Miss Conduct

Off with your shoes

How should you tell guests about a footwear ban? Plus, lunch conversation with the new boss.

By Robin Abrahams
November 7, 2010

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In my home, we do not wear shoes. Friends and relatives generally know this through observation or because we mentioned it. However, when new people come to the house, it’s rare for them to realize it. What’s the best way to point out our rule while not making people feel uncomfortable? L.J. / Keene, New Hampshire As with all requests, this is best kept simple: “Excuse me, but before you come in, do you mind taking off your shoes? Thank you!” Put a basket of fluffy socks near the door for guests to use – and make sure your home is warm enough to keep people from freezing their tootsies off. If you’re having a party, it’s a courtesy to mention that yours is a non-shoe household in the invitation. And do be careful to phrase your request as a request, not a command. Finally, provide a bench for guests to sit on while lacing up their shoes. (Even airports do this, and an airport can be considered the absolute minimum in terms of attention to hospitality and comfort.)

If you do all of these things, half of your guests or more will feel uncomfortable anyway. They will feel that you value your floors above human companionship, that you will shriek and berate them should they drop a crumb, and that you find their presence in your home an imposition. I know this because my readers have explained these feelings, many times and quite passionately, to me whenever this question arises. At the very least, you are ensuring that the first experience of your home will not be a pleasant one to people who happen to have a hole in their socks or stockings; people with diabetes; people who have chronic foot odor; people with bunions, corns, or otherwise “ugly” feet; people who cannot walk comfortably in bare feet or socks; and people who believe in dressing up for parties and do not like to have a sleek suit or little black dress compromised by fluffy white socks.

There is a price for everything.

Help! I have to have a get-acquainted lunch with my new boss, who lives in a different city. What do I talk about? Can I ask her personal questions, such as where she lives and whether she is married or has kids, or do I stick to work and more public topics like movies and vacations? P.F. / Boston Stick to decaf, P.F. You seem a little nervous at the prospect of lunch with the new Boss Lady, so get the basics under control first: no caffeine, no booze (even if she does), and no messy lunch choices.

Second, how much of an agenda is there to this lunch? Are the two of you going to be talking business at all (e.g., “We’ll grab sushi and I’ll fill you in on the priorities of the department for the next quarter”)? Or is the main purpose to get to know each other a bit as people before you begin a long-distance work relationship? If the former, let the boss lead the conversation, and focus on asking intelligent questions and getting a sense of her communication style. If it’s the latter, start off with discussing your different cities. An open-ended question about wherever Boss Lady lives will give her an opportunity to steer the conversation in the direction she wants it to go. Your next move will be obvious after she says something like “I’ve hardly gotten to see any of Bossladyville. I’ve been spending most of my time at the office working on the MacGuffin project” or “I miss the Patriots. Are you a sports fan?” If, however, you think she’s getting too personal with the conversation, you may steer it back to work. So when she says, “The dating scene is pathetic! Seriously, there are like no decent men in Bossladyville,” you reply, “What a shame. I’ve been spending most of my time working on the MacGuffin project lately.”

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology. Got a question or comment? Write to BLOG Read more of Miss Conduct’s wit and wisdom at CHAT Get advice live every first and third Wednesday, noon to 1 p.m., at

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