Why do some people wear shoes indoors?
May 26, 2008 2:03 PM   Subscribe

Why do some people wear shoes in the house?

I was raised in a (East Asian) household where we took our shoes off after entering the house, so as to avoid tracking dirt and mud around the carpets. I'm aware that South Asians, Middle Easterners, some Europeans (Scandinavians at least) and even some Canadians do this as well.

However, growing up in the American southwest, I noticed that most people don't bother taking off their shoes when they enter their homes, and some even lie on their beds with their shoes on. There were a few people with very tidy homes who insisted that people take off their shoes, but they were exceptions to the norm. As far as I can tell, wearing shoes in the house seems to be mainly an American and British thing.

I'm curious why exactly people do this. I can understand that some people don't care about getting a little dirt on the floor, but from a comfort perspective it seems that it would be a lot nicer to walk around on those carpets and lie on the bed barefoot. I always look foward to taking my shoes off after coming home (and I'm a guy!)

From a convenience point of view, it doesn't take very long to take off shoes. I can see wearing shoes just to run in and grab something, but my question is more about the people who basically don't take off their shoes until bedtime.

But I'm wondering if there is also a cultural reason - do Americans/Brits see wearing shoes as a necessary part of being presentable, like wearing shirts and pants? Is going barefoot akin to walking around shirtless, or walking around with your fly unzipped?

Or is it because I was present - e.g. they might normally take off their shoes, but feel it is weird to take off their shoes in front of a guest (for the cultural reasons I mentioned above)?

I've also heard foot odor suggested, but I honestly don't buy that the vast majority of Americans have foot odor problems (and even if they do, it seems like a chicken-and-egg problem).

I realize there may be a variety of reasons why different people don't take off their shoes, and I'm interested in hearing all of them. I don't mean this to be chatfilter - I've honestly been curious about this for a while, and I'm not trying to promote my own views about it (sorry if my question came off like that).
posted by pravit to Human Relations (205 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
data point: shoes off in the house is probably the exception, rather than the rule, in Australia. People who insist on shoes being removed are more likely to be from Asian, Subcontinental or Middle Eastern background.

Anglo-celtic or European types who insist on shoes-off are likely to either have new carpet, or else they're the kinds of people who leave the plastic wrapping on their lounge & car seats in order to 'preserve' them.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:09 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

In the southwest the large boots that were and are so common can be tough to get on and off. I think this is what started the trend.
posted by magikker at 2:09 PM on May 26, 2008

(in other words, i think it's a cultural thing. you do what the other Romans do)
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:10 PM on May 26, 2008

In my area it's just odd for somebody to wear shoes inside the house and I never knew it was any different elsewhere.

I suppose some people would due to temperature, comfort, or difficulty in taking them on or off.
posted by devlin at 2:11 PM on May 26, 2008

Best answer: My feet hurt if I walk around barefoot. Not enough padding, or something. I nearly always wear shoes of some sort.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:12 PM on May 26, 2008

I live in the Midwest. I take off my shoes unless I am planning to go back outside within a few minutes. There is a stereotype about southerners that involves not wearing shoes and/or a shirt equating to being a "hillbilly" or a "redneck".

Signs on stores that say "No shoes, no shirt, no service" may help reinforce this idea.
posted by double block and bleed at 2:14 PM on May 26, 2008

I live in Vancouver, Canada. People who grew up here usually take their shoes off. I've always understood that this is because of the rain (and hence the mud). But I have always wondered why anyone would want to wear their shoes, if they didn't need to do so.

I've noticed that people from Ontario wear their shoes in the house. I don't know if that holds for all Ontarians or not. Someone told me it was because people with hardwood floors keep their shoes on.

When my great uncle and his wife visited from Scotland, they insisted on keeping their shoes on. They said that wearing shoes prevents elderly people from falling and breaking a hip. (They may be right.) My grandma, who is older than either of them, was very offended. But she didn't kick them out.
posted by acoutu at 2:18 PM on May 26, 2008

This probably seems totally backwards to you, but here goes:

When I get home, pretty much the very first thing I do is kick off my shoes. Much more comfortable.

When I go to someone else's house, I wouldn't even consider taking my shoes off, unless I was requested/invited to do so. Too informal.
posted by Flunkie at 2:18 PM on May 26, 2008 [15 favorites]

I'm of Asian descent, but am American. Taking shoes off inside the house was an absolute growing up, and though I'm about as Americanized as can be, I still can't stand the thought of walking into a house with shoes on. It seems really, really dirty and unclean to me.

Even when people leave shoes on in their own house, I take mine off.
posted by waylaid at 2:19 PM on May 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Where I grew up, on the West Coat of the United States, it wasn't super odd to have a rule of "no shoes in the house" but I always got the feeling that those people were huge pains in the ass.

Some people have foot issues and don't want to subject others to the smell of their feet. Others just buy comfortable shoes and don't feel a need to take them off. And some shoes with lots of laces are just a huge pain to take off and put on. These are among some of the many reasons I could imagine that I would not want to AUTOMATICALLY take off my shoes every time I enter a house.
posted by piratebowling at 2:19 PM on May 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

Or, of course, if I was actively tracking mud or something. But then I would be sure to politely ask if I could take my shoes off, and where I should put them. Even if it were obvious where they should go.

I am in (and from) the northeast USA.
posted by Flunkie at 2:20 PM on May 26, 2008

As you mentioned, it's pretty common in here in Canada to take your shoes off inside the house. (This may be weather-related). I think the one time I found that people INSISTED I come in the house with shoes on was when I was doing door to door beer surveys as a student while wearing Capezio sandals with a lot of lacing. People didn't care about me tracking in summer road dirt as long as they got their free beer and soda crackers. (The days I wore more sensible shoes, I slipped them off at the door automatically and no one insisted that I should keep them on.)

I think most Americans, and some Canadians, hate arriving at a party with their carefully chosen shoes, then having to take them off at the door. And if the custom is to allow guests to enter shod, it doesn't make sense to expose your naked or socked feet to the dirt other people track in. so people go shod at home as well.
posted by maudlin at 2:20 PM on May 26, 2008

(That is, as long as they got their free beer and soda crackers ASAP.)
posted by maudlin at 2:23 PM on May 26, 2008

Oh, just thought of something to reinforce the difficulty idea. I was in the airport and the guy in front of me had to take his shoes off to go through the scanner. It took two other people to help him get them off. The conversation went something like this.

TSA: "Sir you have to take off your boots."
Traveler: "Do you have a boot hawk?"
TSA: "....No"
Traveler: "Well, I can't get these off by myself with out one"
TSA: "We'll help"

The guy sat down and literally had a TSA person pull off each boot. Remember Cowboy boots don't have laces, straps or buckles. They aren't the easiest thing to get off if you're not a limber person. I figure that culturally the south west USA has a long history of that. Oh, and if you did take them off you had to check for spiders, snakes, and scorpions before you put them back on.
posted by magikker at 2:23 PM on May 26, 2008 [5 favorites]

I think you're looking at this from the wrong perspective; it's not about the floor of the house, it's about the dirt outside. Generally speaking, the Japanese do not wear shoes inside. Also generally speaking, the Japanese do not sit on the bare ground outside. On a trip to Japan in college, I asked a friend why they didn't sit on the ground/stairs/etc and was told that the ground was dirty and gross. As I understand it, generally, the Japanese see the dirt and the ground like Americans generally, see dog shit. You wouldn't sit in dog shit, nor would you walk around your house with dog shit on your shoes. Like I said, it isn't about the sanctity of the house, it's about the grossness of the ground outside the house.

So yeah, as far as I can tell, at least for the Japanese, generally speaking, it's cultural.
posted by pwb503 at 2:25 PM on May 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: When I was a kid in New England, we weren't supposed to go barefoot or sock-footed in the house. Shoes were preferred, slippers were acceptable (if only family was around). My family was very energy-conscious so the house was always chilly, and my mom hated the idea that we would wear through our socks. It was a practical thing.

Nowadays I'm barefoot if I can possibly be so.
posted by nkknkk at 2:28 PM on May 26, 2008

Huh. I'm amazed that people have such strong feelings about it. I've lived all over Canada and it's very much the norm to take off your shoes in the house. I've never known anyone who had a strict no-shoes-inside rule -- it's not an anal-retentive plastic-on-furniture thing at all, it's just more of a common-sense thing. Why would you want to track in all the gross stuff you walk around on all day into your home? And you make the floors dirtier quicker and then you've gotta do more cleaning.

Like others I'll leave my shoes on if I'm going right back out or I've gotta get something I forgot to take or whatever, but overall I like the idea that my floors are reasonably clean and I won't get blackened soles if I walk on them barefoot.
posted by loiseau at 2:28 PM on May 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

When I go to someone else's house, I wouldn't even consider taking my shoes off, unless I was requested/invited to do so. Too informal.
And maybe "informal" isn't exactly the right word, or at least might not tell the full story.

I don't take my shoes off in other people's houses unless invited/requested to do so because I feel that it would be like treating their home as my own, which I feel would be presumptuous of me unless I was explicitly invited to do so.
posted by Flunkie at 2:29 PM on May 26, 2008

In the Northeast people generally seem to take their shoes off upon going inside, but for most people it's not at all a RULE as the Asian style seems to be. An exception is for parties or events: if the thing is formal you might be dressed up, and the floor is probably getting covered in beer and ash anyway.

This also only applies for you, family, roommates, friends, guests, and so on to my experience. If I had a cable guy or something like that over it would be noticeably weird for them to take off his shoes.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:30 PM on May 26, 2008

It might not be much of an inconvenience but it's still an inconvenience, especially if you're going in and out.
posted by delmoi at 2:31 PM on May 26, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the quick answers. I can totally understand not taking off your shoes in somebody else's house, so I guess I should alter my question - why do people not take off their shoes when entering their own houses?

I don't mean to moderate my own AskMe, but to avoid this becoming chatfilter, I'd like to know why people leave their shoes on, rather than if you in particular wear shoes indoors or not.
posted by pravit at 2:32 PM on May 26, 2008

Best answer: I wear orthotics. Being without shoes (and therefore without my custom inserts) for any length of time gets really painful. Since I got them I went from hardly ever wearing shoes to wearing them every minute I can. If I'm home all day I still put my shoes on first thing and stomp round thee house in them. My boyfriend also wears orthotics and we have wooden floors so shoes being on is pretty much the default these days. Gait problems are actually pretty common, I know a lot of people with various types of inserts, and I'm betting that at least some of the people you know who like shoes have something similar going on.

I also get really cold feet (mostly in winter but summer too sometimes). A pair of thin floppy slippers doesn't cut it. So if I'm not wearing shoes inside I'm often wearing big-arse wool lined boots which are technically slippers but really not much different than my winter boots and occasionally get worn outside.

In NZ there seems to be a mix of shoes on or shoes off. Having wooden floors does make a difference, most people don't even ask about taking theirs off now we have no carpet. Other people I know with nice carpet always ask for shoes off. Generally when visiting I do whatever the host is doing, makes for less awkwardness in the long run.

As an aside the orthotics make my feet smell. I use stuff on them to keep it down but they're in there with my feet all day every day so it doesn't always work. So when I go visiting I tend to take a clean pair of socks to wear around the house. Keeps my feet warm and the smell contained. No one ever complains about my wearing socks around the place.
posted by shelleycat at 2:37 PM on May 26, 2008

I've noticed that people from Ontario wear their shoes in the house.

Never! Besides, 8 months of the year in Ontario (and most of Canada) you're wearing shoes that are wet or covered in snow. No one in their right mind would wear wet shoes around the house.

why do people not take off their shoes when entering their own houses?

Because 8 months of the year your shoes are wet or covered in snow. And if you're going to do it for 8 months you kind of get in the habit. Besides, even if they're dry shoes scratch up hardwood or tread dirt into carpets. It just keeps your house cleaner.

Parties vary - sometimes you'll keep your shoes on, sometimes you take them off. For Christmas parties it's not uncommon for women to show up in boots and change into a pair of dress shoes they bring along separately.
posted by GuyZero at 2:38 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Well, my personal non-cultural reason for wearing shoes in my own house is that I need to wear supportive shoes and orthotics to avoid getting plantar fasciitis again, so I have a pair just for the house. But I don't wear street shoes in the house, unless I'm running in and out and am staying on the main floor, which is hardwood.

If I had hardwood throughout my house, which is easier to clean than carpets, I'd have no qualms about wearing street shoes throughout, because switching the orthotics back and forth is a nuisance.
posted by maudlin at 2:38 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There's a thing called a doormat which rests outside all exterior doors. We wipe our shoes before entering our home so that any muck on them comes off. That said, I only wear shoes inside in winter because I don't have heating and the wood floors are a bit cold, but I do feel embarrassed when some stranger comes to the door and I have nude feet.
posted by b33j at 2:39 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Data point: I live in the northeastern US, and grew up elsewhere in the northeastern US. I prefer to have my shoes off inside, and used to always kick them off when I got home. I now have a chronic foot problem that makes going barefoot for any great length of time very painful, so I need to wear shoes indoors. I would like to have one pair of indoor shoes I would switch to when I came home, to avoid the dirt-tracking thing, but I'm just not that organized. I forget and wear my indoor-only shoes out for quick errands, or feel too lazy to switch from one pair of shoes to another when I get home.

I would never in a million years take my shoes off in someone else's home unless specifically invited, which I've found happens very rarely. It feels like an etiquette thing, although I don't recall ever specifically being taught that to do so would be rude - I think it's just what I observed the rule to be in other homes when I was growing up. If someone does invite me to take my shoes off I always do it because I assume they don't want their rugs messed up, and then I just try to stay off my feet so I'm not in pain too much. Eventually I have to figure out a good way to deal with the whole "I don't want to mess up your carpet but I also don't want to be in pain the whole time we're supposed to be having fun together" thing.

I very rarely notice whether a guest wears his/her shoes or not. It doesn't bother me a bit if a guest takes their shoes off in my house.
posted by Stacey at 2:40 PM on May 26, 2008

Best answer: I've never examined my own behavior in this area before, it's a little odd. I take my shoes off if I come home alone or with a SO. If a guest arrives with me, I'll leave them on and assume my guest will as well.

The impression I get is that the larger the social gathering, the less likely it is to be shoeless.
Small intimate parties among friends - sometimes shoeless
Larger parties - rarely shoeless
Formal functions held at people's homes - never shoeless

This is from a childless graduate student perspective. Most of my friends with kids have firm no shoes in the house policies for the kids for obvious reasons. Visiting grownups are often exempt, but if I see a pile of shoes, I usually ask if I should take mine off, or follow the hosts lead.

It all seems to come down to giving the guest the option to keep shoes on or off. It's reasonably practical too since (for me anyway) guest traffic is negligible compared to resident traffic.
posted by pseudonick at 2:40 PM on May 26, 2008

Another data point from the center of Canada.

Taking shoes off is the default action when entering any home and proceeding past the entrance. I would consider it rude to leave your shoes on without asking the host "Do you mind if I...?" since you could be dirtying up their place.

In Manitoba this makes sense because 4/5ths of the year it is either wet, snowy, slushy, dusty, or otherwise gross outside. But also, I find having shoes on inside feels very strange. It's like watching tv with your winter jacket on or something. I can't even imagine lying on a bed with shoes on.

This rule goes even for large house parties. It's not strange to see a front entrance completely taken over by shoes when 20 + guests are over. Some of those shoes might migrate over to the door to a smoking patio, or backyard as the shoe owner requires.
posted by utsutsu at 2:41 PM on May 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Well, I wear running shoes inside the house (in the Northeast) because I have plantar fasciitis and I notice a definite difference in the level of foot pain the next day vs. going barefoot, which would be my preference. Friends who come over almost always take their shoes off if the weather outside is wet or snowy, not necessarily otherwise. I always offer to take my shoes off when I visit friends in any weather, unless it's obviously a dress event where lack of shoes would be just weird. NEs usually bring a pair of shoes to change into after pulling off their boots if it's a winter time gathering.
posted by vers at 2:42 PM on May 26, 2008

I don't think there was a specific shoes-off or shoes-on rule in our house. I am shoe-averse and so I generally took mine off, and I think the rest of my family generally did as well (although perhaps not from being shoe-averse). A majority of my friends also had shoe-off homes, and this was growing up in Florida. Almost none of these people were any variety of Asian (central Florida not being a popular locale, I suppose).

For college (Pittsburgh), I think almost everyone was in the habit of shoes off when entering houses or apartments, although dorm rooms may have been more lenient. Some individuals were more shoe-inclined. My current house is generally shoe-off for anyone but parents, it seems, mostly due to the fact that it is a habit to remove shoes as they enter for almost all of my friends.

I like the idea of not tracking shoe dirt around the house. I don't know how pervasive one way or the other is.
posted by that girl at 2:42 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

My (asian) family provides slippers for guests who prefer to be shod. I think we take off our shoes so we don't track in mud and dirt from the outside and so that we don't have to clean the floors every other day.
posted by captaincrouton at 2:43 PM on May 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles...basically everyone I grew up around in those two generations, kept their shoes on at home - putting their shoes on was just part of the morning ritual like brushing their teeth. Me and the other children went about barefoot at all times unless we were actually taking a trip in the car to somewhere. As a child, I just assumed it was an adult/child thing - grownups had to wear shoes. Now that I am an adult and have noticed none of my contemporaries (or myself) wearing shoes at home, I've adjusted that view, in favor of a couple of possible reasons:

1. Both of my parents come from pretty conservative families (in the American south), and they both indulge in a sort of puritanical formality which, among other things like being unable to enjoy dirty jokes (even in their own home) or displays of emotion (even in their own home) also extends to personal appearance - they would never appear in public with no shoes and they are therefore uncomfortable with the informality of being in their own home with no shoes.

