I wonder, is it common in other parts of the United States to automatically take off your shoes when visiting someone's home?
I live in a small town in Alaska that has an average annual rainfall of about 13 feet. If it's not currently raining, it probably just quit. If it is raining, it probably will continue with gusto for several more days. In winter, you can count on snow and sleet being thrown into the mix.
Many neighborhoods are rural, with gravel roads and dirt walkways to front doors. No matter what the season, driveways, sidewalks, car floorboards, and front yards are in a constant state of muck or grit.
So in my circle of friends, it's second nature to step inside the front door at a potluck gathering and automatically shuck off your shoes, a delicate one-footed balancing act with casserole in hand. There's usually an accumulating pile of shoes or boots already started, and the next pair just joins the heap.
I first took particular note of this social phenomenon many years ago when a technician from Los Angeles came to town for a couple of weeks to install a new computer system at my office. While she was here, we organized an office potluck at a co-worker's house and invited her to the affair. I arrived late, kicked off my shoes on the mounding pile in the entryway, and entered the living room. She immediately checked my shoeless feet and burst into laughter. She'd been watching all the barefooted arrivals, and I was true to form. She'd never been in a place where you dropped your shoes at the door, and I think the cultural oddity was the highlight of her visit here. I guess they do things differently in L.A.
Over the years I've noted the intricacies associated with this ritual. I keep a subconscious list of the floor patterns at my friends' houses – wearing standard street socks to homes with warm, plush carpeting and thick wool socks to slide across bare hardwood floors. (And socks are the norm in this crowd – I can't remember the last time I saw a pair of toes in nylons.) I also keep a spare pair of slippers to bring along to some places. Wearing slippers in a friend's house gives me a contented sense of belonging.
The custom also adds another element to the art of "accessorizing." In addition to matching sweaters and shirts, one has to be careful to coordinate socks with an outfit. Casting a sideways, downward glance at gathered feet, it's a delight to see the variety of colors, designs, and fabrics scuffing around the floor.