We’re into our second winter now and the snow has arrived. We left a Christmas party on Saturday and crunched home through 20cm of fresh snow which had stealthily landed whilst we were busy over-indulging on mulled wine and mince pies. Of course we knew it was coming thanks to a storm warning which enabled the necessary footwear planning: a little black dress becomes a little more complicated when you realise you may need any combination of snowboots, rainboots, heels, flats or slippers to match. So for the uninitiated here’s a rookie’s guide to Canadian Winter Shoe Etiquette:
1. Before you finalise your outfit check the weather forecast. For the journey you will need snowboots, wellies (if it’s warmer but slushy) or possibly sturdy regular shoes. If you choose the latter beware the salt-tide – even if the sidewalks have been cleared or the snow has packed down you’ll still get a lovely white ring of salt around leather shoes or boots which is practically impossible to remove. Under no circumstances kid yourself you can wear heels – even if you are going in the car you will need to clamber over snowdrifts or negotiate black ice getting to and from it.
2. During autumn and winter whatever you wear for the journey you’ll be taking them off when you arrive so unless you want to pad around in your socks or tights (pantyhose) you’ll need to take shoes or slippers to change into (I can safely say I had never turned up to a dinner party clutching my slippers until 12 months ago). The seasoned sartorial expert will have a special shoe sack to carry them in so try to avoid grabbing the Dollarama plastic bag kicking around the coat cupboard as you dash out the door.
3. Do you know your host’s shoe policy? If they have lovely hardwood floors heels are quite probably out so do you have remotely co-ordinated ballet-flats or slippers – at the very least this is not the moment to retrieve those fake monster feet or Homer Simpson slippers from the back of the wardrobe.
4. NEVER think you will get away with wearing socks or tights with holes in – even if you have something to change into your hosiery will be on show for the transition period and if you then discover you have left your slippers in the car and don’t want to head back out into the frigid night (or risk a public marital meltdown by suggesting your other half go for you) then those holey socks will be on show for the entire evening.
5. Once arrived you will need to establish where boot removal takes place – if you are visiting an upper duplex this means shouting from the bottom of the stairs. It’s not unlike boat etiquette – you never climb aboard without permission and you never presume you can trudge up someone’s stairs in your boots until they tell you otherwise.
6. The host will tell you where to put your boots (usually on a large plastic tray that catches the melting snow and several kilos of grit stuck in the tread) and may well offer you a pair of their guest slippers. This struck me as the height of sophistication when I first experienced it and I cannot exaggerate the pride I felt when I offered our own dinner guests slippers for the first time a few weeks ago. On reflection I should probably get out more.
So if you’re experiencing your first winter as a new immigrant or just visiting during the soggier months you can now avoid any footwear faux pas. As for me well I’m putting it all down to cultural assimilation and banking on a footwear etiquette question to get me through my citizenship test at the appropriate time.