2. When my grandparents were hitting middle age and my parents growing up, both families were moving into the very stereotypical American middle class, from being, before, poor farming families/we don't wear shoes because we only have one pair and don't want to mess them up-type thing. The whole passel of them settled down in ranch houses and decided there were certain standards of behavior which had to be kept up in this new situation - the furniture was treated with reverence (no feet on, no cup rings) soaps and towels which were meant purely for display were bought, and all the adults were completely dressed (hair and makeup, all tucked in ... and shoes and socks or stockings) at all times. (And if they came in with dirt on your shoes, they just cleaned their shoes.)

There are probably whole hosts of reasons why other people keep their shoes on at home, but that's what I've observed for my own family.
posted by frobozz at 2:44 PM on May 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

It's a question I've wanted to know for a long time. I can't supply an answer, only another data point.

I'm from Ohio, and always feel like taking my shoes off when I enter another person's house is somehow informal or rude (even though I'm no stickler for formality in other regards.) Sitting in somebody else's house with just socks definitely would seem weird to me, although I know plenty of people for whom this is the norm and will gladly comply in their houses.

I definitely put it down as a cultural thing. Cleanliness isn't really a thought either way. More like removing hats while indoors; just some subconscious cultural norm. If someone else can find a better answer though, I'm interested.
posted by kiltedtaco at 2:45 PM on May 26, 2008

Some people are ashamed of the way thier feet look and don't take thier shoes off around people.
posted by bigmusic at 2:48 PM on May 26, 2008

In Sweden wearing shoes in someone else's home is almost as rude as spitting on their floors. It has little to do with dirt. It's about showing respect for the person living there.

I've never worn shoes in a friends house or apartment unless given permission or helping them moving or something special like that. This rule is so strong so that during apartment showings prospective buyers take their shoes off outside of the apartment. I guess mainly to not clutter up the hall but probably also because as an uninvited guest entering someone else's home wearing socks is the proper thing to do.
posted by uandt at 2:49 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have lived in Idaho, North Carolina, and California. None of my non-Asian friends have taken their shoes off when they walked in the front door of their homes.
posted by HotPatatta at 2:49 PM on May 26, 2008

I like the idea, but it wasn't the custom when I was growing up, so I never developed the habit.

I don't especially like being asked to take my shoes off in other people's houses, particularly when I'm wearing dress shoes -- I worry about running my hose, and I don't like having cold feet. I'm similarly reluctant to make my guests take their shoes off because I'm concerned they will be cold or uncomfortable.

This creates a certain circularity: dirt/wet in the entryway makes me even less likely to take my shoes off or ask others to do so.

Do people in no-shoes houses offer slippers or socks to their guests? Because that's what I think it would take to make a no-shoes house comfortable for me.
posted by ottereroticist at 2:50 PM on May 26, 2008

We wipe our shoes before entering our home so that any muck on them comes off.

Your profile says you live in Australia. I lived there for a year and the household norms are a little different than Canada:

- Australia doesn't have insulated or heated homes. Generally keeping cool is the problem so on the few times it gets cold the house is the same temperature as the outdoors, i.e. COLD. So keeping your shoes on seems pretty logical. Canadians have heating and insulation and even if your boots were pristine your feet would really get too hot walking around the house in the winter.

- Australians get rain sure but winter is something else altogether. Snow isn't just snow - it's snow and mud and sand and salt from the roads. If you see an uncleaned bootmat at the end of the winter it's coated in a thick crust of dirty salt. No way would you want that in your house.

- Many Australian homes (not all) have tile floors as these are easy to keep clean if you're wearing your shoes around but they're cold and hard to stand on in stocking feet. So it's more appealing to wear shoes.

- Canadian houses usually have a dedicated spot to put shoes by the front door. If you're not used to taking your shoes off, you don't have anywhere to put them by the door, ergo it seems awkward to take them off by the door. By the same token, no one in Canada keeps their day to day shoes in their closet so it would seem odd to wear them into the bedroom as you'd have nowhere to put them. This is sort of a self-fulfilling situation.

- In Canada and much of the northern parts of the US people wear boots in the winter which aren't exactly as comfortable as a pair of casual shoes for hanging around the house. And people tend to keep the same shoe-doffing habits year-round.
posted by GuyZero at 2:52 PM on May 26, 2008

What you've got here is two self-perpetuating cycles.

If you take your shoes off before coming indoors, the floor indoors will be clean enough to walk barefoot on, which is important, because you won't be wearing any shoes.

If you wear shoes indoors, the floor indoors will be a bit dirty, but it won't matter as much, because, hey, you've got shoes on!
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:54 PM on May 26, 2008

There may be a safety concern. When I was growing up, we had pet parrots. They were very aggressive in defending their territory (the entire house, as they saw it). Walking around without shoes in my house meant either fending off the birds or getting your toes constantly nipped at. My father also had a wood shop in the basement, and you don't want to drop any of that stuff on bare feet. It took me many years to get comfortable with the idea of running around unshod after moving out.
posted by yomimono at 2:54 PM on May 26, 2008

My boyfriend and I actually had an argument about this topic. I think it probably depends on however you were raised -- we're both Canadians and neither of us could come to an agreement.

He thinks it's rude if someone doesn't take their shoes off when they come to your house.

I think it's rude to even expect it -- they're you're guest, they're in your house.

Assuming you're not covered in mud (let's face it, how often do we need to worry about lots of dirt falling off in these situations) I think it's awkward to take off your shoes in the company of people you don't know really really well. Maybe it's just a weird hangup, but I feel a lot more put together, professional, and just less naked if I keep my shoes on.

I dunno, I'm all about keeping the shoes on unless you're winding down and relaxing with some good friends.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 2:55 PM on May 26, 2008

I don't especially like being asked to take my shoes off in other people's houses, particularly when I'm wearing dress shoes -- I worry about running my hose, and I don't like having cold feet. I'm similarly reluctant to make my guests take their shoes off because I'm concerned they will be cold or uncomfortable.

Again, this is sort of a self-fulfilling situation. If you were expecting to take your shoes off at a friend's house you'd wear socks or bring something along to change into.

It's like watching tv with your winter jacket on or something. I can't even imagine lying on a bed with shoes on.

posted by GuyZero at 2:58 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Growing up in Scotland, it was shoes on in the house unless you were really clattering about. Moved to Ontario six years ago, and now I can't even think of wearing shoes in the house. And the very strange part is, I can't think of what made me change.

I prefer to be barefoot in the house, and I have alarming-looking feet: large, flat (so flat that I make squck, squck noises walking across a smooth floor) and with webbed toes. I certainly don't care what other people think.
posted by scruss at 3:01 PM on May 26, 2008

If you were expecting to take your shoes off at a friend's house you'd wear socks or bring something along to change into.

Is this true? Do people in shoeless-home cultures really carry slippers around with them all the time?
posted by ottereroticist at 3:01 PM on May 26, 2008

My normal behavior: When I enter my own apartment, I wear shoes into my room, then take them, as well as any socks I might've been wearing, off there. I don't put the shoes/socks on again until I have to go outside. In the morning, I don't put my shoes on until I'm ready to leave the apartment—it's one of the last things I do, in part because I don't want to get hairspray on my shoes while doing my hair.

If I go over to someone else's apartment or house, I don't take my shoes off unless I go there regularly or, if I don't go there regularly, unless I'm invited to do so.

What I don't do is take my shoes off right at the door, unless I'm visiting the apartment of one of my "otaku"/anime geek/"oh so culturally aware" friends, in which case they tend to have self-conscious rules about carefully lining up one's shoes right next to the door, Asian-style. I feel like this is very much an affectation and/or conscious choice on these friends' part, though, not a custom they necessarily grew up with.
posted by limeonaire at 3:05 PM on May 26, 2008

Do people in shoeless-home cultures really carry slippers around with them all the time?

No, but we do tend to wear socks. At least in Canada. Or we just wear barefeet around. I have never been particularly upset about having to be barefoot in a friend's house. And for whatever reason I don't know a lot of women who wear pantyhose on a regular basis over to my house.

Again, the exception to all this is a party which is the only situation I can think of where a visiting adult woman has worn pantyhose in my house. In which case, shoes often stay on. Little girls wearing stockings tend to not care if they gets runs or at least they do not indicate that it's a big concern.
posted by GuyZero at 3:08 PM on May 26, 2008

Response by poster: Wow, this thread is getting answers fast. There still seems to be some confusion about what I was asking: why do people keep their shoes on in their own houses? I'm not asking why people take them off, as I do that myself.

So far I've seen a few answers citing foot pain and hardwood floors, which I never thought about before (we only have carpet in the Southwest). There have been a few answers mentioning that they were raised with a shoes-only rule, or that being barefoot in front of strangers is embarrassing, which I found interesting. And there is one answer suggesting observer bias, but also that wearing shoes is part of being presentable, even indoors. I found Frobozz's answer about rules in his Southern family really interesting, too.

The cowboy boots is an interesting idea, although I think many of the people who live around here aren't actually descendants of cowboys - I would guess that most actually moved from some other part of the US.

I'm also surprised by the number of Americans who suggest that it's actually normal not to wear shoes indoors, although I'm wondering if it varies between gender, given that women often wear more uncomfortable shoes.
posted by pravit at 3:11 PM on May 26, 2008

I live in the Northwest, and I rarely take off my shoes when I go inside my own house.

For one thing, being barefoot (unless it's in the hottest, driest part of summer when I might go barefoot all day) sort of signifies super-casual, ready-for-bed time. It makes me feel a little lazy, like I've called it a day even though it's only 5:00 PM.

If I want to go back out to grocery shop, or workout, or play outside with my son - each time I'll have to put my shoes back on anyway. If I removed my shoes each time I came inside, I'd be taking them on and off a dozen times per day.

We have an outdoor mat and one just inside the door, so we just wipe our feet as well as possible. And we have hard surfaces throughout, so we sweep every other day and mop once a week. It's no big deal.
posted by peep at 3:13 PM on May 26, 2008

Just, yet another, data point: I grew up in the Northwest and amongst my parents and all the families I knew, except for some Japanese and Chinese shoes were worn in the house. Now that I'm an adult I find that amongst my friends, all in our 30's, we mostly don't wear shoes in the house and when I go to visit someone's house I assume I should take mine off unless they tell me otherwise. We are all kind of granola-ish (a smidge) if that matters, I think it might.

I can't really imagine wearing shoes in the house. Like others have mentioned it is so pleasant to me to take my shoes off when getting home....and slipping on slippers in the winter.
posted by fieldtrip at 3:13 PM on May 26, 2008

In college (Northern California) most people I knew took their shoes off and it was kind of an unspoken rule that guests would too, unless it was really cold or rainy outside. It was basically so we would get our security deposit back on our apartments, the less tracked onto the carpet, the more likely they wouldn't charge us for carpet cleaning. I guess if you have a dark colored carpet, you wouldn't care that much. Although, it was also just comfy.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 3:15 PM on May 26, 2008

The closer you live to the floor (sitting, eating, sleeping), the more likely you will eschew your shoe.
posted by artdrectr at 3:16 PM on May 26, 2008

Best answer: I grew up in New England and you wear shoes indoors because it's freezing six months of the year and your floor is extra freezing. That said I have indoor shoes usually and outdoor shoes and many New England houses have a "mud room" where you can take off muddy boots so you don't track mud into the house, change shoes etc.

I always figure, however, that I couldn't ask anyone to take off shoes in my house unless I am willing to give them something to wear around the house on their feet because otherwise they'll be cold (and no, there is really no way to not make the floor be cold in my universe, in Vermont in wintertime). There is a local library that is spic and span inside and they have an entire bench full of slippers of a million different sizes that they offer for people to change into so they don't track mud into the library. It's neat. On the other hand there's a good chance your muddy boots are lace-ups and a pain in the ass to get on and off and it seems like a lot of effort if you're just going to walk ten feet to return a library book.

And yes, when I was in Seattle there were often people who had NO SHOES PLEASE policies who I did see as a little high maintenance. Because I didn't necessarily dress to be walking around in my socks/stockings/bare feet, I'd feel awkward if people insisted I take my shoes off. If I had a friend and I knew it was their custom I'd just plan for it. But, I think nebulawindphone has it really. If you're used to indoor-shoes-wearing you're probably also used to dirtier floors and would be more hesistant to take your own shoes off someplace else.
posted by jessamyn at 3:17 PM on May 26, 2008

why do people not take off their shoes when entering their own house

Seeing as we spend more of our time walking on paved streets and sidewalks and inside carpeted buildings, it's not like the shoes get dirty, especially if there's a door mat to wipe them off on before you come in.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:17 PM on May 26, 2008

Growing up in the bay area, our neighborhood was an outdoors kind of place. We all hung out in front in someone or other's yard, and only made short trips inside to make meals or make a phone call or something like that. In that case, and since we all had real shoes with laces, the on/off/on/off all day would have been a PITA, so almost every house was a shoes on house.

Same situation in Hawaii, but since everyone wore slip-on sandals and the on/off was easy, shoes off was normal.

I also imagine that people who spend most of their time indoors with only occasional going outside, would be shoes-off inside people.
posted by ctmf at 3:18 PM on May 26, 2008

I wear my shoes in the house primarily because I store my shoes in my bedroom closet, so it's convenient to wear them until I get around to going into my bedroom to take them off. Otherwise, I'd end up with an untidy pile of shoes near the door instead of neatly put-away shoes that are actually where they belong. It's easier to remember to put them away if I don't take them off until I'm ready to put them away. It's for the same reason that when you bring home groceries, you unpack them in the kitchen rather than in the bathroom; you deal with items in the place you plan to put them away, or else they end up never getting put away.

My shoes have just never seemed especially dirty to me. I sit on public benches and the seats of the subway, and I hold the handrails of public escalators and stairwells. I'm sure that when I come home at night, my entire body is covered in germs and dirt from the outside world. In fact, I'm virtually positive that after riding the subway home from work, my hands are germier than my shoes. If I were paranoid about such things, I would never sit on my bed or couch without changing out of my street clothes and washing any part of my skin that has been exposed to the outside air.

I wipe my feet on a doormat to get off any loose dust and dirt, and I take off my shoes at the door if they have mud on them or are wet, but otherwise, I can't imagine what harm I'm doing by getting a little dust on my floor. I clean the floor every couple of weeks, and it's not as though I'm going to eat off of it (or off of my couch, which my germy outside jeans touch when I sit on it), so what does it matter if I wear shoes inside? I wear comfortable shoes, and they don't hurt my feet. I take my shoes off in my bedroom, usually when I change from my street clothes into my pajamas (which I tend to do as soon as I'm in for the evening if I don't have guests over). Until then, there's no reason in my mind not to wear shoes.
posted by decathecting at 3:21 PM on May 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

I have lived in the US all my life. Raised in Detroit, Michigan, lived in North Carolina, and Montana, and have visited many states. In any of those places, removing shoes has never been the norm. However, it's not unusual to remove your shoes when visiting during messy weather, or visiting a home with light carpeting or pristine wood floors. Being asked to remove your shoes is seen as being overly prissy and not very welcoming. Offering to remove your shoes, or just doing so without comment, is polite, but is not expected.

When visiting Canada, shoe removal seemed to be expected.

Personally, I remove my shoes in my own home, just for comfort. I never, ever expect anyone to remove their shoes. In fact, when people have removed their shoes in my house, I wonder if I come across as being picky. When visiting someone else, if I see a pile of shoes inside the front door, or see the hosts are shoeless, I generally remove mine as well.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 3:21 PM on May 26, 2008

Response by poster: Just, yet another, data point: I grew up in the Northwest and amongst my parents and all the families I knew, except for some Japanese and Chinese shoes were worn in the house. Now that I'm an adult I find that amongst my friends, all in our 30's, we mostly don't wear shoes in the house and when I go to visit someone's house I assume I should take mine off unless they tell me otherwise.

Fieldtrip, if you're still here, could you mention what caused the change? Was there any rule about wearing shoes in the house, or was it just the norm back then?
posted by pravit at 3:21 PM on May 26, 2008

Is this true? Do people in shoeless-home cultures really carry slippers around with them all the time?

in Japan, being provided house slippers is common. (These are never worn on tatami to reduce wear and tear). Also, Japanese homes generally have toilet slippers outside the door to wear in the toilet area.

When the movers came to move me out of my Tokyo pad, I was quite impressed with their shoe-change ability while carrying out the furniture.

I was raised in California and was exposed to Asian friends' no-shoe policies in their homes but it didn't stick until about two days of being FOB in Japan. Then, the no-shoes rule made complete and total sense.

One issue for eg. my sister is that she has a lot of shoes, so they're in the bedroom, so she has to wear her shoes in and out of the bedroom. Me, I just throw my shoes by the door, but this is not possible for all families.
posted by tachikaze at 3:24 PM on May 26, 2008

Best answer: But I'm wondering if there is also a cultural reason - do Americans/Brits see wearing shoes as a necessary part of being presentable, like wearing shirts and pants

I think much more so - there are theories of the foot being considered phallic, and some people just think feet are kind of gross (just as it is also fetishized by others, but that is something of a "two sides of a coin" thing). In "higher" society, shoes are often very expensive and very much a part of an outfit, so taking them off is a serious alteration.

As for taking them off when one gets home, I think a lot of westerners do in a casual way, rather than as they cross the threshold, although some will change into "house shoes" or slippers of some kind (see Mr Rogers, e.g.). I grew up in a house that accepted a lot of barefootedness, and attend a martial arts school where it's the norm, and if I ever have an organized home I'd like to have a no shoes policy. But as it is, I don't vacuum enough and there's no foyer area where I live to make it easy to make shoes the first thing, so that seems complicated.

