You wouldn't think that people would get so emotional about shoes. Fetishists excepted, naturally.
And those foolhardy people who keep trying to get Miss Manners to rescind the rule against wearing white shoes between Labor Day and Memorial Day.
Oh, yes, and the ones who install flooring or rugs that they don't want anyone to walk on. Miss Manners is not impressed when they try to out-etiquette her by citing the Japanese custom of removing the shoes before entering a house. Those who claim this are not apt to be Japanese, nor in Japan, nor aware that Japanese etiquette is directed toward making the guest feel that he has honored the house by entering it, rather than that he had better not mess anything up.
Summer brings out a whole new foot crowd, and even more toes. There are also more wrinkled noses on people who don't want to look at those toeses. Toes, Miss Manners meant to say. Apparently it's true that things get slipshod in the summer.
As always when clothing is at issue, the sartorial freedom cry is sounded: Comfort! It's hot out, and feet need all the air they can get. Is that too much to ask?
Sometimes it is too much to ask. Other people's sensibilities may be involved.
Miss Manners is skeptical about all those complaints involving smells and funguses. No doubt such problems do arrive in connection with barefootedness and open-air shoes, but she has an idea that these accusations are also made when that is not what is truly troubling people.
In clothing disputes, it is the symbolism that arouses the greatest emotions, especially among people who vehemently deny that there is any such aspect to the matter. Those who defy dress conventions claim to do so only for comfort and self-expression, while those whom they upset condemn them only on the basis of sanitation and aesthetics.
This hardly explains why fashions go in and out of conventional acceptability, and why what is considered attractive and healthy on a beach repulses onlookers elsewhere. Nor does it explain the illogic by which shoes are regarded in terms of formality.
Shoes that are held onto the visible foot only by straps are at both ends of the formality scale. If they have flat soles and leather or plastic straps, they are sandals, only fit to wear with bathing suits, shorts and jeans. If they have stiletto heels (speaking of comfort) and satin straps, they are only fit to wear with ball gowns.
Laced shoes that fully cover the foot are businesslike, unless they are made of cloth, in which case they should be changed when arriving at one's business.
Backless shoes are hardly considered shoes at all if they are called flip-flops. If they are called slides they are fit to go out socially, and if they are called mules they are fit to entertain guests at home.
While Miss Manners accepts all this without expecting it to make sense, she is not heartless. Yes, shoes can make the feet uncomfortably warm in summer. So wear the correct ones and kick them off under the table. Just so you can find them afterward by feel, without having to crawl around on the floor.
Dear Miss Manners:
I was reprimanded by a friend while at a movie theater when I took a couple of pieces of her candy without asking. Who was in the wrong? Should I have asked, or should she have been more forthcoming with the candy?
Where were you when your friend stopped by the candy counter? Nice as it is to share, Miss Manners imagines that your friend assumed that since you didn't buy any candy, you didn't want any.
Grabbing what is not offered is culinary larceny. Your only hope is to say, "That looks good; maybe I should go get some." However, if the movie had started, you would have been committing a different etiquette transgression against everyone within hearing range. Then your only recourse is to slip out, if you can do so unobtrusively, or to control yourself.
Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.
(c) 2004, Judith Martin