The Ethical Dilemma: If I Were In Your Shoes

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If I Were In Your Shoes: We have a no-shoes rule in our home. Everyone is expected to remove their shoes at the door when they come in. Although most people comply with it without a problem, every now and then someone just acts like they didn’t hear and keeps their shoes on. I haven’t made a big fuss, but I’m wondering if I should. It bothers me that they ignore our house rule, and it’s such a simple one at that.

—Sole Man

Dear Sole,

I suppose your question could be recast as, “Is it ethical for me to insist that my guests remove their shoes, or is it ethical for my guests to ignore my rule?” But this isn’t really (or shouldn’t be) about ethics as much as about your comfort versus your guests’. Although you have a right to enforce whatever rules you choose in your own home, you might want to temper that with consideration for your visitors’ preferences.

I too have had a no-shoes policy for as long as I can remember. I may have gotten the idea from Liberace, who reportedly had extravagant white carpet in his mansion that no one was permitted to walk on in their street shoes. The health-related aspects of having everyone remove their shoes were reinforced by living in Manhattan before pooper-scooper laws went into effect. Even with them in force, there are still more dubious globs and smudges on the sidewalks than anyone can invariably dodge. Particularly if you have small children crawling around, you don’t want people tracking stuff into your home. You may also have precious floors or rugs that you don’t want marred or soiled.

But I also relate to the many reasons why some people may not want to remove their footwear or explain their decision to keep their shoes on. Remember the Seinfeld episode where Frank Costanza alienated his girlfriend when he refused to remove his shoes in her home—because he was embarrassed about his foot odor problem? Many people, due to age or injury, find walking barefoot on hard floors very painful. Others may have diabetes or other medical conditions that make it critical to protect their feet from cuts or stubbed toes. Others have conditions like bunions, callouses, hammertoes, etc., which may cause them to want to keep their unappetizing tootsies under wraps for everyone’s benefit. And being barefoot is dangerous when someone drops a glass on the floor or if the athlete’s foot fungus is afoot. It may also be pure vanity for those whose killer shoes are an essential component of their outfit or whose hems would wipe the floor without the elevation of their heels.

One way to deal with reluctant shoe removers is to do what Liberace did: provide slippers for those who don’t want to go barefoot or risk slipping in socks. You can get a supply of those one-size-fit-most disposable or washable things like the ones hospitals, hotels, and airlines provide. We have several pairs of giant clown shoes we picked up at kid parties that guests really seem to love to wear in our home, but I have no idea where to buy them. People who know in advance they are going to a no-shoe home would be excellent guests if they brought along their own indoor footwear.

But if someone refuses or stonewalls your no-shoes request, don’t embarrass them by demanding an explanation or refusing to allow them in. Just let it go, perhaps after encouraging a vigorous use of the doormat—also known as the welcome mat—before proceeding into your inner sanctum. When your guests depart, you can whip out the mop or vacuum. It’s similar to subtly (or not so subtly) placing coasters everywhere. Many guests will get the message much of the time, but a gracious host takes it in stride when someone leaves a ring on a table or a mark on the floor without going into Calvin Kleen Compulsion mode. Hopefully you care more about your guests than your surfaces.