Instead they generally come off when I'm sitting down at my desk or in front of the TV. I think this is pretty common. But it's different from an established rule, and so seems informal, more like a "first step towards bedtime" than simply indoor behavior that would apply if I had friends over for dinner or something.
posted by mdn at 3:24 PM on May 26, 2008

Hm, never thought about this before. I live in northern Michigan, and since we have snow for a good part of the year, it's pretty customary to take shoes/boots off when entering a house, whether yours or someone else's; at least in the winter. I'm pretty much in sandals or barefoot the rest of the year. I usually think nothing of slipping my sandals off, no matter where I am.
posted by All.star at 3:28 PM on May 26, 2008

I've lived all of my life in and around Portland, Oregon. In 39 years, I've never observed a consistent rule for shoes on or shoes off. There are certainly households in which shoes off is mandatory, even for guests, and there are many more households in which shoes are on all the time. (I grew up in a "shoes on" house.) But among many of my friends — and in my own home — the general rule seems to be "shoes off" except while at home, but not for guests who aren't comfortable with that, not for formal gatherings (my wife and I will put on and wear nice shoes when we host a dinner party), and not for large social occasions (like a huge Christmas party).

Really, though, the rules seem to vary from house-to-house around here, though most homes are "shoes on"...
posted by jdroth at 3:28 PM on May 26, 2008

I'm in Kansas (USA). In my experience, taking off shoes inside is situational. If I'm going to be home all day, I don't bother putting shoes on when I wake up, but I usually leave my slippers on (unless it's hot weather, then I go barefoot). If I'm going to be back and forth at home and outside, I put shoes on and leave them on for the rest of the day. We have heavy-duty welcome mats outside our doors to wipe our shoes on before entering, so dirt/mud isn't a real problem.

When I was growing up (also in Kansas), the only people who made a point of regularly taking their shoes off at home were people with new carpet or people who were obsessed with cleanliness to the point of weirdness.
posted by amyms at 3:31 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I got it from my mom, who got it from her mom who was born in Germany but is quite OCD and loves clean. (I also got the OCD.)
posted by Brian Puccio at 3:31 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I understand about the difficulties with some kinds of boots, but for shoes that are easy to get off, is it really that common to wear the shoes inside on the carpets, instead of having "house shoes" or slippers to change into? My husband's feet get cold easily, so he'll wear warm slippers and socks in the house--but never his outdoor shoes (sneakers, sandals, or combat boots).
posted by Cricket at 3:33 PM on May 26, 2008

I almost always leave my shoes on in the house. (When we move into our new house, though, my husband and I have decided to not wear shoes inside -- to keep it cleaner.) I think it's just habit. Another reason: I'm short and I wear shoes with about 2" heels, so when I take them off, my pants kind of drag on the floor, and I don't like that. And my shoes are pretty comfortable anyway.
posted by trillian at 3:38 PM on May 26, 2008

I grew up with shoes off in the house. To me, the people who insist on keeping their shoes on are the weird ones--one of my friends got freaked out about having shoes off in the house because he insisted feet were "dirty". Dirtier than the shoes, apparently? There is this anti-barefoot, anti-shoeless thing in America that I cannot comprehend, where exposed/unshod feet are the equivalent of sitting on a couch naked with an unwiped ass.
posted by Anonymous at 3:38 PM on May 26, 2008

Response by poster: I grew up in New England and you wear shoes indoors because it's freezing six months of the year and your floor is extra freezing.

8 months of the year in Ontario (and most of Canada) you're wearing shoes that are wet or covered in snow. No one in their right mind would wear wet shoes around the house.

Amazing what a difference a border can make! As far as I can tell, weather and housing in the northeastern US and Ontario are mostly the same, so perhaps there's some other reason?

A lot of people mentioned that they do take their shoes off after coming home, just not immediately - I still consider this "shoes off" behavior; I'm really asking about families where the norm is to not take shoes off at all until going to bed.

Some people mentioned that taking their shoes off is the first step towards going to bed or unwinding, so perhaps keeping shoes on has a psychological effect (need to keep working, day isn't over yet).

I guess the majority of the answers suggest that wearing shoes is something you just don't really think about, or that wearing shoes isn't any less comfortable than not wearing them (which was the main thing I was confused about). And some pointed out that not wearing shoes is actually less comfortable, either because of cold or foot pain. I guess people who grow up in a shoes-off house find going barefoot more comfortable than wearing shoes, and people who grow up in a shoes-on house don't feel any difference (or find barefoot less comfortable). But to me it still seems like a chicken-and-egg thing; how did "shoes on" households come about in the first place?
posted by pravit at 3:43 PM on May 26, 2008

Best answer: This is an excellent question. I'm surprised at some of the answers; I had thought that shoes-off-in-the-house was a rule in Japan and other oriental places, and had not realized that for example in Sweden it was a given, as well (per uandt). I think this calls for a global cultural study.

My own data point: in rural, agrarian Holland, one wore wooden shoes outside the house. My grandfather, who retired from the farm in 1959, never, ever, wore anything else outside the house. Naturally, you didn't wear them in the house; you left them by the kitchen door. He wore thin leather slippers inside the wooden shoes, over thick hand-knit woolen socks, so in the house he went around either in the socks or in the slippers. I observed the same thing at the farms of my uncles, into the 1960s.

I suspect that the no-shoes-in-the-house thing comes from the fact that until early in the 20th century, worldwide including in the West, 95 percent of the population were engaged in farming, and you didn't want to track the barnyard into the house. And if you weren't farming, you were fishing, or cutting lumber, or something similarly messy, and one way or the other, outside was just stinky muck. And so, in some cultures, including, according to answers here, in pockets of the US, Canada, and other places, no-shoes-in-the-house evolved from a practical thing into a matter of etiquette.

Meanwhile, in the world's cities, where the other 5 percent lived, shoes were standard, indoors and out. Pepys, writing in the 1600s, never mentions taking his shoes off when entering a house. Nor is there a Shakespearian allusion to the practice. So, in non-agrarian areas, one left one's shoes on. (At least, in Western cultures. In Japan and other Eastern cultures, perhaps because there were sacred aspects to agriculture, and where shoes-off was the rule in every temple, shoes-off apparently won the day.)

As the population shifted from country to city, city customs were adopted, and shoes-off ruled. That's my theory, anyway.

Additional data points:

In Japan, if you commit suicide by jumping in front of a train, take your shoes off first.

[Via the above link:] A whole blog about taking your shoes off at the door.
posted by beagle at 3:46 PM on May 26, 2008 [6 favorites]

In Sweden wearing shoes in someone else's home is almost as rude as spitting on their floors. It has little to do with dirt. It's about showing respect for the person living there.

I've never worn shoes in a friends house or apartment unless given permission or helping them moving or something special like that. This rule is so strong so that during apartment showings prospective buyers take their shoes off outside of the apartment.

Same in Norway. Real estate agents often provide plastic shoe covers for apartment showings.

Guests wear shoes at formal parties, but at least during the winter months party guests quite often bring their (presumably clean) "indoor shoes" with them.
posted by iviken at 3:47 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Another Australian here, of anglo descent.

We (my daughter & I) take our shoes off indoors at home, and generally expect guests to do the same. When visiting others, we follow their lead. As a child in the 70's the only people I remember who removed their shoes were those of Asian or Mediterranean European descent. I remember thinking what a good idea, as I much preferred being barefoot. People I know who have polished floorboards tend to prefer EVERYONE to remove their shoes so as not to damage the floor.
Australia certainly does have insulation and heating, BTW, depending on the region. We are renting and have both carpet & linoleum flooring. In the winter, such as now, I have a few pairs of extra thick fluffy socks for wearing around the house.
My personal reasons: hygeine, especially with children - who knows what they have on their shoes, hopefully reducing wear & tear on carpet/polished floorboards, comfort - I fell more relaxed and comfortable sans shoes.
posted by goshling at 3:48 PM on May 26, 2008

"shoes-on ruled" is what I meant to say, dangit.
posted by beagle at 3:48 PM on May 26, 2008

I've lived in British Columbia, Northwest Territories, and Alberta, Canada. In all three places, shoes off in the house was the rule, and there were very very few exceptions. I grew up thinking that leaving your shoes on in the house is dirty and rude. Dirty because you track mud and dirt everywhere, and rude because keeping your shoes on implies that you are ready to just walk out anytime. Also, it means that you don't care that you are dirtying your host's floor.

I always take my shoes off, with the possible exception of if I'm just walking through the house to go out the back door, or if I'm heading into an unfinished basement. I never have to ask guests to take their shoes off, because it is a pretty standard norm in all the places I've lived.
posted by arcticwoman at 3:48 PM on May 26, 2008

My shoes come off as soon as I get home - and most times, while I'm sitting at my desk at work. I don't feel very.... grounded.... with my shoes on. if that makes any sense. I mean, it's partly a "I'm a klutzy bitch" notion as well as a whole "whatever" thing.

Point is, the shoes come off as often as possible. And I let my guests know they can do the same in my house.
posted by damnjezebel at 3:49 PM on May 26, 2008

Why I keep my shoes on in the house (which I don't, normally--just in these situations):

1. I will keep them on if I am just running in for a minute and it would be too much trouble to take my shoes off, especially if I am wearing lace-up shoes. My bad back is a demotivator for taking lace-up shoes on and off.

2. When I am going to do a lot of cleaning, I will put my sneakers on first, because they give me energy. Seriously, I can get four times as much done in sneakers as I can in bare feet.

3. In the morning, I generally put my shoes on in front of the mirror in my bedroom so I can choose which ones look best. Then I wear them from the bedroom to the door.
posted by HotToddy at 3:57 PM on May 26, 2008

Would you take your shoes off on the way into the office?
posted by YoungAmerican at 4:03 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Would you take your shoes off on the way into the office?
No, but then I wouldn't worry about my bare feet contacting what you've been walking in there.
posted by fish tick at 4:09 PM on May 26, 2008

Central California - and I wear my shoes into the house because there's generally no good reason to take them off. It rarely rains and I don't tend to walk in dirt. If my shoes looked dirty, sure I'd take them off, but as a general rule, why bother? In the wintertime it's frequently rather chilly and I hate cold feet, so that keeps them on even more.

If I'm going to stay home for a long time, I may take them off if I'm near the bedroom. If I feel like checking the mail (about 50 yards down the street) and my shoes are off, I won't bother to put them on.

I can see taking off dirty and/or wet shoes, but a rule that ignores circumstances seems totally unnecessary. (Dirt = dog poo? Say what?)

To me, the people who insist on keeping their shoes on are the weird ones--one of my friends got freaked out about having shoes off in the house because he insisted feet were "dirty".

I've heard of people who insist on shoes coming off, but never this. Your friend is probably... actually weird.

In conclusion: I often keep them on because A) I don't have an arbitrary rule, and B) because the circumstances allow it.
posted by yath at 4:11 PM on May 26, 2008

Seattle. White carpet. Shoes off. But I don't insist that people who come over take their shoes off; often they will notice all the shoes in the shoe-bench thingie inside the doorway and take off their own shoes, but I don't mention it, because it would feel rude to do so. Besides, what if their only clean socks that day happened to be the ones with the hole in the toe? I don't want them to be unprepared and embarrassed by something like that.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 4:13 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm a shoe-wearer. I generally do it until my fiance (who changes into slippers when he gets home, which seems very Mr. Rogers to me) basically says I need to take them off. When I lived alone, I frequently wore them until bedtime. The reasons why...

- I did not grow up in a strict no-shoes inside household. So it often doesn't occur to me to remove them.

- I have hardwood floors, and just don't feel like they pick up dirt like carpet does. I feel like if I had carpet I'd probably be more conscientious about taking off my shoes. Probably. It actually would matter quite a bit what color the carpet was.

- I don't find them uncomfortable whatsoever; I might go so far as to say I find them maybe even a little more comfortable than barefootedness and probably slightly warmer. I really don't care for just wearing socks around the house (I would not, for instance, ever ever wear socks to bed). I really hate slippers for whatever reason.

- Mostly, as in the first reason - it just doesn't occur to me. I don't choose to wear my shoes in the house as much as I never think to take them off.

- Obviously I'd remove them if I felt I had some sort of standing dirt on the shoes that would get in my floor. But considering most trips are front stoop > sidewalk > car > sidewalk > store/work/other non-muddy environment > sidewalk > front stoop > inside ... I just don't have much opportunity to get my shoes particularly dirty.

I'm very careful about wearing my shoes into another's home. When I go to someone else's house, I immediately look to see if they're wearing shoes. If they're not, mine come off immediately. It's amazing how frequently the host almost apologetically tells me I don't haaave to take them off, as though I'll judge them poorly for making me do it.
posted by FortyT-wo at 4:20 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Besides the comfort angle, perhaps we just have different definitions of our "outdoor clothes." Everybody considers heavy winter coats, hats, and sunglasses to be outdoor clothes, for example (although recently it seems the latter two items have become acceptable indoor clothes). In many countries, shoes are also considered outdoor clothes, but judging from the responses in this thread, Brits, Aussies, and Americans just consider them a part of their outfit (shirts, pants, socks) that you wouldn't take off except in private - something you just aren't conscious of wearing because you always wear them.

One would then guess that shoes-indoors or shoes-as-outfit is a particular feature of Anglo culture that was brought along to the colonies. Perhaps the upper classes wore shoes indoors to differentiate themselves from the lower classes who had dirty shoes from working in the fields, and the indoor-shoe-wearing practice gradually spread to everyone who wanted to appear upper class. Frobozz's answer seems to suggest that wearing shoes, at least for very traditional American families, is just part of looking respectable or middle-class, and that later generations would have adopted this behavior as default (without really thinking of appearance or class).

The problem with this theory is that Canadians seem to have a shoes-off rule, and they should, in theory, be bearers of the same Anglo culture that was spread to America, Australia, and New Zealand. It couldn't be the weather, because of the opposite responses that Canadians and northeastern Americans have provided (e.g. don't wear shoes because of all the mud and snow, or wear shoes because it's so cold).

Could it be that anglophone Canadians adopted the shoes-off practice from the original French settlers of Canada? Is there any "shoes-off" culture in France?

Or maybe I'm just over-thinking a plate of beans. Any shoe history professors in the house?
posted by pravit at 4:32 PM on May 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

nkknkk: "When I was a kid in New England, we weren't supposed to go barefoot or sock-footed in the house. Shoes were preferred, slippers were acceptable (if only family was around). My family was very energy-conscious so the house was always chilly, and my mom hated the idea that we would wear through our socks. It was a practical thing. / Nowadays I'm barefoot if I can possibly be so."

It's so weird when someone posts exactly what you were about to say and every detail is the same, including the cold New England house.

My grandparents and father used to scold us for having bare feet. Now I insist on no shoes in the house, although I don't make a big deal of it for guests.
posted by theredpen at 4:35 PM on May 26, 2008

I'm in New Zealand, and most people I know take their shoes off on their way into the house. We hope our guests will, but would never ask them to. It's a slight contradiction that we are infamous for going barefoot outside, and probably tramp barefoot germs into the house but nobody fusses about that.

One part of the *rolls eyes* Flylady system is to ensure you are "dressed to (laceup) shoes" each morning. She says it's to do with being ready to work and face the day. If you've got shoes on, you can't just flop down on the bed etc, and you have no excuses to not go out, take out the washing or something. (being a kiwi, I'll run out to the mailbox in bare feet quite happily, and have some fake Crocs things by the back door to go out to the washing line, and ignore her advice by saying it's a cultural thing!)
posted by slightlybewildered at 4:37 PM on May 26, 2008

Could it be that anglophone Canadians adopted the shoes-off practice from the original French settlers of Canada?

Very, very few cultural traditions have moved between the French and English in Canada. I have no reason to believe that this is the case. My father's family is about as Anglo/Scottish/Irish as it gets and they generally took their shoes off inside. Of course, they were dairy farmers and worked ankle-deep in cow shit seven days a week. They actually had a whole room dedicated to holding and changing into/out of work clothes. It could be an urban/rural thing - urban dwellers don't get that dirty and their shoes tend to coordinate with their clothes. Rural dwellers are dirty and would tend to remove their shoes as well as work shirts, overalls, etc.
posted by GuyZero at 4:59 PM on May 26, 2008

I keep my shoes on to protect my feet. There can be all sorts of dangerous things down there on the floor. Partly this is because I'm a bad housekeeper (once you fall for the "cleaning" scam there's no end to it), and partly because where I live (SW US) there are lots of dangerous arthropods. Even very good housekeepers, professionals, can't really keep the scorpions and such from sometimes getting in.
posted by spasm at 5:01 PM on May 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think it's a generational thing among USians. My mother, now 80, is utterly horrified at the thought of bare feet, ever. She was raised (rather strictly) in Pennsylvania and Iowa, has lived all over as an adult and to this day, when she gets up in the morning she gets FULLY dressed, including shoes, and she stays that way until she goes to bed (although she might change her whole outfit depending on the circumstances: there are gardening outfits and lunch outfits and cocktail outfits and, according to her, in the thirties and forties her whole family dressed formally for dinner every single night.) She called me once a few years back, bemused because she had gone to visit a younger friend with teenage kids. The teenager opened the door - in bare feet! Oh, the horror! The whole family wasn't wearing shoes! Was this normal? What had happened to the world? She knew that I went barefoot regularly and probably my children did too, but she'd always chalked that up to our stubborn, impossible, just plain wrong bohemian ways and it really shook her to be confronted by bare feet in what she thought was a "nice" house.
posted by mygothlaundry at 5:13 PM on May 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

pravit: When I was a kid we obviously did what we were told and our parents set up the culture for our households. Now that I am older and my friends and I have our own homes or rent apartments or whatever we have assimilated cultural norms that we like or make sense to us. So, shoes are off in my house and most of my friends. But, I think that this is more common in hippy-y, granola-y, enviro-y sort of households. Maybe we are just more casual.
posted by fieldtrip at 5:21 PM on May 26, 2008

I didn't grow up taking off my shoes inside the house, and almost no-one I grew up with did, either. (suburbs of Baltimore, MD) unless the shoes are soaked/muddy/snowy. I was raised to consider wearing shoes to be part of 'being dressed.'

