I repatriated to the U.K. three weeks ago, after more than two decades in the United States. I'd been lucky enough to come back at least once a year for most of that time, so it's not exactly like landing on the moon, but there are a few things that are making me scratch my head. I'm not sure whether it's changed since I've been gone, or I just didn't notice it all those years ago.
Shoes on or off in houses? - When I left, apart from muddy wellies, no one was removing footwear on entering a house. If it was raining you just wiped your feet for ages and hoped for the best, if you even gave it a thought. I'm now completely lost. I mean, if someone answers the door sans shoes, do I offer to remove my shoes and pad around in socks or (horrors) bare feet? Or is it "When in Rome" and I simply whip my shoes off with no questions asked? (To me, that seems the ruder option.)
Having contracted a nasty case of foot warts several years ago from going barefoot in a yoga class, I'm very loathe to walk barefoot on unknown floors. You'd hope that if someone had a verruca they wouldn't risk sharing but you never know. It being summer (and therefore no-sock weather in my world), this is causing me some angst.
I knew where I was in the US, since my area was knee deep in snow for months at a time. This can be a pain when going to winter parties - you dress up for the occasion, only to find yourself standing round with a drink, in thick winter socks. Not the most glamorous look. (Of course, you can take shoes in your handbag, like I sometimes remembered to do, but if you're the only one shod, people might think you simply haven't had the manners to remove your shoes.) I had wooden floors throughout my house rather than pristine light carpets, so at dryer times, I wasn't worried about the hardwood and therefore urged visitors not to worry either.I don't recall many American homes bring carpeted in the living areas, although many people make vague about-to-remove-my-shoes movements anyway on entering a house.
An informal, unscientific poll on my Facebook page has confirmed that there's a lot more shoe-removal going on these days in Blighty, and most of my twenty three respondents acknowledged and agreed with some form of it. While some stated that they "would like" their guests to remove shoes, none said they would insist. Does this, I wonder, give rise to another "British" problem? How to get people to remove shoes without coming across as bossy? And what about the guest who has taken pains to ensure that (usually) her lovely outfit is topped off with a perfect pair of shoes? Are we to insist that she sits, miserable, in bare or stocking-ed feet? I'm genuinely interested in the etiquette of making people comfortable in your home versus keeping your floors clean.
Given that I'm even less of a foot person than I am a cat person, I'd personally rather risk whatever guests have on the bottom of their shoes than have them sit opposite me in questionable socks or, heaven forbid, bare feet. However, the people have spoken, so now I suppose I'll have to carry a pair of clean socks around with me, or buy a pair of those roll up ballet slippers. Or I could just stay at home?
I would love to hear more thoughts on this vexing topic.