Letters To a Young Gentleman: Honor People With Your Shoes

My Dear Sons,

I know I'm regularly telling you to get your shoes off the middle of the floor. Or out of the back yard. Or off of our bed. I hope you don't think we're "anti-shoes". I especially hope we're not badgering and discouraging you by our insistence about something that's obviously not the end of the world.

But of course being a young gentleman is not about simply avoiding world-ending mistakes. It's about learning how to be yourself without forcing others to be someone other than themselves. And, believe it or not, shoes, and what you do with them, are a daily opportunity to practice emerging gentlemanliness.

shoes2

WHERE YOU TREAD WITH YOUR SHOES COUNTS FOR GENTLEMANLINESS

When you go into someone else's home, they have opened up to you their most personal space. They may have spent time picking up before your arrival to present their home to you as a place where you feel welcome and comfortable.

The first thing you can do to express your gratitude for their hospitality is to, undramatically, courteously, ask them

"Would it be best for me to remove my shoes?"

Say it in a way that makes them feel like it's absolutely no big deal whatsoever if they say "yes, that would be kind of you." You're not there to pass judgment on their 'house rules'. You're there to reciprocate their gesture of hospitality with your own gesture of submission to their customs.

Even if you just came from the shoe store with new sneakers or just had your penny loafers re-soled and shined by the cobbler, make this gentlemanly gesture.

WHICH SHOES YOU WEAR COUNTS FOR GENTLEMANLINESS

Someone once said "If you want to know if someone is well-dressed, look at their shoes."

Young men: we don't put our clothes and shoes on to "impress". We put them on to set others at ease through our situational appropriateness.

One time, I walked into a very traditional, downtown gothic revival church in the South with Birkenstock sandals on. This was a mistake, because I was thinking about my own comfort, and the expression of my own personality. I wasn't thinking of the congregation as my host, and myself as a guest.

I've also showed up to sporting events in wingtip shoes, which probably also gave the community assembled there the sense that I didn't care about the context. Instead, I probably made them feel like I was trying to assert my feigned superiority over them. I should have slipped on my Birkenstock sandals.

wingtip shoes

HONOR PEOPLE WITH YOUR SHOES

The key, young men, to a gentlemanly life, is to take every opportunity and occasion to honor others with your demeanor, attitude, speech and gestures. All the "PUT YOUR SHOES WHERE THEY BELONG!" grief that we're giving you now, if we admit it, is really just our present frustration with tripping over your tennis shoes for the 392,405,301st time.

Yet, we can all learn to look at these situations as exercises in others-centered gestures of gentlemanliness. Forgive us for when we've been merely exasperated. And we'll all work to gently remind one another of how we might honor those who are hosting us, not least with the things we do with our shoes.

Your Loving Father,

ARS


thecordialchurchman
thecordialchurchman

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8 Comments

ARStager
ARStager

July 08, 2013

I generally agree. I also generally have no problem wearing a tie or wingtips even when I stick out a little bit. I heard someone say once that one should never apologize for wearing a tie. I like that.

On the other hand, I think that there are occasions when it’s probably better to leave the tie at home and express myself some other time.

Dina
Dina

July 07, 2013

As a mother of four, our children are not allowed to wear their play shoes inside the house. Most of our friends children remove their shoes when entering a home. You never know what they have stepped in while romping through the woods. I trust adults to use their best judgement and to make themselves at home. I hope that a man with muddy work boots would remove them but I understand some people are not comfortable walking barefoot.

ARStager
ARStager

July 08, 2013

Mr Stafford,

Thanks so much for reading and for offering your expertise to the discussion.

It’s probably my/our fault for not making it clear what we have in mind with the notion of “letters to a young gentleman”. What we have in mind is a series of posts that deal with ways in which our young boys can learn—-even as youngsters—-to think about others and their concerns, interests, and property, and not merely about their own wishes. I don’t think we intend to jump straight into ‘etiquette’. We’re definitely not qualified as experts in that field. (Although Audrey, a member of the TCC team, has a considerable degree of expertise in wedding etiquette.)