Currently, it's impractical for us to walk around barefoot/socks because we're renovating our house and not all of our floors are finished. Also, my feet get really cold. On weekends I'll pad about in slippers until I leave the house, but generally leave my outdoor shoes on once they're on. In the summer I'm likely to be barefoot given the opportunity, but I wouldn't necessarily think to take my shoes on and off at the door.

This is a very self-selecting group of responses we've got here -- the Canadian homes that I've been to are mixed between shoes-inside and no-shoes-inside. The French households I've known were shoes-wearers. In the US, the people I know who prefer that no-one wear shoes inside are upper-middle-class folks with post-graduate degrees. The working-class families I've known (inc. my relatives) would take off work boots at the door, but wouldn't otherwise take off shoes at the door.
posted by desuetude at 5:23 PM on May 26, 2008

I think the thing is, you might as well ask why people don't put on a new pair of socks when they enter the house. Takes almost no time, avoids nasty dirty socks walking everywhere, the new ones are more comfortable, why not?

Some people just don't. They don't think about it. They just don't. There's no really good reason to take them off because most people don't walk around in mud or lay around on their beds in the middle of the day. Unless it's a habit to take them off, they don't think about doing it because it's a non-issue.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:30 PM on May 26, 2008

Best answer: I leave my shoes on in my house until I am ready to relax. I leave them on until I have finished all my "chores'. For example, if I have bills to pay I leave them on untuil they are paid. For me, it is psychological. Shoes on means things to do. Shoes off means relax. It is similar to when I worked from home. I got dressed everyday at the same time or it was the weekend. Otherwise it was psychologically difficult to distinguish between work and play. I have no preference if a visitor wants to take or their shoes or leave them on.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:48 PM on May 26, 2008

utsutsu writes "This rule goes even for large house parties. It's not strange to see a front entrance completely taken over by shoes when 20 + guests are over. Some of those shoes might migrate over to the door to a smoking patio, or backyard as the shoe owner requires."

I think everyone I know has a Xmas/Hallowe'en/whatever party story where a pair of guests unwittingly swap shoes on the way out. It's easy to do when there are 40 pairs of shoes in your mud room.
posted by Mitheral at 6:00 PM on May 26, 2008

Best answer: Another descendant of Puritans chiming in, and we always wore our shoes in the house. There was one other reason, however. My parents were not that far removed from living in homes with dirt floors. You would not have taken off your shoes in a house with dirt floors. Also, in pioneer times, you needed to have shoes on your feet to visit the outhouse (which my grandparents had on the farm even when I was a child), and to make your escape in case of fire or attack.

I'm pretty far removed from dirt floors, Indian attacks and outhouses. I take my shoes off in the house. But I ALWAYS wear slippers.
posted by clarkstonian at 6:04 PM on May 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

A few afterthoughts:

Sydney has a generally dry climate - no snow, slush, mud etc to deal with. In rainy weather, you'd tend to take your shoes off upon entering your house. Otherwise, doormats are almost universally used to remove any loose dirt from your soles.

Wooden floorboards are all the rage now, especially amongst renovated older houses. People who fork out thousands on floorboards can get a bit anal about their investment not getting scratched.

Fair enough point that your shoes carry in trace elements of shit, vomit, dirt, insects, whatever, but who eats their dinner off the floor? In theory, about the only thing that ever touches the floor would be your feet, shoes or slippers. If there were babies or kids around the house, I might re-evaluate. On the other hand, anybody who allows cats or dogs into the house is probably being a bit precious & hypocritical.

I personally find feet kinda disgusting - usually quite ugly & often smelly. Also, I'm slightly germophobic about things like tinea & warts. Ever seen what happens to a sole if you step where somebody with foot warts has stepped? No thanks! I'll take the trace elements of dirt over that, anyday! On that note, I'd far prefer general outside dirt on my floors than peoples' awful, sweaty socks & whatever disgusting fungal infections etc they're carrying on their feet.

On balance, I think the house slipper approach is most likely best - where you swap your outside shoes for slippers upon entering.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:24 PM on May 26, 2008

I am a filthy American pig who leaves his shoes on in the house.

1. I do it because I was not trained otherwise.

2. America is so clean, I don't need to take my shoes off.


I mean, was that not a loaded question to begin with?
posted by metajc at 6:25 PM on May 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I grew up in Southern CA with a lot of friends of Chinese/Taiwanese descent so it was totally normal to me to take off shoes going into the house, although we didn't have a strict rule about it in my house (also, we had slate floors in some parts of the house which were very cold in winter, and I found that once I took off my shoes I had a hard time warming up slippers). Once when I was small, my great-aunt came to visit from Pittsburgh and was absolutely scandalized that we little girls weren't wearing shoes in the house. This was my first encounter with the idea of mutually repugnant cultural norms. I remember being baffled - what would happen if Aunt Gen went to my friend Nancy's house? Would she keep her shoes on, in line with her manners? Or would she take them off, in line with Nancy's manners? What was the point of manners if they weren't even consistent?? (We had been talking about manners a lot at home in preparation for Aunt Gen's visit as she was more proper than anyone we knew, so this is probably why the inconsistency made such a huge impression.)

My fiance is Taiwanese and really does get grossed out by wearing shoes in the house, so we have a long line of shoes by our door. I like it because it means we almost never have to vacuum.
posted by crinklebat at 6:26 PM on May 26, 2008

Response by poster:
I am a filthy American pig who leaves his shoes on in the house.
I mean, was that not a loaded question to begin with?

Hey, I'm American too. As I said in the original post, I did not intend this to be a loaded question, and I'm sorry if it came off like that. As someone who feels that not wearing shoes is naturally more comfortable than wearing shoes, I am genuinely curious why people choose to keep their shoes on all day until they go to bed. It is as foreign to me as taking off your shoes upon entry is foreign to you.
posted by pravit at 6:32 PM on May 26, 2008

Best answer: Here's some information from one raised in the South. Generally, shoes are worn in our house, except a few random times while I was growing up (usually after we got a brand new carpet). Otherwise, I'd wear them so long as I didn't think I would be going outside or leaving for a few hours. As I grew up, as soon as weather permitted I ran around barefoot.

Wearing shoes (or at least even having socks on) was/is expected when guests come over. It's considered rude, at least for a teenager or adult, to have bare feet around a guest. Even now, I'm self conscious if someone comes over and I'm in my bare feet.

Another perspective is also to look at how homes were decorated/built. Most homes had wood floors and likely may have had a rug or two down on the floors. It was common practice, especially in spring, to take the rugs out and beat them clean, as well as to sweep the floors (even wash them). Its a culture that takes for granted that you will clean the floor, but of course, dirty shoes that might track something in are expected to be cleaned or left at the door. ;)

By the way, not all boots are a pain to get off. I have a pair of boots I can deftly slip on and off in seconds. I like to wear them when I fly specifically for that purpose.
posted by Atreides at 6:47 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When I was a kid, (NE U.S.) at home we did not take our shoes off when we came inside unless they were really dirty (boots in winter etc.). I don't know why. I also felt a little undressed (less so now) if I took my shoes off in front of strangers or acquaintances and that was definitely learned behavior. Like others have said -- something about how informal and somewhat disrespectful it seemed.

I am one of those people who doesn't feel physically comfortable walking in my bare feet -- it kind of hurts -- something about the way I am built, but I do generally take off my outside shoes and but on some crocs or flip flops when I come home and am going to be home for a while. It's a feeling thing -- kind of a Mister Rogers moment that differentiates between the "me in the world" me and the "at home" me.

Plus, I have hardwood floors and figure leaving my outside shoes by the door keeps the dirt off the floors -- and this is may be because I am not a big cleaner, so it seems like a little way to keep the dirt outside.
posted by nnk at 6:52 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Shoes off. Always. I'm in and out of the house all the time when I'm home, either popping out for a cigarette, or going out to garden, or letting the dog in and out. It's no effort at all to slip into a pair of casual shoes like little canvas flats or even my runners (loosely laced) to go out. Inside, shoes are shucked off just as easily and automatically. I wear socks, slippers, bare feet or else this cute pair of flat black ballerina flats that I bought purposely as "house shoes". It irks me to no end when people wear shoes in my house--as it's been said, those shoes have walked in spit, shit, urine, and all sorts of other lovely stuff.

I grew up in BC and the Northwest Territories of Canada. I don't know why people wear shoes in the house.
posted by Savannah at 7:00 PM on May 26, 2008

Best answer: I'm also surprised by the number of Americans who suggest that it's actually normal not to wear shoes indoors

Sure, of course it's normal. It's not that it's abnormal not to wear shoes indoors--it's just that neither is it abnormal to wear shoes indoors. We just plain old don't have the kind of hard-and-fast cultural norm concerning wearing shoes in our own homes that is so prevalent in other parts of the world.

The only cultural norm that applies here is the one that says that in my own house, I do what I feel like. Of course you're probably going to take your shoes off at some point, but because there's no rule, it could be at any point between entering the house and going to sleep for the night, so it falls to its natural place in the evening's set of priorities. I get home, maybe my feet feel especially trapped so I take my shoes off right away. Or I get home, I really have to pee and I'm dying of thirst. So I walk in, use the bathroom, grab a drink, sit down and kick my shoes off then. Sometimes I'll walk around my house naked but wear my favorite pair of shoes just because I like them. It's my house; I do what I feel like.

(Also, like clarkstonian mentions, I grew up in Northern New England and I'm only one generation removed from growing up with dirt floors year round. Even I grew up in a more indoor/outdoor environment than some, I suppose. Outhouses and barns and such make a person comfortable with shoes indoors and bare feet outdoors and having to get outside quicker than it would take to put on shoes).
posted by lampoil at 7:02 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

data point: Italy, countryside setting. Since we (me and her) moved in here, we decided for a loosely enforced no-shoes-inside the house policy, and we usually put slippers on when entering home. Visiting friends and guests are free to keep their shoes (or remove them, at will). Upstairs neighbors also have a no-shoes policy, politely asking to leave shoes at the door. I was born and raised in a shoes-inside-house-is-fine household. There's not a rule, actually, and if there was it wouldn't be strictly enforced anyway, which is somewhat coherent with being in Italy and all.
posted by _dario at 7:23 PM on May 26, 2008

Here in Hawaii people wear a lot of slippers ("flip flops" or "thongs" to you non-islanders), which makes it very easy to doff them at any door. In addition to the ones we use to walk around outside, my SO uses indoor slippers (we have wood floors) and we're sitting on our balcony right now wearing slippers specifically for the lanai, ones that don't go in the house or would be taken outdoors. Some houses I've been to have stashes of extra slippers at every doorway, just in case. If you enter someone's house from the front door your host might advise that you bring your slippers with you (carried, not worn) because you'll need them to step out into the back yard or whatever. A lot of us grew up with this mindset, and now that I think about it, when people here wear shoes they tend to be the kind that are easily removed/put back on, or they keep their shoelaces loose. When the guys who delivered my couch had to come inside, without even asking they stomped out of their loosely-laced work boots in the doorway before coming in. I do the same thing - when I know I'm going to someone's house, I'll make sure my laces are tied loose so that I don't have to bother with untying and re-tying them whenever I step in or out.

I guess I'm trying to illustrate how, when the "shoes off" rule is the accepted norm, people make adjustments in their behavior to ensure compliance. And so to answer your question more directly, I think it amounts to culture, convenience, and a little bit of climate. In Hawaii we have a cultural norm that says to take shoes off in the house, we've made social adjustments to make it as convenient as possible to comply, and we have a climate conducive to being barefoot.
posted by krippledkonscious at 7:25 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm Canadian and my aunt was talking about this after spending a year living in Australia. The short of it in bullet form:
-Canadians just don't walk around indoor with shoes on, mostly because of the snow, rain mud.
-Australians walk around indoors with shoes one (and their floors wear down like those in a bar as a result of this) because they never have to worry about tracking mud or snow inside. Dirt can be easily swept. Also, no risk of crap crawling into your boots.
posted by furtive at 7:28 PM on May 26, 2008

I grew up in CA with hardwood floors and our family kept our shoes on because, well, we weren't great at keeping floors clean. So I guess the shoes compounded the problem, but it was gross to walk around barefoot on gritty floors and then have to pick dirt out of your feet before climbing into bed. Much better to just leave the shoes on - then at least your feet would be clean, if not the floors.

Now that I have my own house (carpeted), we take our shoes off at the door and ask our guests to do the same.
posted by GardenGal at 7:35 PM on May 26, 2008

Southern California upbringing. Growing up, there wasn't a particularly hard-and-fast rule about it, but my feeling is the same as many people above, that you don't take your shoes off when other people are at your house, and you certainly don't do it at someone else's house unless invited to.
Shoeless is like being undressed in some way, and therefore a bit rude or weird, like if you took your pants off and sat around in your underwear. Definitely more comfortable, but not for company!
However, this rule is relaxed with close friends, and people just go with what feels best.

I leave my shoes on in the house if I'm going to be leaving again later, just for efficiency's sake, especially if they're lace-up shoes. I don't really worry about the dirt. I usually do take them off if I'm not going out again, because it is more comfortable that way. Sometimes I put them on if I'm going to be working in the kitchen for a while, because it's more comfortable for standing on a hard floor.

I lived in Japan for a few years, and was fine with the custom (except when wearing Doc Martens, sigh), but I have to admit that here I think my friends with shoes-off policies are a little overly fussy. I agree with Jessamyn that you don't always dress with that in mind, and especially at a party it can be a little weird to be in a nice dress with no shoes, or a hole in your sock, or something.
posted by exceptinsects at 7:46 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: yeah, i was raised (in new england) to consider "shoes" part of "being dressed" most of the time.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:55 PM on May 26, 2008

Response by poster: it was gross to walk around barefoot on gritty floors and then have to pick dirt out of your feet before climbing into bed.

I suppose this is best saved for another AskMe, but the ages old clash of Eastern and Western culture comes to mind, perhaps even more ancient than that of wearing shoes in the house - that of taking night showers or morning showers. ;)

The only cultural norm that applies here is the one that says that in my own house, I do what I feel like.

Definitely. What I was curious about is why somebody would feel like wearing shoes longer than they had to. For me, it isn't an arbitrary decision, as I find wearing socks or slippers to be much, much more comfortable than wearing shoes.

But the dirt floors and outhouses, the traditional Puritan values, or even cold weather and hardwood floors have helped me to understand how someone could be raised to feel that shoes are preferable to (or at least no worse than) socks or slippers.

What's been really interesting for me are the anecdotes about an older-generation relative who considers it scandalous to not wear shoes in the house, or people who mention that they feel embarrassed or undressed if they're not wearing shoes in front of strangers. So at least among some groups of Americans, there used to be (and still is) a cultural thing about shoes being an integral part of your clothing, like pants or shirts, unlike winter coats or gloves. I was never aware of this, and I find such cultural tidbits fascinating.

BTW, my girlfriend tells me that growing up in a small town in northern Sweden, they had to take their shoes off at school, at least in primary school.
posted by pravit at 8:31 PM on May 26, 2008

Best answer: Another New Englander agreeing that it's weird/possibly rude to take off your shoes in someone else's house. It would be like changing into your pajamas. I'll wear my shoes in the house when guests are around or when I'm being productive. Taking off my shoes is for when I'm relaxing.
posted by fermezporte at 8:32 PM on May 26, 2008

Midwestern US with Wisconsin/Swedish influence. I tend to wear clogs. This makes it easy to have indoor clogs (clean) and outdoor clogs (dirty). I wear the indoor clogs rather than going shoeless because I've broken two toes by stubbing them indoors.

I don't take my shoes off at other people's houses unless I know it's the rule. Otherwise, it seems too casual to pad about in my socks.
posted by PatoPata at 8:40 PM on May 26, 2008

Whenever this question comes up, I find it odd. I come from Southern Ontario and can safely say I have never - not once! - come across a household where it's normal to wear shoes indoors.

Shoes are part of "outside" wear, and hence are to be worn outside and in public buildings. Wearing shoes changes people's demeanor: as soon as the shoes come on, people behave as if they were "out in public". This is the same reason that guests that come over for an "organized" event (e.g. a party) will keep their shoes on, but those that just come over to hang out take them off. Shoes on in the house means, for me, that you're not "home", but rather just passing through.

Another data point: I'm Eastern European, and where I come from it's normal to take your outdoor shoes off and put on slippers. Stocking feet are very uncommon.
posted by wsp at 8:42 PM on May 26, 2008

Best answer: YMMV, but I never - NEVER - go without shoes, except in the shower or when asleep. Inside, outside, no matter the forum or occasion -- I'm wearing shoes. Two reasons: first, they are safe -- I never have to worry about stepping on anything sharp or icky. Second, they are comfortable.

It always amazes - horrifies? disgusts? - me when I see people walk around barefoot.
posted by davidmsc at 8:44 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Here in Alaska, shoes absolutely come off at the door, but no one carries around slippers. I think it has less to do with politeness and more to do with cleanliness: keep the mud and snow out of the house. I'm always way weirded out when I'm told to keep shoes on, or if I can find no place to put my shoes right inside the door, just thinking of all the dirt being tracked in. Why have carpet if you're just going to wear your shoes on it?
posted by rhapsodie at 8:51 PM on May 26, 2008

Best answer: I definitely feel strange taking my shoes off in strangers' houses. Unless it's the home of someone I know well and the activity is very casual, such as sitting around watching TV, I just don't feel good being barefoot in a stranger's home. Even when I'm staying overnight in the home of someone I don't know very well, if it's a shoes-optional home, I tend to leave my shoes on except when I'm in the room I'm sleeping in or in the bathroom. It just feels better to me. I wouldn't feel right in my socks.

