Monday, December 30, 2013

The Economics of the Shoes-Off Rule?

Core Economics: No Shoes Allowed!

This is a really interesting essay, though it seems rather biased toward the anti-shoes-off position.

The author sets out to examine the cost-benefits of asking guests to remove their shoes. In her analysis, the actual economic benefits of guests removing shoes are minimal:

"This leads us to ponder the nature of the benefit. What is valuable about a clean floor? It is certainly true that maintaining some level of basic domestic cleanliness helps to contain diseases and prevent colonization by pests, but in the homes I have observed that feature the shoe take-off ritual, the general level of cleanliness is far above this basic level. Even if forty people were to come galloping through the typical shoe-take-off house in regular shoes (i.e., not having come right off a farm) for a party every weekend, I would expect no increase in pest colonization or disease prevalence provided that the household’s normal cleaning routines – say, a decent sweep or vacuum once or twice a week – continued. Then there is the question of the marginal wear and tear on carpeted floors caused by shoes: would a carpet stepped on by shoes at parties wear out more quickly than one stepped on only by socks or bare feet? A brief web search reveals that those in the industry believe that the lifespan of a carpet is far more affected by the owners’ innate propensity to redecorate, the type of carpet fiber, what is under the carpet, and whether the carpet is subject to regular cleaning, than by whether people walk upon it shod. Again, if regular cleaning continued, guests’ shoes should not be associated with worse outcomes."

This is a somewhat generalized analysis. In many cases, it will be true that homes with a shoes-off rule are kept clean to such high standards that allowing guests to keep their shoes on will not make very much difference at all. I do think there might be cases where this analysis is less applicable. For instance, some people with a shoes-off rule may not be 'clean freaks' at all, but people who work long hours with little time for cleaning. For them, the dirty shoes of guests might make a difference. Likewise, families with young children might be facing an uphill struggle to keep their homes clean and might benefit more from a shoes-off policy. There are also some homes which may receive visitors on a much more regular basis, such those of child-minders or religious ministers. For them, the economic benefits of a shoes off policy are higher than childless professional couples with reasonable spare time.

Having concluded that the economic returns of a shoes-off rule are low, the author suggests a number of psychological benefits to the owners of shoes-off homes:

1- The hosts are using the ritual to demand an `entry fee’ of their guests, which if paid (i.e,. if the guests do not turn on their heels and leave when asked to remove their shoes) places the hosts in an implicitly powerful position relative to their guests. The message is essentially, `if you agree to pay this price to enter my home, then what is available here must be valuable to you.’ 2- The hosts are signalling to guests their adherence to norms of extreme cleanliness that they believe are associated with membership in circles of success. They are hence basically trying to prove to their guests that they are people of standing. 3- The hosts are trying to prevent a rise in their own anxiety levels caused by the threat to their self-esteem that they would perceive if their floors were to become dirty. Ultimately this explanation boils down to social reasons, but for this explanation to be correct then the expectation of a clean house must have already been strongly internalized (through social conditioning) as a central part of the way the host views and judges himself, regardless of immediate social reward. 4 – The hosts derive pleasure from the sense of control over their environment that they derive from having perpetually spotless floors.

I would suggest that the host derives a much more tangible benefit. That is the benefit of consistency.

A consistently held shoes-off rule for the owners and their children will help to keep an home clean, even if guests are allowed to keep their shoes on. The problem is that rules tend to lapse when exceptions are made too frequently. If the hosts makes an exception for guests, then it becomes all too easy for them to occasionally make an exception for themselves and to enter with shoes on. They may find it harder to consistently enforce the rule for their children. Gradually, the policy slips away and dies a slow death. The standards the hosts once held ebb away.

The essay largely rests on an assumption that I would challenge, namely that the benefits of a shoes-off rule are only accrued by the host. The author writes:

"Now, given that a clean home is mainly enjoyed by those who live there, rather than by those who visit, any such benefits flow mainly to the hosts, meaning that we can immediately see that the entire exercise involves cost-shifting from the hosts – who would otherwise, perhaps, clean more – onto the guests."

