By Kevin Williams
I was recently visiting a friend's house and was asked to shed my shoes at the door. For a moment, my heart pounded. "What socks did I throw on this morning?" Last thing I wanted was to have a couple of ratty or, worse, mismatched socks showing. Fortunately, my socks were basically fine...white, clean, no holes, although had I known ahead of time that I'd be shedding my shoes I might have worn nicer ones (lesson: always check your socks). There are some homes I go to where I know ahead of time that the shoe police will be out in force, so I plan for the nicest socks I can. The topic of shoes in the house is actually a very divisive issue as an online search will show.
Some cultures despise shoes and, in fact, in the Middle East at the height of the Iran hostage drama in the late 70s angry protesters stood on shore and waved their shoes at passing US Navy ships in a show of contempt. In the Middle East, shoes are viewed as very dirty and to show the soles is an insult.
But, closer to home, shoes have their own issues. For the Amish, going barefoot indoors and out is a cherished part of life in the summer. And during the winter I'd say, from my experience, most Amish leave their shoes at the door and opt for thick socks inside. It's simply too cold in most Amish homes to be comfortable barefoot. The issue among the Amish is practicality largely. There is a lot of coming and going, tromping through muddy barns and yards as they tend to livestock and outdoor chores. Tracking in a bunch of mud is simply going to make more work later, so leaving shoes in a designated "mud room" or by a door makes the most sense. Another variable in Amish homes is that the vast, vast majority of them don't have indoor carpeting so if someone does track mud into the house, the broom simply comes out and sweeps it away.
For the pro-shoe crowd, there's comfort, stability, and durability in keeping the soles on. For the anti-shoes in the house crowd there are reasons like you’re walking through public restrooms, dirt-filled city streets and God-knows what else and tracking it into your house and I can’t find fault with that logic. But I don't particularly like walking around barefoot, especially during winter, so socks become a very important tool in keeping a house shoe-free for me.
But what about guests? That seems to be a trickier issue. Do you make them remove their shoes before they enter your house? Simply encourage them to? There are actually devices that use UV light to sterilize shoes, I guess that would be a good compromise for people who don't want to take their shoes off and homeowners who don't want shoes in their house.
Meanwhile, it is Dec 21, the shortest day of the year. Days get longer now and spring will soon beckon, and Amish outdoor enthusiasts will be waiting to kick off their shoes!