I can't imagine going to a dinner party at someone's home and being asked to remove my shoes at the door. That would be exceedingly weird. To sit at dinner in the home of someone you don't know very well in just your socks? It would be like sitting in a business meeting or a restaurant in your socks.
posted by decathecting at 8:53 PM on May 26, 2008

As someone who feels that not wearing shoes is naturally more comfortable than wearing shoes, I am genuinely curious why people choose to keep their shoes on all day until they go to bed.

They *don't* feel that not wearing shoes is naturally more comfortable than wearing them. I don't think being barefoot is really much more comfortable than wearing comfy old sneakers.

As to why that is, you might as well ask why people like Brussels sprouts or Loverboy.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:12 PM on May 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I grew up in a (New England) family where being shod indoors was the norm, and now living in my own apartment I follow the same practices as I grew up with. If I come in wearing boots that are covered in slush or mud, I'll take them off at the door, but otherwise, I don't bother changing shoes at the threshhold. I do have a few pairs of slippers and "house shoes" which I wear part of the time indoors, but there's no sharp distinction between indoor and outdoor shoes for me: I do occasionally step out to the mailbox in the house shoes, and I wear regular shoes indoors a lot of the time.

For me, the main reason for keeping my shoes on as I come inside is that it is, to my mind, way too much hassle to be changing shoes (or changing back and forth between shoes and bare feet) every time I go through the door. I do this ritual when visiting acquaintances with no-shoe households, and I hate it. It feels like an interruption to the flow of daily activities, and it's just plain uncomfortable. I don't like bending over or crouching down at the door to untie or unbuckle my shoes, especially when I'm encumbered by bags and stuff, or when I've just eaten a large meal (hello, heartburn). It seems ridiculous to me to change footgear just to nip in or out for a short errand (e.g. getting the mail). When I come home after being out working or doing errands, I have other priorities: I want to go to the kitchen to put down my bags of groceries, go to the bathroom to use the toilet, go to where I put down my handbag and keys (not usually next to the door), go to the desk and check the answering machine for new messages, go to the corner with the recycling bins so I can sort my mail, and finally go back to the kitchen to put away the groceries, get a drink of water or a snack, and then take my drink or snack to the couch where I'll go online with my laptop to check email . . . and at this point I might or might not decide to take my shoes off and put my feet up on the couch.

Plus, I share a lot of other posters' reasons for wearing shoes at home:
  • habit, custom, seems normal to me
  • cleaning the floors regularly likewise seems like just a normal part of life and not such a bad thing
  • welcome mats catch most of the outdoor dirt from incoming shoe soles, anyway; that is the purpose of welcome mats
  • shoes are not thought of as outerwear (except for specialized things like ski boots or rain boots); they are part of being dressed
  • (Another way of explaining the mindset would be: floors are for walking on, and shoes are for walking with. So naturally the shoes are going to connect with the floor, duh. From what other people have said, it sounds like in some cultures, walking on a floor with shoes would be like putting your shoes on the dining table in my culture/customs/family: peculiar in your own house, and very offensive if you are someone's guest.)
  • I don't take off shoes just because I've gone indoors at work, at the grocery store, at restaurants, at libraries or museums, at the gym (apart from the pool area), etc., so why is a house or apartment such a different kind of "indoors"? (I know, possible answers include "informality" and "you don't have to clean all those other places yourself"; I just don't think of homes as having a special status with regard to footgear as some cultures do)
  • feet would get cold without shoes in the winter (I have felted wool clogs that I wear mainly as at-home shoes)
  • it's not so obvious that being unshod is more comfortable than being shod: I make a point of buying good, comfortable shoes for daily wear, so changing to bare feet or sock feet does not usually offer a great increase in comfort
  • prefer to store shoes in the bedroom closet with other types of clothing (but not actually touching the clean clothes); have no good space in current apartment for shoe racks or a shoe-changing bench near the door, or have other priorities for how to use the space nearest the door
But for me, mainly, it's a matter of wanting to walk in and out freely.
posted by Orinda at 9:44 PM on May 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm from Australia, where it's pretty normal to wear shoes inside your house. I mean, you don't have to, but there's no feeling you have to take them off once you come inside. There are a minority of people who have a "no shoes inside" policy, usually in order to prevent bringing dirt inside, and yes, I do feel these people are a bit of a pain. But then, they probably spend less time scrubbing mud off the floorboards than I do. I just feels a bit weird and informal; going around someone else's house barefoot, or in socks, would be a bit like going around without a shirt on.

But taboos regarding clothing run deep; I remember a childrens' activity book I had as a kid, it was probably printed in the 50s or early 60s. It had a puzzle, with a picture of an office setting, and you had to find the 20 things that were wrong in the picture. Most of them were obvious - lettering on the door was backwards, table only had three legs. I found 19 things wrong, and checked the answers for the final thing I missed - "Man wearing a hat indoors."

Personally, I wear shoes inside because that makes it easy to go inside and outside. My shoes are combat-style boots, it takes a fair bit of effort to get them on and off, and I generally only bother to take them off once I know I'm not going outside again to do something, ie. quite late at night.

Of course, climate comes into it. When I lived in Darwin, a tropical climate where everyone wore flip-flops pretty much all of the time, then I did, usually, slip them off when I went indoors. This was partly because, if I did need to go back outside, I could go barefoot anyway. Now I live in Hobart, a cold, temperate climate (relatively), and I'm wearing boots, I tend to keep them on because there's no way I'm going outside with bare feet.
posted by Jimbob at 10:08 PM on May 26, 2008

My shoes are combat-style boots

Yes, boots - combat or otherwise - are reasonably common footwear in Australia, as they give a sense of protection against all the deadly things that crawl or slither on the ground (spiders, snakes, quokkas etc). Not only are they a bit of a hassle to get on & off, there's no guarantee that the deadly critters haven't infiltrated your house, so being able to stomp on them if necessary is a handy thing to have up your sleeve. Or at the end of your cuffs, as the case may be.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:20 PM on May 26, 2008

Exactly. Why just yesterday evening, I stomped a shark in the laundry.
posted by Jimbob at 10:26 PM on May 26, 2008 [9 favorites]

Best answer: do Americans/Brits see wearing shoes as a necessary part of being presentable, like wearing shirts and pants? Is going barefoot akin to walking around shirtless, or walking around with your fly unzipped?

My parents (from relatively socially conservative backgrounds in northern US states, both born around WWII) seem to think of it in roughly this way. They have slippers/indoor shoes they will change into just to wear around the house. And they seem to feel a little odd when I take my shoes off in the house. They also are not big on shoelessness in outdoor contexts like the front lawn or beach - I think this is from a concern about tetanus etc, but also a bit of propriety. (For context, they are relatively much more formal than the average American; they have never worn jeans or t-shirts, for example.)

In northern US during winter it's more common to take off shoes upon entering the house, because of mud and road salt etc which would really make a mess in the house, not just a little tracked dirt.

I was told once by a carpet expert that it's actually better for carpets to always wear shoes indoors, since the bare foot leaves oils which wear/dirty the carpet faster and are harder to clean off than just dirt.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:26 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

And for myself (American), I normally take my shoes off in the house and we have a little area by the front door for that purpose (suggesting that guests are welcome to do the same) but would never insist that others take off shoes in the house.

I would never take off my shoes in another American's house unless I knew them very well or there was an obvious area by the door for it, or my shoes were really muddy and would clearly make a mess. The default is to keep shoes on. Taking them off suggests familiarity and informality, so it would be "taking a liberty" unless you are instructed to. It's a nice extension of familiarity to offer people the option to take off their shoes. (Even the offer might make someone as formal as my parents a little uncomfortable, though.)

But (among Americans) insisting that others take off their shoes is often from the same school as "this room is off-limits to children" and "we don't sit in that chair" etc. A bit priggish.

In the many Canadian (Ontarian) houses I've been in, it's always assumed that you'll doff your shoes at the door, and it's often assumed that in winter you'll bring your own pair of slippers to wear around the house. I know people who keep a very light, flexible pair of slippers in the pocket of their winter coat for this purpose.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:37 PM on May 26, 2008

I grew up in the Bay Area, and everyone I knew as a kid kept their shoes on inside, generally speaking (we'd also walk in and out of our own houses barefoot. We were in and out all the time, and the typical suburban California home doesn't necessarily have a foyer or mud room. I think the fact that we have a lot of asphalt and not much rain or mud, plus the fact that hardly anyone spent all day indoors meant that it was just as easy to leave shoes on as off. Culturally, I think in America shoelessness has been associated with poverty. Anyone who had gotten to the point where going barefoot for all or part of the year was no longer a financial necessity wore some sort of shoe inside. Plus, Victorian button boots that required a buttonhook to put on were not going to be taken off on a whim.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:47 PM on May 26, 2008

I grew up in northern Canada, and shoes-off was standard procedure if you weren't a hillbilly or something. Having lived in Asia for a decade now, that has been reinforced to the point of complete non-tolerance for bootfilth.

Whether here, or if I eventually move back to North America or elsewhere, if you don't take your goddamn shoes off, you're just not coming into my house. Sorry 'bout that.

Why do people wear shoes indoors? Well, I've got to say, looking at it from the opposite perspective, I wonder which came first here in Korea -- men hawking up throat oysters constantly over every horizontal outdoor surface, or people insisting on removing their shoes indoors.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:49 PM on May 26, 2008

The very idea of taking your shoes off in someone else's home is absurd. What's comfort got to do with it? I'm more comfortable without my pants on, but I don't go around taking them off in your house either.

And has no one in this thread ever heard the phrase "Wipe your feet?" How can such an expression exist with so many people thinking you can just take your shoes off before coming inside? Also, notice that the expression isn't "wipe your shoes." The shoe is an integral part of the outfit, so you don't have to take it off to wipe your feet any more than you would have to take your shirt off to be tapped on the shoulder.

The only people I've ever met who insisted on making you take your shoes off were not only a bunch of anime otaku but were living in a rented house with white carpets. I've never known anyone with any class to suggest taking shoes off.
posted by darksasami at 11:06 PM on May 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

Another Australian here: My parents are fairly relaxed about shoes. I've never had to take off my shoes inside at home - in fact my parents think taking off shoes inside is a pain. I don't think that there is really any sort of psychological thing behind it, except for my dad who will walk inside, sit down in the lounge room and take off his shoes when he gets home - mostly because he is on his feet all day, and would prefer to be wearing thongs. Fact: my folks bought darker coloured carpet so other dirt wouldn't be a problem. In summer we're more likely to be barefoot because we pretty much live in thongs, but our house gets a little colder in winter so shoes generally stay on. Again, having said that, it depends on what mood I'm in - I've been known to drive to the corner shop barefoot, even in winter.

If I go to somebody's house and there is a pile of shoes at the front door, of course I would take them off, no questions asked. But otherwise - unless asked, I don't even think about it.
posted by cholly at 11:06 PM on May 26, 2008

Best answer: Americans are more worried about being deathly ashamed of their possibly stinky feet than of tracking dust into the house. This would explain the small and intimate = barefoot vs. large/formal = everyone in shoes all over the house. Northern American and Canadian floors are colder to the unshod foot because the weather is worse; thus many people take off wet/snowy/muddy outdoor shoes and then put on indoor shoes/slippers to keep the feet comfy.

I think there's something to the idea that there is a different conception of what is "dirty" - I think many in North America would agree that dust and soil is "clean" and human bodies are "dirty". I would rather Uncle Albert dumped the contents of a potted plant on the floor every time he entered my home than have to encounter his nasty untrimmed toenails, bunions, etc. and the accompanying stench of his nasty old paws. One is much "dirtier" to me than the other.
posted by bartleby at 11:08 PM on May 26, 2008 [7 favorites]

Since stav mentioned the Asian thing, I like - as cultural tourism - the practice of separate slippers for the toilet / bathroom, which you'd never think of wearing throughout the rest of the house.

(If people are uptight about trucking outside filth into the house, then it would make equal sense for them to worry also about bathroom-floor filth being carried out of that particular room)

I came across that one in Japan, and while it squicked me out to slip my feet into footwear that somebody else had worn (ick!), it was nice not to carry bathroom floor water throughout the place (Asian bathrooms tend to be more 100% splashy-splashy wet areas than western bathrooms with their glassed-off showers etc).

on preview: where cholly writes "thongs" substitute "flip-flops" - unless you want to imagine cholly Snr in a g-string...
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:10 PM on May 26, 2008

Sweden: Shoes off inside, mainly due to the snow and mud. House is always warm anyway.

New Zealand & London: Shoes on, mainly because they don't seem to "believe in central heating" so it was too cold to take shows off in Winter. And yes, the carpets in both countries were filthy.

Japan: Shoes off inside, but you often wear slippers. (Like at work and toilets). They generally don't heat their homes, but it seems to be mostly about the "dirty outside". Wearing no shoes outside, even in summer brings gasps. (Where as sweden, as soon as summer came along, you wore nothing the entire time. I mean, shoes wise nothing.. you know.. sweden...)
posted by lundman at 11:31 PM on May 26, 2008

I'm a Swede who leaves her shoes on. It drives my Danish SO nuts, but then I'm on "keep the floor clean duty" so all the extra sand and junk is my own fault. I hop across the carpets too - but never shoes in bed! My daughter takes her shoes off, as she learns this in school and from Dads example.

The reason I keep mine on is partly due to a lot of lacing, cold feet and the fact that I spent my formative years in North Carolina where you keep your shoes on (except in my strange Swedish household). I got into the habit then and can't seem to snap out of it, to the annoyance of everyone around me.

Snowy boots come off though, always.
posted by dabitch at 11:43 PM on May 26, 2008

I think there's something to the idea that there is a different conception of what is "dirty" - I think many in North America would agree that dust and soil is "clean" and human bodies are "dirty"

There is a related issue which goes back to this same root - do you wash your hands before or after you pee? (well, men only I suppose) It may come as a shock to some people, but there are people in the world who was their hands before they pee and not after. It reflects the same dichotomy: which is dirty, your body or the world? I agree that Americans tend to view the body as "dirty". Not literally dirty but a sort of ritual uncleanliness.
posted by GuyZero at 12:00 AM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Netherlands: I keep my shoes on mostly because my feet get cold on our hard floors, but I do have comfortable shoes. If I wear heavy shoes (in bad winter weather), I do take them off, and of course if it is really wet or dirty outside I take them off as well.

I love soft carpet. If I had a soft carpet and lived in a warmer climate, I would probably walk around barefoot much more often and I would be much more careful about it (which would be a pain with lots of children who play outside and need to come inside quick to go to the bathroom or something). As it is, I have floors that are really easy to clean so the dirt is not really an issue now.
posted by davar at 12:19 AM on May 27, 2008

Response by poster: The very idea of taking your shoes off in someone else's home is absurd. What's comfort got to do with it? I'm more comfortable without my pants on, but I don't go around taking them off in your house either.

I really should have worded my question "Why do people keep their shoes on in their own homes"? I understand perfectly well why it would be considered weird to take off your shoes in somebody else's house.

Also, for the record, I never insist that other people take their shoes off when entering my home, nor do I take my shoes off in other peoples' houses unless they do. So I'm not looking for etiquette advice. I'm just curious what cultural or practical reasons motivate people to keep their shoes on in their own houses; this isn't a gripe against people who wear their shoes indoors.

Does anyone know why shoe-wearing practice is so different in Canada and the US, despite their geographic proximity, relatively open borders, and similar weather and culture?

They *don't* feel that not wearing shoes is naturally more comfortable than wearing them
Hmm. But is that something you're born with, or is that caused by years of wearing shoes all day?
posted by pravit at 12:28 AM on May 27, 2008

Best answer: Just to add a brief Italian pedagogical perspective (through a foreigner's eyes): city-dwelling moms tend to be paranoid about their toddlers'/children's feet getting cold (the purportedly immediate source of all sorts of illness), so it is very rare that you will see kids barefoot. This is then coupled with another belief that has been drilled into at least two generations (by an enterprising shoemaker's lobby), that the young foot cannot do without orthopedic support, provided only by stiff half-boots - so that parents will opt for the doubly-secure option: socks and shoes all the time, everywhere. (No need to remind you the average mean warmth of the Italian clime.) In due time, this leads to: a habitus of shoe-wearing; an assuaged and prosperous shoe-making industry; increasing problems of athlete's foot and other fungi (perversely: the overclothed foot sweats, leaving it even more exposed to catching cold, should the layers be removed: catch-22...); a league of moms shooing the, uhm, shoed kids off the precious upholstery/bedspreads.
Truely non-sensical, but the cultural pull seems irresistible. (It's not uncommon to hear folks refer to a not-so-distant past in which shoes were a substantial luxury.) I once saw a Japanese mom let her daughter climb a jungle-gym in a park in November barefoot. She explained that her daughter just climbed better that way, since she could feel what she was climbing. The on-looking crowd seemed on the verge of calling the cops on her.
posted by progosk at 12:35 AM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Or I guess what I'm asking is: what makes darksasami feel like taking off your shoes is akin to taking off your pants? What exactly is it about bare feet that horrifies and amazes davidmsc? Can this be traced back to traditional Puritan values, for example? And why isn't there such a cultural taboo in other countries?
posted by pravit at 12:38 AM on May 27, 2008

I've lived places where you have to check your shoes for scorpions(desert), spiders, and centipedes(east coast). At this point in time, I don't wear shoes indoors, but my parents always do.

Also, I bought little plastic/elastic shoe covers for people to wear if they are coming in and out to do work in my apartment so that they don't have to bother with the shoe off and on thing.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:46 AM on May 27, 2008

I was raised in good ol' Blighty. Scotland, to be precise. We took our shoes off in the house because my parents were finnicky about wear on the carpets.

Now I tend not to take off my shoes when I'm in other people's flats, for example, because I guess it's quite forward somehow. It really seems you're making yourself at home. Also, my socks tend to have holes in them and my shoes have laces etc., the whole thing just seems unnecessary.

