My wife and I are currently on vacation in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in a small city called Escanaba. We are staying in a cozy AirBnB downtown in what is also a quaint apartment building. When we first got here we searched out the laundry room and gave ourselves a tour of the building. In the course of that we walked by several apartments where there were shoes placed neatly in rows outside the door. The implication being that shoes were not allowed inside the living spaces.

Shoes by the Door

It was the first time I have seen this in an apartment building and I thought it a bit strange. I am one of those primitive individuals who forgets to remove my dusty or even muddy footwear on entering our house, and have to be scolded by my wife in order to be coerced to remove work shoes that are covered with grass from having just mowed the yard in them. Removing my shoes is not something that occurs to me. I like to think it is because I am thinking on a higher plain, but the reality is that I am too lazy to take off my shoes considering I am likely going to just go outside again within minutes or at least hours.

But this vision of shoes lined up outside a door reminded me of the first time that I was asked to remove my shoes on entering as a guest in someone’s house. It must have been in the 1970s and I was in my late teens. I did not think it quaint or a cultural advance at the time, rather I saw it as strange, largely because I prefer to have my feet shod most of the time, in a sense, ready for any emergency, like a soldier sleeping with my boots on in case of a surprise attack in the middle of the night.

Now cogitating on this ever since we have been in Escanaba I have come to some rather startling conclusions. First, that people who leave their shoes in a hallway that is relatively public (the door to the outside of the apartment remains locked) are either very complaisant, or very comfortable, or both. Does this say something about society? Or or the town they live in? Perhaps. Maybe we have become more civilized when such a phenomenon reaches even a place noted for its rough and tumble backwoodsmen accustomed to living in dirt-floor cabins. Or maybe we just have grown to have an aversion to having dirt floors.

Second, if taking shoes off at the threshold is a mark of civilization and leaving them exposed to the vagaries of strangers is a virtue, then it is a virtue that leaves us exposed or open to abuse from others. In a sense being trusting makes us vulnerable. I think this is something that we have to realize. But just how vulnerable should we allow ourselves to be? In my mind we do have to risk affront and perhaps the odd pair of shoes to strangers. But I also think this exposure is a limited one. After all, we do not leave our doors unlocked.

But is it really so complicated as all that? Is this shoes off craze that has developed over the last fifty years really a sign of culture or civilization or just a response to fact that every house seems to have carpeting? My wife makes me remove my shoes in the house because she does not want dirt making its way to the deep reaches of the carpet’s fibers. My own solution would be to go back to wood or vinyl flooring. That way I only have to take my shoes off before I go to bed. I suppose that I can trust the world enough that I don’t have to sleep with my boots on.

This article has 2 comments

  1. tom brindley

    I have been in a person’s home recently for a meeting, there were about six in attendance, that amazed me. We all entered through the garage into the kitchen, and following the pattern of others, I removed my shoes. It was the most clutter free home I’ve ever been in! Very nice folks, they have my admiration, but definitely not my style.

    • WJRayment

      Hi Tom, if you have seen my desk at church, you know that I am not a neatnik. But I am fortunate enough to be married to someone who is.