festive. And if you’re hunting for compliments, as I sometimes am, you want to show as much sock as possible. As far as I’m concerned, a party where you arrive in an unexceptional pair of wool socks is a missed opportunity.

I’d go so far as to say that it’s disrespectful to your host. In the same way that guests have a responsibility not to slink into a corner and sulk they’re also obligated to contribute to the general welfare by being an active conversationalist and socks are excellent conversation starters. Not really, but they get the ball rolling. After someone compliments their florescence or bold stripes or funny animals there’s frankly not much more to say about them except maybe to share the name of the store or website where you bought them.

However, socks are an extremely personal wardrobe choice. Many wearers don’t possess my exhibitionist tendencies. They may not want to draw attention to their feet. Understood.

But a problem that may arise is that because our feet and socks are typically covered we tend to neglect our socks or wear them until they’re worn thin or have as many holes as a wheel of Emmental.

At our New Year’s Eve party my daughter joined the shoes vs. socks debate and told the story of Elise Loehnen, who would go on to become a popular podcast host in her own right. Ms. Loehnen had a job interview with Gwyneth Paltrow. Unsurprisingly, the “Goop” wellness guru expected guests to remove their shoes or boots and Elise had a hole in her tights.

Apparently, Paltrow was willing to overlook that minor flaw – let he or she without holes in his or her socks cast the first stone – and the women went on to a fruitful postcast career together until Loehnen left to start her own podcast six or seven years later.

There was some controversy surrounding her departure, Loehnen slamming Goop’s toxic wellness culture and foreswearing all cleanses after leaving the company. I have no idea whether her rebellion includes leaving her shoes on when visiting people’s homes? If so, Ms. Loehnen has my full support.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found be found on Substack.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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