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Hey, Matt:

I'm an avid barefooter, and I go out as much as possible barefoot because it is healthier than it is to wear shoes. I enjoy being able to feel something with my feet while I am walking. My question is this. I am part of a group called the Society for Barefoot Living, and one of the members contacted the [Environmental Health Services] in Orange County, and they said, "Section 114020 of the California Uniform Retail Food Facilities law regulates garments, such as hair confinement and work uniforms, worn by food handlers in restaurants and retail markets. There are no regulations or state laws regulating footwear or garments worn by patrons of businesses or public facilities." That being said, why is it that I get hassled for going into places barefooted? It's not a health violation and it's not a crime. People cannot complain that I would bring in germs, because at any given time people are covered in germs, and more often than not on most people there are more germs on their hands than anywhere else. I have a friend who lives in San Diego, and he goes to the doctor's barefooted and they did not complain about it. He says he has even gone into Dixieline Lumber barefooted and they don't complain. Can you help?

-- Jake B, El Cajon

The Alice house is generally a shoe-free zone, so we can sympathize with ya, Jake. In fact, the elves were pretty eager to volunteer for this mission. We sent them out to saunter into various establishments around town to see what kind of reception their feet got. Grandma offered to test the "no shirt, no service" policy, but we restrained her.

Hard to generalize about our results, but we'll try. Neighborhood liquor stores? We decided you could go in one of those naked with a birthday cake on your head and no one would say anything. No objections to free-range tootsies that we could find. Chain-type convenience stores? We were two for four on that one. When grilled, as we were being ushered out, neither clerk had a specific answer to exactly why we were being ushered out. Something about "store policy. Insurance." Just as we suspected. Dollar signs behind it all. You go into a 7-Eleven barefoot and drop a can of refried beans on your foot, they're sure you'll sue for toenail damage.

Restaurants were a whole 'nother thing. Mom-and-pop types without "shoes, please" signs generally don't seem to care. With the signs? You're outta there. The chrome-and-glass types? Hmmmm. They don't even have to put up signs. You just know by looking at them you'll be put in reverse and backed out of the joint in a hurry. Why? "Our customers object to bare feet" kind of sums it up. No place worth eating in would tolerate barefoot patrons. Depending on what part of town you're in, "barefoot" might bring to mind "homeless." Nothing kills an appetite faster.

You're right. The law doesn't prevent you from going shoeless; shoelessness isn't especially unsanitary; but insurance policies, owners' preferences, and common standards of "appropriateness" might keep you out of any establishment. Of course, you'll always be welcome at Grandma's house.

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