QUESTION: I am working with a new person and have to go to his home every so often. He always asks/requires that I remove my shoes at the front door, ostensibly to avoid dirtying his beige carpet. I feel uncomfortable with this request and think it is inappropriate for him to require unsuspecting guests to go barefoot in his home. What do you think?
CALLIE'S ANSWER: I completely understand this! It is polite to offer to take your shoes off when you are working on a house. All the dirt that comes in the house can be overwhelming. However, this request to make everyone take off their shoes to walk in the house is a bit extreme. It is a carpet, and a carpet gets dirty. You can't stop a carpet from getting dirty. But to each his own!
LILLIE-BETH'S ANSWER: Sometimes people who work in and around houses track in dirt and grime due to the work they do. The request made of you is unusual, but I can empathize with the desire to protect a new or newly cleaned light-colored carpet since it is so difficult to keep clean. Although it's impossible to ban all dirt from lived-in homes, people will keep trying. I also understand your reluctance to take off your shoes. Since you keep returning for work in the home and the shoe request still stands, you know what to expect. The choice then becomes yours for how you deal with it — stop going to the house altogether, remove your shoes and walk in, or show off your feet with a new pedicure.
HELEN'S ANSWER: It is one thing to ask people who have been walking in the mud to remove shoes at the front door before entering the house. It is rude to ask an unsuspecting person to take off his shoes without offering paper slippers or something else to wear.
You should have been notified of the house requirement before arriving so you could have brought socks or some change of shoes or you could have decided not to visit.
GUEST'S ANSWER: Hilarie Blaney, etiquette and international protocol consultant: I am curious to know what type of business you are conducting and for what period of time you are in this man's home. Is he Japanese, Chinese or just an American neat freak?
In Japan, being invited to a person's home is a high honor and you remove your shoes at the door, only to slide into provided slippers to wear while in the home. In addition, you must change those slippers and put on “toilet slippers” if you should need to visit the Powder Room, but remember to change back into the “house slippers.”
My classmate from Shanghai comes to visit me in Oklahoma City and immediately removes her shoes and wears little foot hose in my house. Some people are cognizant of the environment and do not want to track in pollution and chemicals as well as dirt.
So knowing which one of these areas is the cause will be helpful to you in your decision regarding how to handle this situation. Etiquette is about everyone feeling comfortable around each other. So I see you have a few options:
1. Wear or take socks or slippers and put them on when you enter the house so you are not barefoot.
2. Ask to meet at a professional location such as an office or restaurant to discuss business.
3. View it like this — it is his house, it is a business call and when doing business in another's country, you should follow their customs or requirements. This is proper protocol, but required to be barefoot is not.
4. If he wants you to go barefoot, get another new person to work with!