"You want me to take off my what?" - (12/13/2022)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

The pharmacist and his wife were admiring how wonderful their living room looked. The Christmas tree was festive with twinkling lights and sparkly strands of garland. And best of all, the carpet was immaculate. “Too bad the house can’t stay this clean all year,” said his wife. “Too bad it can’t stay this clean until New Year’s Day,” the pharmacist replied somewhat sarcastically. “With all the people that will be coming and going for the next two weeks, we will have to start all over again.” 

Yes, it is great to have guests – friends, relatives, carolers, neighbors, even distant cousin’s “plus one” – visit to make the season bright. But they all have one thing in common: they are wearing shoes. Is something wrong with shoes, you ask? Well, the pharmacist is not a neat freak. But he is aware that whatever is outside ends up inside, especially during the frigid winter months when the house is sealed up tight. He is talking about germs here. On the immaculately shampooed, newly sanitized carpet. People slog in with their wet boots, snowy shoes, mukluks, and, on their soles, things you cannot even see. Heaven knows what bacteria, viruses, fungi, microplastics, and molds are being scrunched into your vintage Turkish rugs. 

But aside from one’s obsession with a sterile home – and there is no such thing – is all this bad will around taking off one’s shoes all for naught? A Wall Street Journal article argued that outside footwear in the home is not a mortal sin. The article’s author noted that E. coli – the treacherous bacteria that develop in the intestines (read: poop) of mammals, including Homo sapiens – is so widely distributed that it’s pretty much everywhere, even on your once-sanitized, freshly shampooed carpeting. So, as a host, is it better to be the boot Nazi, the shoe Scrooge that will have your guests in a huddle whispering about their cold toes instead of savoring your fabulous toasty hors d’oeuvres? 

Some people do not favor running around in their stocking feet, and for good reason. They have bone spurs, diabetic neuropathy, plantar fasciitis (policeman’s heel), and other foot and leg problems that make standing around in stocking feet an unpleasant experience. And then there is the odd duck who is paranoid about stubbing his toe in a shoeless house with heavy furniture. “I’ll just keep my Prada loafers on my feet, sir!” 

While Christmas is (supposed to be, anyway) a Christian religious holiday, there are other faiths too. One would certainly remove one’s footwear if the host feels wearing them inside discourteous from a cultural perspective.

In the final analysis, is anyone really going to holy war over shoes? (Unless, that is, your Aunt Trudy’s $1,100 Jimmy Choo’s go missing.) And during what Andy Williams famously sang, is the most wonderful time of the year? A survey conducted by YouGov in 2022 interviewed 1,000 American adults. The researchers asked, “when you’re a guest in someone else’s home, is it preferable to remove your shoes, leave them on – or do whatever the host wants you to?” The researchers found that most (55%) would do whatever their host prefers. The other 45% are split: half say they prefer to take their shoes off, and half say they prefer to leave them on.

So, all you hosts and hostesses out there. Eat, drink, and be merry! For tomorrow you can always call the carpet cleaning people over again. And, as the pharmacist firmly believes, give peace a chance. 

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a recovering pharmacist and writer-in-residence at Rx-Press.

The content contained in this article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Reliance on any information provided in this article is solely at your own risk.


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