Pop quiz: What do $600 Manolo Blahniks and $10 flip flops have in common? The answer: They both have the uncanny ability to track a disturbing amount of filth into my house. This is why I must insist that any visitor to my home remove his or her shoes.
Yes, I know it makes for an awkward greeting: Hi! Nice to see you! Come in — but not too far. Do you mind taking off your shoes? I'll wait!
As someone fighting a Sisyphean battle to keep my home clean (cat hair notwithstanding), I have declared shoes public enemy number one. The soles of your shoes harbor more grossness than you might think. There’s the obvious stuff — your garden variety dirt, grass, leaves, grime, debris, and liquids from various unknown sources. But then there are the remnants from the floor of your office, car, or any stray grocery store, coffee shop, or public restroom you wander into before you appear at my door. And don’t get me started on the unholy level of filth on the sidewalk and street of this country’s great cities and urban areas (like the one where I live).
Scientists (wearing Hazmat suits, no doubt) have actually looked into this issue. A study by microbiologist Charles Gerba, of the University of Arizona, found an enormous number of bacteria on the bottom of shoes that subjects had worn for two weeks. There were an average of 421,000 units of bacteria on the outside of the shoe. What's more, 96% of the shoes had the fecal bacteria E. Coli, the notorious cause of GI and urinary tract infections.
In another study, researchers looked at the surfaces in 30 homes and found that the long-living bacteria Clostridium difficile was more commonly found on shoe bottoms than toilet seats. Just to hammer this home a bit more, consider this scenario. Got little kids at home? The kinds who spend 90% of their time on the floor and/or with their fingers in their mouths and/or noses? Walk along that floor with shoes and you’re lining those kids up for a first-class ticket on the Diarrhea Express — or worse.
Look, I know that some people find the shoes-off request onerous. My friend Anna has perpetually cold feet and hates that I make her remove her fur-lined boots in the winter. (I always offer cozy, clean socks!) She also finds damp socks, funky looking toes, and moist, sticky feet — including her own — a little icky. Well, perhaps this is a growth opportunity, all you Annas out there. A bit of exposure therapy!
Some people are highly sensitive to the mere sensation of being barefoot. Others claim to require constant arch support to keep hip, back and knee pain at bay.
I get all that. I wouldn’t tell someone on crutches or using a cane not to use them because they’d seen every sidewalk this side of the Hudson. Nor would I tell someone using a wheelchair to wipe down their wheels. But removing shoes, for most of us, most of the time, is an easy and hygienic thing to do.
However, I make one critical exception. And I feel so strongly about this that I’d like to request that fellow shoes-banners allow it as well. Shoes can and should remain on at cocktail parties or other formal occasions. In these instances, guests have probably taken some measure of time and care in deciding what to wear.
For women in particular, shoes can be a strategic element to their look—whether it’s because a pair of pants will drag on the ground if not paired with heels or because that little black dress looks rather ridiculous when barefoot. Besides, there’s just something less than festive about a cocktail party where everyone is padding around in their stocking (or bare) feet.
As a woman just a hair over five-feet-tall, I rely on the extra 2–3 inches that heels provide for what I like to refer to as cocktail party confidence. These gatherings can be a little awkward at first (am I right?) and I’d rather conquer those early-party jitters a little closer to eye level with my guests.
So suck it up, let people sully your floors, and clean well the next day.
Bottom line: In my house, if there’s wine involved, feel free to keep your shoes on. Otherwise, come on over, kick off your Manolo Blahniks or ratty flip-flops, and stay awhile.
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