An aside from my Polish friend, who says that in Slavic countries it's the done thing for people to take off shoes in the house, be it theirs or not. Accordingly many households have a cupboard of spare pairs of slippers for guests to wear when they're visiting. This sounds utterly adorable, and I plan to initiate it if I ever actually have a home.
posted by eponymouse at 12:48 AM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am so late to this thread. Nobody is probably reading it anymore, and what I'm going to write doesn't really answer the question, but here goes...

As mentioned many times above, the Japanese take their shoes off "because it is the custom." So when did this custom begin?

According to this blog which talks about the influence of architecture on various topics (in Japanese, sorry) the custom apparently began sometime during the Heian period (From about 794 to 1185. Broad, I know) when tatami mats made from straw began to be used in homes of the aristocracy. One theory is that rice straw (inawara) used to make the mats was considered sacred so the custom of taking off shoes began when these mats became common. (Somebody mentioned above that slippers aren't worn in tatami rooms, and the reason isn't because the slippers wear the mats down, but because it's impolite to do so.)

Also, until Japan opened up to the Western world in the late Edo period, people basically lived on the floor. People slept on the floor in foldable futon mattresses (many still do) in the same space that they used to eat their meals served on individual trays with legs (not tables), seated on the floor. And Japan didn't have paved roads until fairly recently (as in, even after railroads were built. Around the late 1800s or so? There are practical reasons for this related to Japan's topography, which I won't get into here) so we're talking dirt and dust everywhere, right outside the doors made of wood and paper. Also, "shoes" didn't become common until, again, the Meiji Restoration, so people wore zori or geta, which are sandals, over socks or bare feet. It made much more sense to take them off and wash off your feet before you went inside any building.

If anybody's interested, there's a film by Japanese filmmaker Kenji Mizoguchi called Shin Heike Monogatari IMDB, which is a period film set in the late 12th century about The Tale of the Heike clan. I mention this film because 1) it's a great film and 2) it will give you a striking view of just how much dust the people had to put up with back then. Obviously the movie is fictional, but the details of the film makes you feel like you've traveled through time. There's a scene where the elderly manservant brings the young protagonist a pail of water to wash his feet off with, which is the kind of detail that makes this film really believable.

Phew. All that, and I haven't answered your question at all. But you see, we Japanese have endured hundreds and hundreds of years of DUST so you bet we take them shoes OFF in our homes! And according to the architecture blog I linked to above, even Commodore Perry and the surge of Westernization couldn't change our ways, the custom was so ingrained!

BTW, my girlfriend tells me that growing up in a small town in northern Sweden, they had to take their shoes off at school, at least in primary school.

pravit, in many Japanese schools (up to high school), kids still take off their "outdoor shoes" and wear "indoor shoes" (called uwabaki) in school buildings, too.
posted by misozaki at 1:41 AM on May 27, 2008 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Or I guess what I'm asking is: what makes darksasami feel like taking off your shoes is akin to taking off your pants? What exactly is it about bare feet that horrifies and amazes davidmsc?

This is a bit hand-wavey, but I think feet are seen as sort of icky parts of the body. There are lots of people who buy secondhand clothes, but few buy second-hand shoes, for example; it's almost like buying a secondhand swimsuit. Feet are also commonly neglected or ignored in grooming, and there's the holey sock debacle to be thought of. Yes, "ickiness", and with that thoughtful analysis, eponymouse exits the thread.

oh hey, misozaki, in my school (rural Scotland) we had outdoor shoes and indoor shoes too.
posted by eponymouse at 1:48 AM on May 27, 2008

Let me see if I've got this right. The question is: why do some people wear shoes in their own homes?

* Japanese: Yes, why?
* Canadian: I can't imagine.
* Californian: Why not?
* Australian: Boots are a pain to remove and put back on all the time.
* New Englander: Because inside the shoes... are FEET!
posted by yath at 2:00 AM on May 27, 2008 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I wear my shoes indoors because I do not have a compelling reason not to do so. To wit:

1) I do not believe that the soles of my shoes are are inherently filthy ... we have a doormat and use it, and generally walk on pavement. Obviously if my shoes are muddy, or if I have stepped in poo, that's a different matter entirely, and I remove them at the door. If we're talking about the few molecule-thick layer of dust etc. that might be clinging to them, however, it doesn't strike me as any worse than other dust that finds its way into the house. We have hardwood floors and oriental carpets, too -- not wall-to-wall cream pile or the like -- so there's much less concern about staining the floor surface.

2) I have kinda bad feet. I don't wear orthotic inserts like some above, but shoes offer arch support which I find more comfortable than walking around barefoot / in slippers.

3) It's convenient. Once I've got shoes on, it's a pain to take them off, only to put them back on again before going out. We do not have a shoe removal/donning/storage area at the entrance of our home, either, which obviously helps perpetuate the status quo.

Note that this behavior pertains very much to my current living situation, which is in a fairly clean city without unique staining properties. Portland doesn't have the iron-rich red dust that Hawai'i does, where I do remove my shoes when indoors. Nor does it suffer from omnipresent wind-blown desert grit (and general trash-on-the-ground) that you get in Egypt, where again, I always removed my shoes when in anyone's flat, my own included. And like I said, while it rains a lot here, I'm not an outdoorsman, so most of my walking is done on sidewalks. If I've been gardening in the muck or mowing or something, sure I'll remove my shoes, but that's a special case.

I do, of course, remove my shoes whenever in the home of someone for whom it is customary. Really I think I'd be far more amenable to it if I wore shoes that are easy to get into and out of, but I wear Oxfords almost exclusively. It'd be a lot easier if I were a backless loafer kind of guy.
posted by mumkin at 2:18 AM on May 27, 2008

Stav, I think darksammi was just highlighting that the contrast in American and Canadian attitudes towards shoes indoors corresponds to what they believe "hillbillys" do. No harm done?
posted by Jimbob at 2:50 AM on May 27, 2008

In a typical Korean house with ondol heating (underfloor heating) it would not make sense to wear shoes indoors. Korea is another culture where much of the indoor living was and still is done on the floor - sleeping on bedrolls which are folded and put away every morning, and sitting on thin floor cushions to eat. I should note that Western furniture such as beds and chairs are now widespread, but Koreans still like their heated floors in winter.

Now I'm curious if Koreans used to wear shoes indoors before the widespread adoption of ondol.
posted by needled at 3:16 AM on May 27, 2008

I'm American by birth, British by choice, and I never wear shoes indoors. I don't even like to wear shoes in the office...

p.s. You know how people are all about selling you dozens of cleaning products to get rid of 'bad bacteria', etc? Balderdash. Sales tactics.

Apparently, removing your shoes and washing your hands every time you come home does 99% of the job.
posted by chuckdarwin at 3:49 AM on May 27, 2008

Best answer: My parents wouldn't let me come to the dinner table with bare feet. They actually made me go put shoes on before I could sit down. Because I was a teenager at the time, I pointed out that my sandals were basically a sole and two straps across the tops of my feet. That was enough, though, to placate them. Bare feet, I was told, were an insult to the institution of dinner.

There was something about shoes that made a person fully dressed and respectable. The only shoes that came off at the door were muddy or snowy boots.

Now my apartment has a small rug where shoes live, and we always take our shoes off at the door. Even though most people around here are shoes-in-the-house people, guests usually see our shoe pile and ask if they should take theirs off too. Shoes bring in dirt and make a lot of noise on the wooden floors.

(This is all in the northeast U.S.)
posted by bassjump at 4:21 AM on May 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: American Southeast here. Growing up, whenever we were about to leave the house to go somewhere my mother always said, "Get your shoes on." This has ingrained into me that I should always have my shoes on or I might get left. Some days, I'll have my shoes on in the house for hours after I get home from work.

It's kind of the sense that you always need to be ready to go somewhere and you don't want to spend the extra time getting ready to leave.
posted by bobber at 5:11 AM on May 27, 2008

Grew up in the midwest; wore shoes indoors often. Also, like bassjump, especially at dinner (my dad thought he was giving me a break, he had to wear a shirt and tie for dinner).

Now, we don't wear shoes in the house at all. Most of our guests will take their shoes off, but if they don't we aren't going to scold them. And yes, we assume everything 'outside' is filthy - in addition to doffing shoes we always wash our hands first thing when coming into the house. Of course, we live in the Bronx and my wife works in a hospital, so there is some reasoning behind this.

Our parents (New England and Midwest) probably think we're funny for taking off shoes in their houses (after I tracked mud around my inlaw's house once, my wife won't let me forget) but put up with our crazy hippy ways. It only ever bothers me if I've got a hole in my sock.

We have house slippers and guest slippers at home if anyone wants them.

Also, at home, we keep our shoes in a closet by the door. Maybe that makes it easier?
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 6:03 AM on May 27, 2008

Note that this behavior pertains very much to my current living situation, which is in a fairly clean city without unique staining properties.

In the U.S., I think this is an important point. Although I said upthread that it seems to me, and most people I know, that to require shoe-removal when entering one's home would seem overly prissy and not not very welcoming, I have visited a few homes where the specific conditions warranted it.

One situation was a townhouse where the parking lot seemed to always leave traces of asphalt on your shoes. By the time you entered, even after thorough use of the doormat, you were likley to leave traces of black. It may not show up right away, but the accumulation was unsightly and difficult to remove.

When asked to remove my shoes, and told why, I did not think it was an unreasonable request at all.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 6:16 AM on May 27, 2008

Without having read any of the answers: I invariably wear shoes indoors, because there's cat hair and tracked litter on my floors that has appeared during the day, and I don't want to step in it, or on the bread crumbs I left on the kitchen floor when making breakfast. I don't like slippers very much; they tend to feel slippery, if you'll pardon the expression. I'm also prone to stubbing my toes, and shoes provide some protection against that.

In snowy or rainy weather, I change shoes when I get into the house, but if the weather is fine I just keep the same shoes on all the time. I also very much dislike being asked to take off my shoes at someone else's house (not that I'm trying to say they don't have the right to do it. I don't even think it's rude -- I just dislike it.) I feel ridiculous getting all gussied up to go somewhere and then having to sit around in my socks, or in "guest slippers" or whatever. I feel like if you invite people to your house you have to take the dirt they drag in too. People are more important than floors.

From a cultural point of view, I grew up in VA, and we just wore shoes inside or didn't, just as we chose. It wasn't considered nice to put your feet on the couch while wearing shoes, or on the bedspread, but I never heard of the concept of not wearing shoes indoors until after I grew up.
posted by JanetLand at 6:23 AM on May 27, 2008

Or I guess what I'm asking is: what makes darksasami feel like taking off your shoes is akin to taking off your pants?

Cultural norms with a mix of personal preference. Why not take off your pants too; it's both comfy and cleaner.
posted by ersatz at 6:23 AM on May 27, 2008

Best answer: I initially wrote a much longer answer, but it's been eaten by the internet, so I'll just go with this: I'm Californian-American and we had no hard-and-fast rule--basically shoes on when it's cooler, shoes off when it's warmer.

I'm surprised no one else has really brought up the issue of having pets in the house (which is a particularly Anglo-American custom): they tend to shed and certainly don't wipe their feet ever--and if they do "clean" themselves, it's with saliva...yuck--so having pets around is going to mean your floors will be somewhat dirty no matter how much you clean, so wearing shoes is a good idea.
posted by kittyprecious at 6:56 AM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Have you people no children with Legos? One misstep in a household like that would cure you of any aversion to wearing shoes indoors.
posted by pjern at 7:09 AM on May 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

Top 10 6 Reasons I wear Shoes in My House:
1) Too lazy to remove them.
2) Can't find my flipflops or slippers
3) I'm busy running all over the house, and my feet hurt. Shoes help.
4) I forgot.
5) Someone visiting, creating the need for formality.
6) I'm trying to get out the door.

Couldn't think of 10 reasons! When I've been out for hours, my shoes are most likely to come off fast, as my feet want to be free. If they hurt bare, I will search for something to put on.

I was raised in southern Michigan. I would not take my shoes off at someone else's home unless invited, out of politeness. (I'm 51).

I had some repair men come to my home in Switzerland. They insisted on removing their shoes at the door! I found this insane, as I did not expect them in for long anyway. I was embarassed for them, actually. I don't know yet if there is a specific custom here, have only been in one home, and they were a British/Swiss mixed couple, across the hall...and I wore shoes, of course.

In my youth, I was at various times, homeless. My shoes were my most important possession. I would not allow them out of my sight unless I was extremely comfortable and trusting. One time, the Moonies were going to put me up for the night. When it came to where my shoes needed to be left at the entrance, I took my leave. I feared 'loosing' them in the community pile, and I was not part of that community.

The floor in my home in Switzerland is granite tiles. It is very hard, but it is heated.
posted by Goofyy at 7:22 AM on May 27, 2008

There's one episode of Sex and the City where Carrie goes to her neat-freak friend's baby shower and they make everyone take off their shoes. And of course Carrie balks: "This is an outfit!" But it's the house rules, and so she has to take off her $485 Manolos… which get stolen. The rest of the episode is about Carrie and her friend fighting over the missing shoes (and Carrie sulking about how no one ever buys her any presents because she isn't getting married or having babies, and a sideplot where Charlotte's husband sits naked on all their expensive furniture and she's grossed out).

I disagree with Carrie Bradshaw on almost everything, but I totally understand about the shoes. Some shoes, especially the kind that are $485 a pair, are impractical for just about everything except looking good and completing the outfit. Being asked to take off my shoes at someone's house – unless I knew them well – would be like being asked to wash off my makeup. Sure, they're not necessary, but the shoes are part of the look, sometimes the best part.

Once you're at your own home, however, the Impractical Shoes come off the moment you're in the door, because they hurt, and because you don't need to impress anyone there.

I understand wanting people to take their shoes off when they come in your house, but from my experience (growing up in the Southern US, living in the Midwest for about 10 years) it's the exception rather than the rule – though more common in snowy/muddy seasons. It seems, generally speaking, that people will take their shoes off in their own home, but not request it of visitors. Too impractical, too familiar. Taking off one's shoes implies that they're going to be hanging out at your place a good long time. And wearing the host's house slippers feels really weird to most Americans, because who knows who else's feet those have been on.

(Incidentally, I do know someone who frequently takes off her pants and her bra when she gets home from work, and lounges around in her shirt and underwear. I don't think she does that at friends' houses often, but it's possible.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:27 AM on May 27, 2008

I'm first-generation American, with two European parents. My mother (Icelandic) always wanted shoes off in the house, at least for family members, but would usually not request that guests take their shoes off unless they were coming in from inclement weather (we lived in Chicago). Household residents, however, NEVER got to wear their shoes inside. My father (hailing from Austria) always took his shoes off when he came home, but he also had a job at which he got dirty, and always took off his "work clothes" after work.

I hated having to take my shoes off as a kid, though whether this was because of inconvenience or because I was a kid and didn't want to do what my mom told me is up for debate. As an adult, I've assimilated to this attitude and can't stand wearing my shoes in my own home--I don't like the idea of tracking crud all over my house (esp. as I don't like to clean, and don't see the point in making more work for myself). I prefer going barefoot when I'm in my own home, but have adapted to wearing sandals since getting a cat who REALLY likes tracking litter about. If I wear footwear in my own home, it's always designated indoor-only, exception being if I forget something and run in quickly to grab it. I used to cohabitate with someone who wasn't much for taking his shoes off indoors, and it always irritated me to have chunks of dirt or rocks stick to my feet from the carpet because he wanted to clomp about the apartment in combat boots.

When I've visited family in Iceland, we ALWAYS take our shoes off. There's usually an entry in the house that has a big pile of shoes living in it. People go sock-footed or wear "houseshoes", usually some manner of slipper or sandal. I never asked, as it started when I was young enough to just do it without thinking, but it now seems rude to (in Iceland) enter someone else's home and track the outside dirt all over their clean home. So, pretty similar to what's been said about Scandinavian/Japanese culture upthread. I'm currently living in Romania, and they're big on the houseshoes thing too--every house has a few pairs of papuci (slippers) lying about. The difference here is that people FLIP OUT if you go barefoot; they think you'll get sick.

When in other peoples' houses, I generally either do what is the norm for that place or what is requested. My personal default is to take them off, barring special cases (summer+sandals=dirty bare feet), as I feel it's more respectful of the other person's home to leave my outdoor shoes at the door. If uncertain I'll usually ask, "should I take my shoes off?", or follow the lead of the resident. I find it a little annoying when people don't take the same approach when visiting my home (especially here, where the streets are full of horse crap), but remind myself that in the grand scheme it's just not a huge deal.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 7:36 AM on May 27, 2008

Texas data point: We almost always kept our shoes on in the house.

Austria data point: We almost always take off our shoes upon entering the house.

It took awhile, but I've gotten used to the "shoes off" mode. We have a couple of pairs of house slippers. I had some foot odor problems when I first got here, and felt very uncomfortable about taking my shoes off in the presence of other people. Over time, however, the odor problem cleared up completely. I can't say for sure, but I imagine it has something to do with the fact that my feet are aired out more often, since they're not in shoes when I'm indoors.

Another bonus is that you track less dirt and grime into the house. Keeps the floors much cleaner. I'm a barefoot convert...
posted by syzygy at 8:19 AM on May 27, 2008

I'll throw some more data out there.

I spent the first 10 years of my life living in a town about 45 minutes outside of Philadelphia, PA. As far as I can remember, my friends and I always left our shoes on in our houses. I don’t remember what we did during the winter with our boots but I assume we took the boots off with the rest of our snow gear.

We moved up to Vermont and everyone in our neighborhood took off their shoes in the house. This struck me as being very unusual.