It’s possible that by using the term “gentleman”, we’ve made it sound like we’re trying to get our boys to observe the specific etiquette rules of a particular slice of North American upper-middle-class-to-upper-class culture. I don’t think it’s unimportant to be conversant in, and submissive to, those cultural expectations when the occasion calls for it. But we’re aiming more for getting our boys (and whoever is reading), regardless of what they are used to, to consider going out of their realm of experience and expectation in order to honor others by submitting to their cultural practices.

I agree that it’s probably asking for awkwardness in a lot of circumstances if a host has a “no shoes in the house” rule for adults. (Although, I was recently in Ohio at a friend’s house for a gathering. When I came in, all the adults’ shoes were lined up in the foyer. I didn’t think it was awkward at all to throw my shoes in the pile. Much less awkward than tracking dirt onto their white carpet.) In this series, we’re writing to boys. Much more dirt on the boys’ shoes. Growing up, my friends’ parents often had “no shoes in the house” rules. These were probably rules that mostly applied to kids.

Your point is well-taken about embarrassing kids for things they have difficulty doing when asked. We’ll try to keep a closer watch on this. You’ll note, of course, that while I did say what every parent is thinking (“Really? Your shoes are in the middle of the floor again?”), I also said “I’m sorry for making it about the shoes and being cranky. I love you. Let’s make this about loving other people and not about shoes.”

Thanks again for your cordial comments, and for reading. I look forward to learning more from you about things like this in the future when these “letters” intersect with your area of expertise.

Warmly,
ARS

Brian J. Stafford
Brian J. Stafford

July 06, 2013

In encouragement, I would also like to add that we should not be overly concerned with matching our style of dress in every situation. Over the years, what is considered acceptable attire to wear in public has diminished more and more to where completely inappropriate attire is being donned. As Christians, we are to be set apart; to be in the world, but not of the world. It is never inappropriate to wear modest and respectable clothing. Wearing wingtips (and I assume a bow tie as well? ;)) to a sporting event or any event does not show disdain for those wearing something more casual, rather is shows that you respect yourself and others around you to look presentable and respectable. Never be ashamed for being appropriate.

A Guy
A Guy

July 06, 2013

My 2¢

I am from the States and have lived all over the east coast. I have found very, very few homes where it is not expected that you will remove your shoes. Only my very close or disorganized friends would permit me to keep my shoes in their home.

Brian J. Stafford
Brian J. Stafford

July 06, 2013

I study and am preparing to teach etiquette and I feel that I need to offer my opinion on this.

I must respectfully disagree with asking hosts if one’s shoes should be removed. I have lived in the United States my entire life or forty years and have been asked to remove my shoes a total of 6 times and I felt completely uncomfortable every time. I believe that it is improper for a host to ask a guest to whom they are unfamiliar with to remove their shoes. I also believe it inappropriate to ask a host if one may or should remove one’s shoes and will more often than not, make the host feel awkward by such a request from an unfamiliar guest. Owning a home requires a certain amount of cleaning and maintenance and the avoidance of such should not be placed upon the guest. Making such requests of guests seems to submit them to unnecessary awkwardness and should be avoided.

I would also, in love, wish to dissuade public admonishments of one’s children. To publicly call attention to the fact that a child has difficulty in doing what is asked of them is an unnecessary source of embarrassment for the child and should be kept private.

Respectfully and in Yeshua,
Brian J. Stafford

sensusplenior
sensusplenior

July 05, 2013

Is it common for people to take off their shoes in other people’s houses? I know this is common in some countries, but for me it seems kind of uncouth. If someone were to invite me over who has a no-shoes-inside policy, I would want to be notified in advance so that I could either find an excuse not to go (my likely route) or at least be sure I wore presentable socks (if I couldn’t refuse).

A Guy
A Guy

July 06, 2013

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=663554957005384&set=a.329906680370215.92926.167938346567050&type=1&relevant_count=1&ref=nf

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