Are there no benefits that the guests derive from a shoes-off rule? I think there are, at least for some guests. Firstly, some guests may enjoy the comfort and informality of going shoeless. Obviously, not all guests will feel that way, but some will. Secondly, some guests visiting a home where the rule is not enforced may be unsure of whether shoes should be removed or not. They may suspect the owner wants them off, but be unsure. Making the request provides a clarification that removes unnecessary anxiety. Thirdly, and in my opinion, most importantly, making a request for shoes-off implies that the host will show the guest the same courtesy should she visit her home. The guest knows that she is equally at liberty to require shoe removal from her own guests.

The author speaks of the guests 'bearing the cost' of the shoes-off policy, yet this cost is really rather low. The majority of people will not be bothered by having to remove their shoes. It is probably something they do in their own homes a lot of the time. There might be some people with holes in their socks or who are embarrassed by their feet, but this can generally be avoided as a problem if the guest knows in advance of the rule.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

What does Good Housekeeping say?

Good Housekeeping: When It's Okay to Ask Guests to Take Off Their Shoes

Q. Is it all right to ask guests to remove their shoes? I hate cleaning up the dirt, salt, and mud that get tracked in.

For a casual get-together, it's fine to ask guests (nicely) to take off their shoes.

P.S. If you can, try to have extra pairs of nonskid socks or slippers on hand for those who feel uncomfortable (or embarrassed) exposing their bare feet. Say, "Would you like to trade your wet boots for some warm, dry slippers?" But for a more formal event, like a dinner party, where guests are dressing up, it's most polite to let them keep on whatever footwear they want to wear.

This is basically the moderate shoes-off position- shoes off, except at parties or formal occasions. Personally, I think shoes off at a formal dinner party is fine. Millionaires and celebrities wear tuxedos and ball gowns at yacht parties and still take their shoes off.

I must also express my doubts about the wisdom of offering slippers in the UK. Most British people would just think that is too weird and would rather be in socks or bare feet.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

19 % of Britons don't like being asked to remove shoes?

Installer: One In Four People Dreading Spending Time In A Cold Room Away From Home

Forget Brussels sprouts and doing the washing up; visiting a relative’s cold house, being forced to take shoes off and missing Christmas TV are the nation’s biggest fears about the busy festive period.

Seeing friends and family at their cold home came out as Britain’s biggest bugbear in a survey from Worcester, Bosch Group with one in four people dreading spending time in a cold room away from home.

Despite being cold, and true to the stereotype, Brits are far too polite to complain, as only 20% said they would tell their host they are chilly. The rest would grin and bear it (30.8%), make a joke out of it (16%), keep their coat on (15.7%) or just avoid visiting the cold-blooded relatives at all (4.4%).

The next biggest gripes about Christmas, from the survey of 2065 people, were missing TV specials (22%), being made to take shoes off (19%) and tolerating screaming children (19%).

So 19% of the 2065 people dislike having to take their shoes off when visiting relatives? This may be surprising given that removing shoes in homes has become very common, however, that they are complaining about this shows that it is not at all unusual for shoes-off to be expected.

I do question whether these stats can be relied upon. The survey has an agenda; it was commissioned by a company that sells heating appliances and asks several questions about being cold. Probably the people answering these questions were being made to think about uncomfortable cold houses in which removing shoes might be an inconvenience.

Sunday, December 01, 2013 “Take off your shoes, please”…? “Take off your shoes, please”…?

In many countries like Germany, Switzerland, in Skandinavian countries etc. it is common use to take off the shoes when entering someone’s home(*). The custom of removing shoes is widespread also in Eastern countries like Japan, Korea and Turkey.

In these countries it is considered a major faux pas to walk through a house with shoes on. In some schools in Sweden, children are even required to remove their shoes.

The writer seems a little reserved about making shoes off a rule for guests, but otherwise has some good thoughts on the subject.