Now, I take my shoes off when I come home and I don’t really care what my friends do when they come over but most of them generally take their shoes off as well. If I go somewhere I do what my host does…if they aren’t wearing shoes, I take mine off as well.
posted by Diskeater at 8:25 AM on May 27, 2008

Southeastern US, here. Growing up, the only households where shoes were removed at the door were Asian families. My grandmother had white carpet everywhere and we were absolutely expected to keep our shoes on at all times in her home and wipe them well on the doormat before entering. At our own home, we frequently went barefoot, indoors and out, because it's just more comfortable to have naked feet than to have to contain and restrict them in shoes.

Now, my kids visit nouveau riche families with carpets that apparently require protection from wear and tear and they're expected to take off their shoes at the door there, and these same kids generally leave a messy jumble of shoes in my kitchen when they come in my house. To me, taking off your shoes is equal to making yourself at home, and it's quite surprising to have anyone take off their shoes when we've barely met and they're certainly not adopted family status yet. I love going shoeless, but that does strike me as imposing informality, a degree of over-familiarity. The idea of wearing shoes from some communal shoe-pool is disgusting. I'd rather walk through steaming dog poo barefoot than wear someone else's shoes.

I dated someone for a while (a Coloradan) who found feet absolutely filty, and when we dated, I could get away with taking off my shoes after sitting down as long as my feet didn't touch the floor, or in bed or in the shower. She literally stepped out of the shower into shoes every day. It was bizarre to me.

All that said, if someone will replace the carpet in my house that's been through who knows how many families before mine and teach my dog to put on and take off shoes at the door so he doesn't track in the red clay multiple times a day, I'll consider setting up a shoe rack in the carport and having a shoeless house.
posted by notashroom at 8:52 AM on May 27, 2008

Chilean, people here leave their shoes on until bedtime mostly.

Me personally, I go barefoot at home 24/7 in warm weather. Use to go barefoot in- and out-doors (including on the bus, at the mall, taking and teaching classes, in St. Peter's in Rome, etc.), but that was just my wanna-be-hippism expressing itself.
posted by signal at 9:10 AM on May 27, 2008

Another data point from Canada:

I grew up just outside of Vancouver, BC. On my mother's side of the family (Chinese), we always took off our shoes before going in the house. On my dad's side of the family (English), some relatives didn't mind if we kept them on. Most of my friends' houses were shoes-off, with some exceptions.

I always take my shoes off when I'm in my own house. I find it more comfortable, I grew up doing it, and where I live now (northern BC) there's usually too much snow in winter months and mud in the spring to keep things clean wearing shoes.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:30 AM on May 27, 2008

"Being asked to take off my shoes at someone's house – unless I knew them well – would be like being asked to wash off my makeup. Sure, they're not necessary, but the shoes are part of the look, sometimes the best part."

Several people have commented that they view being asked to take shoes off as weird/icky/rude/tacky/etc. Around here, western Canada, people don't ask you to take your shoes off. You just do it if you see a shoe rack at the door or if your host answers the door in socks or slippers.
posted by Mitheral at 9:33 AM on May 27, 2008

I leave mine on because I'm in and out of the house so frequently with the dogs that it's just a hassle to take off/put on shoes every 20 minutes.
posted by pieoverdone at 9:33 AM on May 27, 2008

Also, there are three dogs and hardwood throughout the house. Looking through some of these answers some of you probably think it's filthy and uncivilized, but that's why god made Swiffers and oil soap.
posted by pieoverdone at 9:38 AM on May 27, 2008

Doc quoted in NYT believes people do take them off (from an article about the dangers of going barefoot outside):

Dr. Jessica Sessions, a pediatrician at the William F. Ryan Community Health Center on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, said she hated to be a spoilsport, but nonetheless recommended that her patients wear shoes outdoors. “At least if it’s on your shoe, you take your shoes off at the door,” she said. “If it’s on your feet, you bring it all into the apartment.”
posted by Pax at 9:57 AM on May 27, 2008

Best answer: Several years ago I almost always walked around with no shoes on. Then twice in the same year I broke 2 toes by walking into things. I now only go shoeless when I sleep. Broken toes are hurty.
posted by ducktape at 10:27 AM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yath's summary covers my Canadian view point exactly. I cannot imagine wearing shoes indoors. I have very rarely (I'd be able to count occassions on one hand) encountered a situation where you didn't automatically take your shoes off at the door. It's not that people ask you to do so here, it's just what you do.

In fact I've had people specifically tell me I can keep my shoes on -- which I do, because obviously they have a reason for saying so -- and it just feels really wrong.

Interesting/weird points -- I was recently on a tour of Italy, and my roommate and I (both Canadian) even took our shoes off when we came into the hotel room. Unless it was for less than a minute. And I've definitely had repair people take their shoes off -- though it's not nearly as common since they're generally going into the rougher areas of the house.

It's a small cultural thing, but I truly thought it was universal. It wasn't until I saw this thread that I even realized not everyone takes their shoes off at the door.
posted by aclevername at 12:25 PM on May 27, 2008

It's funny here in Canada: We never wear shoes in our own homes, but if we have company over, we're too polite to ask them to take their shoes off. They will offer to do it, but we will insist that, "No, it's fine, really," even though it So. Totally. Isn't.

Note to visiting Yanks: "Keep your shoes on," is Canadian for, "Take those fucking things off now."
posted by Sys Rq at 12:55 PM on May 27, 2008 [11 favorites]

I'm from a very dry, warm part of Canada (so no snow issues), and I also spent ten year in Japan. We were taught never to wear shoes in the house growing up in Victoria, and during my time in Japan I learned this is the worst thing one could possibly do, even worse than getting drunk at a party and commenting on bulges in pants, plump bottoms, full blouses. Heh.

So, even when hosts urge me to leave me shoes on, I will take them off. My extended family in Canada has close connections with Japan, but when visitors from Japan come to my parents' house, my mother will insist that they leave their shoes on.

Which is probably a good thing, because shoeless guests in Japan are always offered slippers, and I've never come across any household in Canada with "guest slippers."
posted by KokuRyu at 1:24 PM on May 27, 2008

I've never come across any household in Canada with "guest slippers."

After reading this thread I have come to the conclusion that I am the only person on Earth who wears socks. I understand that some people like to wear their shoes all the time, but it seems like there's this false dichotomy between being shod or barefoot. Socks, people. They're like the house slippers you always have on. Or is being in stocking feet somehow more unbearable then being unshod in general?
posted by GuyZero at 2:20 PM on May 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

By now, I'm sure this whole conversation is over. But I'm wondering to myself now about the historical start of taking *off* your shoes in East Asia. Specifically, I'm thinking of China. I do most of my work on gender in imperial China, so I'm thinking of boundfooted women, who don't leave the house much, but would (I'd imagine), not change their shoes when they do. Normally elites would wander about in sedans, but with the footwear of the time being more slipper-like than hard rubber-soles - would they take off their shoes? This might stand for men as well, as footwear in times past was a different sort than you'd get in post 50s China.

So maybe this isn't something intrinsic to "Chinese culture" but rather something that's changed, along with fashions? As the shoes have gotten harder, heeled, and less like bare feet in general, people have come to start taking them off?
posted by Herman Hermanson at 2:46 PM on May 27, 2008

it seems like there's this false dichotomy between being shod or barefoot. Socks, people. They're like the house slippers you always have on.

I don't have carpeted floors. Socks are too slip-and-slidery.
posted by JanetLand at 2:53 PM on May 27, 2008

Also socks don't keep me from stubbing my toes.
posted by JanetLand at 2:54 PM on May 27, 2008

I'll check in as a West Canuck who has always taken shoes off when inside (but do wear slippers). And I don't recall being in many homes where shoes-on was the norm.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:44 PM on May 27, 2008

I have observed this, visiting my Chinese-American relatives; we always take our shoes off, and have learned to not pack shoes with too many laces when we visit them. As we have to fly, this also expedites passing through airport security.

Here, on the East Coast, among non-Asians, I have only noticed the taking off of shoes when people want to keep their carpets or floors clean. At a new-house party (for a house being put on the market, not yet sold) the realtors made everyone take their shoes off at the door so as not to scuff the lovely new wooden floors. But this was rather conspicuous, since they also provided a box of those paper slippers surgeons wear.
posted by bad grammar at 6:59 PM on May 27, 2008

I wear my shoes in the house for two reasons: first, my feet get cold and socks sometimes don't cut it (and my puppy eats my slippers if I leave them out, but not my shoes, so the shoes are always more accessible). Second, I have a brittle bone disease and it's kind of dangerous not having some kind of protection. I've broken feet from accidentally kicking some thing in my bare feet and slipping in socks, so shoes it is.

That being said, I always try to offer to take my shoes off in someone else's house first.
posted by lilac girl at 7:18 PM on May 27, 2008

The contrast between Canadian and America attitudes IS pretty striking. As an Ontarian, my shoes are off as soon as I get home because I usually walk around my house naked and wearing shoes when you are naked it strange. All my shoes are slip-ons; my co-workers often walk barefoot in the non-public area of our office. My parents are British and originally wore shoes in the house but became Canadianised to taking them off very quickly. I always had "indoor shoes" at school (and my children do too, if the shoes are forgotten they will go barefoot or wear socks, they would never wear outdoor shoes in the classroom).

Ontario was settled by a lot of Scots, I believe moreso than the US, would that be a possible factor? I believe we were several decades behind the US in becoming urbanised, so the habit of not bringing in the barnyard (and trekking out to the outhouse) is still a recent memory. We have pets here, they have to take their wellies off when they come inside too.
posted by saucysault at 7:20 PM on May 27, 2008

GuyZero said "After reading this thread I have come to the conclusion that I am the only person on Earth who wears socks.

Nah. I'm all about socks. Wearin' them right now.
posted by loiseau at 9:02 PM on May 27, 2008

Best answer: I'm sure someone else has expressed this in a different way, but I just want to point out:

In most parts of America, the idea of taking off your shoes simply because you have entered your own home is weird. The idea of taking off your shoes in someone else's home is doubly weird.

In Egypt, many young women cover their entire heads and neck as a sign of modesty. They also may wear gloves or other clothing that covers up much of their visible skin. These same young women nonetheless wear makeup and tight fitting clothes. They don't see anything weird in this, nor do they find it strange that every day they have to go through the ritual of wrapping a scarf over their head and around their neck, even on the hottest of days, simply to cover a part of their body that, while certainly interesting, is not necessarily the part of the body that men are apt to ogle.

My point? Different societies have different attitudes about what they wear and how they wear it.

You ask why people don't take off their shoes. The fact is, I enjoy having my shoes off nearly as much as my shoes on, hardwood floors don't hurt my bare feet, it's not too cold for just socks, and I lose socks too regularly to be worried about them being worn thin. So as far as I'm concerned, these reasons, as given by some above, may be the reason that they themselves give for wearing shoes indoors, but I don't think that's why there's a demographic of indoor shoe wearing.

I'm pretty sure this is it: I leave my shoes on when I go through the door because it doesn't occur to me that the doorway of my house is a place where I should make a decision about whether to continue wearing my shoes or not. And if I do leave them on, then I just might decide to lean back on my bed for a nap without bothering to take them off. Again, I'm making no conscious decision to keep my shoes on; I just haven't made a decision to take them off.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:42 PM on May 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

I'd just like to also add, having read all of the comments now, that it seems like a majority of people who take shoes off inside view them as dirty or icky (justly or unjustly). Since a few "shoes-on" advocates have mentioned how they find bare feet icky, I'd just like the reaffirm that for most shoe-onners, wearing shoes inside has nothing to do with being anti-barefoot. It's just that they do not, in any way, consider wearing shoes inside to be wrong. In fact, I am befuddled by the attitude of the shoe-offers, as if wearing shoes inside were akin to playing with one's feces or something. I'm not saying having that attitude is wrong; I'm just saying the fact that I find it hard to understand demonstrates the gulf between the two opposite attitudes.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:30 PM on May 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

We built a house with concrete floors (for radiant heat system) in the U.S. Midwest. The floor is plain ol' gray concrete with a clear sealer. It's pretty darn obvious that it's concrete. I chuckle every time guests come over and the first thing they want to do is take their shoes off. I grew up in the Midwest and I sure as heck don't remember adults taking their shoes off 30-40 years ago; we kids did, that's for sure - because Mom told us to.

I think it's a generational thing (at least here in the U.S.). How it came to be so ingrained in such a short period of time I have no idea - I mean, come on, walking around with no shoes on bare, hard concrete? That's a pretty strong social norm to put up with.

Me, the master of this concrete domain? I keep mine on.
posted by webhund at 10:51 PM on May 27, 2008

I may or may not wear shoes in my own home. I don't really think about it in terms of being more or less comfortable in bare feet. If I get home from work and want to be comfortable, I'll change into entirely different clothes, which may or may not include shoes. In summer, probably not. In winter, probably yes.

To me, your question seems backward. If you're going to take your shoes off to be comfortable, you might as well change the rest of your clothes to be comfortable as well. Then again, this is Australia: we usually don't need to dress in layers.

On the weekends, if comfort is uppermost on my list of priorities, I may stay in my pyjamas all day, possibly with slippers. I don't wear slippers unless it's really cold. Slippers seem more unhygienic to me than either bare feet or shoes, to the point where I throw them in the wash with some disinfectant every few weeks or so. I won't wear socks by themselves either - they slide on the polished floorboards, and tend to gather cat hair.

I have never, to my knowledge, come home from work and taken off only my shoes and socks, and spent the evening like that. For some reason that seems slovenly to me. I know it's irrational, but if you're going to be informal, be really informal. Don't just kick off your shoes and unbuckle your belt and veg out on the sofa in your socks and drill pants all evening like Al Bundy.

This is a really interesting question, with lots of interesting answers. Thanks, pravit.
posted by Ritchie at 7:24 AM on May 28, 2008

Question for the shoes-off folks: say you're at the door of your house, ready to leave for the day, and you've put on and tied your shoes. You're in a hurry because you're running late. All of a sudden, you realize that you left an important item that you're going to need today in your bedroom. Do you take your shoes off again to run to your bedroom to get the item, even though that would mean wasting valuable time taking them off and putting them back on again? Is the idea of walking in your house in shoes so strange to you that you would take the time to take your shoes off to go to another room of your house, even if it would make you later?

(I'm curious about this, because this exact thing happened to me this morning, and I thought of this question as I ran to my bedroom, shoes on, to grab my cell phone from my night table. I kept thinking about whether other people whose sensibilities differ from mine in this small way would have taken the time to take off their shoes and then put them back on again. It was a new outlook on the world for me.)
posted by decathecting at 8:53 AM on May 28, 2008

deca: Check soles for dirt, etc., then, if they're clean, leave them on, be quick, and feel devilishly guilty.

Also, on the socks vs. bare feet: Socks, preferably, but really just whatever's under the shoe. No one would ever take off their socks at someone else's door.

It has been my observation that young Canadian boys tend to have very holey socks resulting from playing hockey in unfinished basements.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:21 AM on May 28, 2008

Response by poster: Do you take your shoes off again to run to your bedroom to get the item, even though that would mean wasting valuable time taking them off and putting them back on again?

I usually run in to get it with my shoes on, and it's worth mentioning that I don't take off my shoes automatically when I cross the threshold - they usually come off by the time I get to the bedroom and have decided I don't need to go out again. I usually walk around the tile sections of my house with shoes on without any qualms. It's just that I couldn't imagine spending an entire day walking around my house in shoes if I wasn't going to go out anywhere.
posted by pravit at 9:46 AM on May 28, 2008

Question for the shoes-off folks...

I run upstairs with my shoes on and my wife yells at me for going through the house with shoes on. But sometimes I will take them off. Really, it only takes a minute, tops, to get your shoes off and back on. It's just not that big a deal.
posted by GuyZero at 10:14 AM on May 28, 2008

In my parents' house, it's generally fine to leave your shoes on unless they are super muddy. The cultural background is parents grew up in Utah and Kansas, raised me in Washington State. I suspect the practical reason is to be able to get in and out easily (ironic, then, that it invariably takes ten minutes of screwing aroung for our family to get out the door), and perhaps also that it's just kind of perpetually cold in that house and/or that there's not a great place to put them. But it wasn't just us; I can think of about one friend's house I was ever at that required shoes off at the door. So in childhood I just got used to having shoes on all day and not thinking about it (and, unfortunately, also got used to having incurable athlete's foot from age 9 until I reconsidered the whole business aged 18).

Living in Ukraine, the only reason you would ever leave their shoes on inside a home is if you were visiting, and the host didn't have house-slippers to offer you and was worried that you'd catch a chill from their floor (some worried even in shirt-sleeve weather). In Taiwan, shoes off was totally universal, except occasionally for bathroom sandals (because the bathroom is a 'dirty' area like the street). In the States I have been genuinely dumbfounded to meet people who keep their shoes on because they're afraid of their own smell—neither of those other cultures is anywhere near as prissy about the smells of a living human, and taking them off helps prevent odor anyway.

Nowadays, I'll leave my shoes on at someone's place if I don't know them at all and don't expect to, if I expect the visit to be really short (short enough not to sit down for), or if they have tile in the living room. Or if I'm really tired and they don't seem to care and they don't have a shoehorn. And in my own home depending on the temperature I wear moccasins (which rarely venture outside) or house sandals (which don't), possibly with socks, but if there's time to shut the door, there's time to pull off my shoes. Guests do as they please.
posted by eritain at 1:09 PM on May 28, 2008

Oh, and regarding house slippers/sandals: Most Ukrainians either do have a pair or two for guests, or feel embarrassed not to; most Taiwanese I met don't have them to offer and don't care. No one carries them around. Besides, most Taiwanese seemed to pretty cool about sitting on the floor, even tile, so being barefoot or in socks on it isn't a big deal—whereas seating someone on the floor would horrify your average Ukrainian housewife, even on a rug atop the parquet. So there are different kinds of shoes-off, too.
posted by eritain at 1:26 PM on May 28, 2008

Do you take your shoes off again to run to your bedroom to get the item, even though that would mean wasting valuable time taking them off and putting them back on again? Is the idea of walking in your house in shoes so strange to you that you would take the time to take your shoes off to go to another room of your house, even if it would make you later?

Yes, of course. But there's nothing 'strange' about the idea of wearing street shoes inside. It just seems filthy. Again, in Korea, that is a function of public-space throat oyster propagation, probably. Sorry, AskMe is not for idle chatter, I know.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:36 PM on May 28, 2008

God, this thread has gone on for days. This is about as long as any thread that talks about names or name changing.

I wear shoes in my house if I plan on going out again later that day. Shoes come off IF I'M NOT LEAVING THE HOUSE ANY MORE. I don't want to keep putting them back off and on, it's silly and impractical. Also, for chrissake, there's mats for feet to be wiped on if you're freaked about that. Shoes off means I'm home, in MY house. If I have to have them off at someone else's house, it's flipping weird. If someone insisted on taking theirs off at my house, I'd stare at them funny.

I have to say that I really hate people telling me to "take your shoes off and be comfortable" (they ALWAYS add "and be comfortable" to that- I will second this remark about pants). I'm not comfortable wobbling around at your front door flamingo-style trying to take shoes off, tripping through the pile of shoes to come into your house, sitting around smelling the stinky sock feet of everyone else whose shoes are off, or taking off my shoes like I live there and am not going home in 2 hours.

I will say that this makes more sense to do if one lives in Hawaii or anywhere where it's so hot y'all only have sandals on anyway. Or possibly in snowy climes, but I avoid those so I have no idea on the logic.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:36 PM on May 28, 2008

Here's another point about regionalism and architecture influencing this. Our last house, in Galveston, Texas, had hardwood floors and no subfloor, built on a pier-and-beam foundation. There were a few places where you could look down at the floor closely and see the dirt below the house. I especially remember when we had to pull out the dishwasher for some reason and we discovered that whoever had installed it had put a hole about 6x8 inches underneath, and we could see the dirt down below. (Yes, we patched the floor) It was a pretty dusty house, especially on the ground floor, and we had our share of bugs, too.

We asked around and were told that this was not unusual for older Gulf Coast houses, and that it provided better air flow and cooling when these places were built, way back before air conditioning was invented. Some of the old historic homes have been retrofitted and better sealed than ours was, but we had a pretty good incentive to keep wearing something on our feet. Generally, unless we'd been stomping in mud, shoes were not any dirtier than the floor itself!

Having said that, my feet tend to be hot; sometimes I stick them out from under the covers in bed at night. In the hot humid Texas summer, I might change to sandals but in that house, at least, I'd usually keep something on my feet. These days, living just outside Houston, and back when I was growing up in San Antonio, it's more of a "what makes me comfortable" thing. I take my shoes off if I think about it, and if it makes me feel more comfortable, or I keep them on if I don't think about. Yesterday was a hot day, and I took my shoes off when I came into my air-conditioned house because I felt hot and I thought it would help me cool down. Today is cooler, and I've been keeping my shoes on all day long.

When I was a little kid and Air Force brat, my family lived in Japan and Guam and all over the country. We were well aware of different customs and cultural norms, and for ourselves we picked and chose what we wanted to do. My mom usually kept her shoes on until she kicked them off for comfort when she was reading in her chair in the evening. I can think of so many times when I was getting ready to leave the house and I had to stop and think, "Wait, where did leave my shoes...?" As often as not, wherever I felt like taking them off. We weren't sticklers for putting things away, usually too busy reading while absent-mindedly losing track of shoes, socks, and other impedimenta.

But Candians? Shoeless inside? Who knew!
posted by Robert Angelo at 2:36 PM on May 28, 2008

I live in the Southwest and became accustomed to taking off my shoes to keep the carpet clean. When we pulled out the carpet, we learned that walking barefoot on concrete and tile is painful. So we covered much of the floor with rubber. It's easy on the feet, doesn't transmit the cold from the concrete and you can clean with a broom, vacuum, blower or bleach. Plus guests can wear shoes or not.
posted by Bitstop at 2:46 PM on May 28, 2008

Walking barefoot (or in my case, sock-footed) on tile is painful? I must have weird arches, because I've lived in houses with hardwood and tile my whole life and never thought it painful.

The thing about footsmell is, if you leave your shoes on all the time you create the stench. If your feet aren't crammed into shoes all day every day you don't have anything to hide.

I'm fascinated by the revelations in this thread. Now I want to start the one to find out if many Americans really do use paper plates all the time like I've seen on TV.
posted by loiseau at 3:53 PM on May 28, 2008

Walking barefoot (or in my case, sock-footed) on tile is painful? I must have weird arches, because I've lived in houses with hardwood and tile my whole life and never thought it painful.

Yeah - it must be Canadian SUPERFEET. Standing in one spot for several hours on concrete can be uncomfortable, but walking around the house? I don't find it uncomfortable. And most people I know tend to sit around the house as opposed to standing most of the time. And as for smell... yeah. I've never smelled anyone's feet while visiting or being visited.

Now I want to start the one to find out if many Americans really do use paper plates all the time like I've seen on TV.

I didn't want to bring it up, but it is sort of a semi-known fact (in Ontario) that a lot of Americans don't take their shoes off in the house. And, no offense, but that's exactly how everyone I know thinks of it. It's like eating off paper plates all the time; it's déclassé. And I am surprised and amused by the fact that so many people seem to feel the same way about taking them off. Especially since there seem to be no real rhyme or reason for either position.

Anyway, as my far-too-frequent comments reveal, this is absolutely fascinating for me as well. I can hardly wait to annoy my American neighbours by asking them to take their shoes off in my house.
posted by GuyZero at 4:18 PM on May 28, 2008

loiseau, walking barefoot didn't used to be painful for me, and it still feels much more natural to go unshod in the house. But I developed a bad case of plantar fasciitis years ago (exacerbated by walking up and down Manhattan while wearing flimsy sandals on vacation), and it tends to recur if I'm not careful about protecting my feet. It sucks.
posted by maudlin at 4:59 PM on May 28, 2008

Here is my shoe-biography.

I am n-th generation American. Both of my parents' families are from NYC/NJ. I was born in the Midwest, moved to the Northeast (NJ) around 1st grade. Mother was Irish-German (definitely NOT Anglo-Protestant; polar opposite), and my father was African-American.

I don't remember any firm shoe rules when I was younger. The first time I can remember rules regarding shoes was when my parents divorced and my single mother moved into the crappy apartment that would be our prison for almost a decade. We learned to wear shoes indoors (either flip-flops or sandals, and slippers in the winter) because the floors were constantly throwing up splinters. In the winter, you took your shoes off outside the door, on a doormat in the hallway (there were only three families inclusive in the building; each on their own floor. No worries about theft). Other times, my mother preferred the mat, but it was okay to walk to the bedroom to remove your shoes and put on your inside shoes. Inside shoes are NEVER to be worn outside (I still follow this rule to this day; with a very rare exception at the beginning of this week because I couldn't find my outdoor sandals to retrieve a boot I'd been waterproofing from the garage--and believe me, I was grumbling the whole way). I was also constantly in trouble for wearing my outdoor shoes in the bathroom (but who wants to unlace hightops/boots when you desperately need to pee? And I never wore low-top sneakers--I need the ankle support--and open-toed shoes outdoors is akin to barbarism), which I didn't have a problem with, because I couldn't see the "dirt" that my mom complained I was tracking in.

As such, I have indoor shoes I keep in my study/den/office. I take my boots (very rarely do I wear non-boot shoes since high school, thanks to a) grunge b) the decline of the high-top and c) the rise of sneaker prices (the same money on a boot lasts 3-4 years vs. 1, if you were lucky)) off wherever I feel like (usually the first place there is to sit down on my way in) and walk in my socks until I find my indoor shoes. Socks come off, indoor shoes go on. Never am I barefoot except in bed or shower. This comes from a childhood of non-stop splinters (sometimes they gotcha anyway, shoes or no), but just seems like a good idea. We have a mix of wood/linoleum/carpet in our new apartment, but carpet is still alien to me. The only other time I will go barefoot is if I am sneaking across a golf course, because golf courses have the BEST grass for toes to squeeze sooo soft. Or if I'm at a swimming pool (sandals come on unless I'm back in the water in ~30s) or wading through a creek. I avoid beaches (ugh, sand).

I am completely unable to fathom my (New Englander) girlfriend's shoe habits. It seems completely random to me. She seems like she'd go barefoot all the time if she could. She wears sandals in the winter. She goes barefoot outdoors, including on pavement (again, I only go barefoot outdoors on grass). She sometimes wears shoes indoors. She frequently has no idea where her shoes are, whereas I have specific places (2 or 3) where mine usually are. She maybe owns five socks total, and I don't know that I've ever seen her wearing stockings/hose. I have to give her advance notice if we're going somewhere or doing something that requires boots or any kind of close-toed shoes (where I am the exact opposite; I never know where my open-toed outdoor shoes are because I never wear them except when swimming is almost certain).

I take my shoes off when I get to work because I wear motorcycle boots. I have an older pair of boots I keep under my desk that I switch into at the office. I don't always lace them up, because I like to rub my feet. Despite my shoe-wearingness, I see shoes as unnatural and uncomfortable, so I like to be able to stretch them. But they will be shod if I'm walking anywhere. I have a boss who also rides and who used to swap out of his moto boots for bunny slippers for around the office wear. I'm not bold enough or senior enough to try that yet. But I'd totally be down for getting a pair of Bruce-Lee-style kung-fu shoes for around the office. Something I can wear if I want to walk a mile or so to lunch, but still be comfy in under my desk.

I happen to like my feet. I wouldn't call them my most attractive part, but they're certainly the most normal and shapely part of my body (followed closely by my hands, which are neither too stubby nor too dainty), so I have no reservations about others seeing them. I have known people who will wear watershoes when swimming because they absolutely will not show their feet in public ("My feet are hideous."). That is not me.
posted by Eideteker at 9:02 AM on May 29, 2008

There was never any tradition of taking off shoes when coming into our house when I was younger (upper Midwest U.S.); I had friends whose families asked that no one wear shoes in their home, but I always regarded this as a weird preference. Being older now, I understand the benefits of taking them off at the door (and asking others to do so).

But I have always hated going barefoot. Hated it. I went to an artsy preschool where we were required to take off our shoes and socks while hanging up our coats every morning (something about bare feet being more freeing and natural to children). I used to cry and throw tantrums. It just doesn't feel good to me. My feet get cold and I feel every pebble, edge of carpet, etc. as pure pain. (Picture all those barefoot preschoolers accidentally stepping on Legos regularly. We were quite the weepy preschool.)

Of course it's a cycle: if you always wear shoes and socks, your feet have more & more tender skin and are always sensitive, having no chance to toughen up and develop calluses. It's only recently I've been able to convince myself to try wearing certain shoes without socks. I can't imagine I'll ever get myself to let my feet toughen up.

I do go barefoot into swimming pools/lakes, and of course showers, though I wear flip-flops in locker room showers for cleanliness. Additionally, I can tell you this: never, ever go barefoot into the Dead Sea if you are a shoes-and-socks type of person. The mineral crystals will give you the kind of pain no person should have to feel!
posted by gillyflower at 9:00 AM on May 30, 2008

As per this article in the NY Times, shoes were a status symbol for a very long time. I have a feeling that many of the feelings that people have towards shoes are a holdover from this status-symbol mentality. After visiting the Appalachian South, I can tell you that there are some places where any shoes at all are still a luxury item... Though over the last twenty years, with the advent of Nike's bling-shoes, they're still a symbol of status.

Personally, I go barefoot as often as possible. I'm known for being barefoot at work, and the only time I put shoes on at home is when I'm leaving my property, or it's snowing. Both of my parents have terrible feet, they wear shoe inserts, and have said that their feet have always been terrible. I have inherited my dad's extremely broad feet (I remember getting fitted for formal shoes once, and the salesman said it was as if I had an extra toe), and my mother's flat feet. Since I've found a job where I can actually go barefoot, my foot pain has disappeared... I haven't worn an arch support in years, and my feet are so flat that my footprint is a square with five dots, but no more foot pain.

Anyways, back to the real comment. You would not believe the comments I get about my barefeet. The most common one is "Can't you afford shoes?" (or when I'm in my $5 flip-flops, "Can't you afford decent shoes")... which is obviously meant as a disparaging remark, suggesting that I'm poor. One of my coworkers won't talk to me unless I have my shoes on... so it's interesting when she wants to ask me a favor.

I've been known to walk around barefoot around town, but after several incidents with broken glass (luckily I didn't step on it, but I did have to walk around two blocks to get to a shop 20 meters away), I always wear my flip-flops.
posted by hatsix at 12:55 PM on June 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Very interesting.

There was a piece in The Week magazine talking about how biologically inappropriate most shoes are.

I am in a field that requires me to stand for 12 hours or more at a time with no breaks of any kind (health care) and thus suffer from nearly constant foot discomfort. I know going shoeless would probably feel better, once I get home, and yet I still don't do it-it's that psychological thing so many commenters have mentioned. Once I take off my shoes and change into shorts, I'm home, and it would take a serious crisis to get me to go out again.
posted by spudrph at 1:22 PM on June 4, 2008

i grew up in canada and the shoes always came off inside. it's so ingrained that, now that i'm living in the USA, i've more than once gone over to someone's house and automatically ditched my shoes at the door only to notice, halfway through dinner that i'm the only one in socks.

i've tried to make more of a conscious switch to noting whether or not my host is wearing shoes inside or not but, even when they are, i always ask "should I take my shoes off?"

i just can't quite wrap my head around the idea of assuming i should leave them on.
posted by 256 at 1:26 PM on June 10, 2008

I can't believe I found this thread so late ... great discussion!

I am a barefoot person. I am often barefoot outside -- always barefoot indoors (and have no problem dodging the odd centipede/cockroach, etc.). But, barefoot is what we do in Hawai'i. We have a common joke here: Go to a big party and leave early so you can go home with a new pair of slippers (Carrie of Sex and the City would be horrified?)

I love my fat, hard-soled Hawaiian feet. One of the saddest times in my life was when I was living in Seattle for a few years and was horrified to see that my foot calluses were going soft .... how would I walk on the reefs??!!
posted by Surfurrus at 2:27 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

I work at home, and I spend all day putting on and taking off my sandals. I need to get new sandals or thoroughly wash my floors.
posted by autodidact at 7:24 PM on June 20, 2008

I had a friend who seemed to delay putting his shoes back on as a passive-agressive way to extend his visit at my house or apartment. He could stand there for like fifteen minutes with one shoe on, chit-chatting.
posted by autodidact at 3:29 AM on June 28, 2008

whereas seating someone on the floor would horrify your average Ukrainian housewife

Good heavens, you can't sit on a cold Ukrainian floor - your ovaries might freeze.

Anyway, data point from the southern US here, I don't always wear shoes at home (but my feet tend to get cold so I like to wear socks), but we were definitely not raised to take our shoes off at the door, and like in bassjump's house, shoes were definitely required at the dinner table. I only ever saw the compulsory shoes-off thing at friends' houses if they had very uptight mothers and/or white carpets.

Having read this thread, it now makes sense that my family got a lot of weird looks from the folks who rented us rooms for a week in Quebec...
posted by naoko at 9:47 PM on July 7, 2008

Another Canadian, southern Ontarian here:

I honestly cannot remember the last time I visited someone's house and kept my shoes on. I am going to echo all the other Canadian mefi-ites and say that it actually feels WRONG to walk into someone's house with my shoes on, let alone my own.

As soon as I get home from work, shoes are off at the door. Hell, even if I'm running into the house for 20 seconds because I forgot something I'll take my shoes off before running inside.

I can't understand not being comfortable around the house without shoes on, and the idea of wearing shoes while lying down on a bed or relaxing on the couch seems so wrong to me I don't even know how to express it. If I saw someone doing it in my house I'd be shocked. Even when we've had semi-formal dinner affairs at coworkers homes, shoes off is the norm.

This all said, I ALWAYS wear socks indoors. I can tie my shoes in about 10 seconds, I don't see why having to put on your shoes is such an ordeal.
posted by smitt at 8:28 AM on July 8, 2008

Also, I'm just now remembering that in elementary school here in Ontario, it was very common to take off your boots/shoes before going into a classroom. You would be scolded for walking into class with your wet, snowy, or muddy shoes or boots.

We had little cubbys outside all of our classrooms to take off your boots, and you'd spend most of the day in class running around in your socks.
posted by smitt at 8:32 AM on July 8, 2008

American transplant to Beijing here...

Growing up in the midwest, we were a shoes-off household, although nobody freaked out if you wore them indoors to grab something. Most of my friends and neighbors were too, with a few exceptions, and I appreciated them for that. :) I always thought it was a stupid rule, more trouble than it was worth, because I'm pretty apathetic.

Fast forward to Beijing, and whereas I'd heard that you have to take off your shoes here, Asian, blah blah blah...NOT my experience. Some people care, some don't. My girlfriend and her family only speak Mandarin, so there's no "Western" influence to speak of, but they just don't care. Shoes on, shoes off, they're gonna clean the floor anyway, have a ball. There's even a bit of the "shoes are part of the outfit" consciousness among the upper classes here, and an unwillingness to take off shoes. The only really different thing I've noticed here is that almost every household keeps a supply of slippers (mostly shower shoes, actually) for guests who prefer them.
posted by saysthis at 8:46 PM on July 20, 2008

My grandmother would always insist on wearing footwear in the house. She was British, grew up in the last few years of British India: I suspect that wearing shoes distinguished oneself from the native Indians.
posted by alasdair at 9:08 AM on July 21, 2008

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