Nowhere else can not wearing any shoes stir up so much controversy and raised eyebrows than in the American town I decided to grace with my presence back in 2002.
Being a Kiwi I have embraced the true kiwi custom of not wearing anything on my feet during the hot long summer months that we experience in the North Island of New Zealand. It’s hot, it’s humid and just way to uncomfortable to wear more than is required. For months on end Kiwis wear nothing but shorts and a T-shirt. My feet have turned into Kiwi feet, I don’t feel the heat through the soles of my feet un- like other ‘thin skinned soled feet’ of my western counterparts. In New Zealand we wear either no shoes or just those ‘jandels’ (or flip flops, thongs or slippers, depending on what part of the world you are from). For the most part we are a nation of bare-footers. Kids go to school regularly without wearing shoes, or upon arrival kick them off never to be seen again until winter when footwear is sought after. The only time it is mandatory to wear foot wear is in Factories and certain business, where closed toed shoes are a safety requirement, but generally speaking, shoes are optional. I regularly misplace my shoes once I’ve kicked them off in either the car or upon entering someone’s home, and don’t miss them until I go searching for them the next time I go to put them on. Kiwis are also great gumboot wearers, even in summer. It’s not unusual to see farmers in shorts, a singlet and gumboots, quite a sight I must admit, something very typical Kiwi but one that is embraced. Many socked cladded feet have padded softly through supermarkets and several pairs of gumboots can be found lined up outside the door. We are very easy going when it comes to foot wear. So it came as a bit of a shock to me upon arrival in America – Land of the Free (yeah, we’ll get to that in a moment!)
I arrived in New Jersey, USA at the end of a winter, which thankfully turned into a gorgeous spring followed by an incredible summer. But spring bought not only new growth on the trees surrounding the farms where I lived, but also some personal growth for me in regard to some strange American customs and rules.
One lovely morning on the way to work on the farm it was simply too good an opportunity to pass up to walk around barefoot. After all, the weather was great, I was dressed in shorts and T-shirt so automatically went barefoot. It’s an American tradition to buy your coffee at one of the many, many 24/7 shops instead of doing the Kiwi thing and have it at home prior to setting out to work. And me being adaptable in certain ways, waltzed into the shop to purchase my daily caffeine. The shop keeper, a ‘lovely’ American chap, immediately zeroed in on my lack of footwear and asked me to leave the shop ‘Erm, Miss, I’m going to have to ask you to leave’. His statement was met by my silence, I’m thinking why? I didn’t shoplift or do anything wrong? What’s his problem? I’m merely standing here in line waiting for my coffee. Now don’t mess with me prior to my daily coffee intake, so my silence was followed by a polite but somewhat surprised question of ‘Excuse me?’ . I then got the full version of ‘No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service’. Apparently it’s un-hygienic, you can have all sorts of nasty’s under your feet and it’s just not allowed. You are also required to wear a shirt (which thankfully I was; imagine that? Two ‘mistakes’ in one day!), so Kiwi and Aussie guys walking around in their customary singlet’s would be frowned upon too (so much for a ‘free’ country!) After a moment of stunned silence I stated that I would go to my truck, put on my shoes and return to the shop. The shop keeper was happy with that; he even smiled for a moment until he heard my parting remark of ‘They have horse poo and possibly dog poo underneath but if you are happier with me bringing that into your shop instead of my clean feet that is your call.’ Needless to say, he let me purchase my coffee in bare-feet and was happy to see me go!
It’s so much easier to let a Kiwi go barefoot than to force shoes on us. In New Zealand we have no problem with bare feet and very often there is a sign at the entrance of a business asking customers to please TAKE OFF their footwear! I guess Down Under we really do things backwards, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
About the Author :
Monica Toretto is a writer, painter, photographer and blogger. She lives with her two young sons in Invercargill near Bluff. She has travelled widely in Canada and the US and worked as a veterinary technician before returning to New Zealand. Her work has appeared in several magazines in the UK and New Zealand. She has also authored a book of poetry and photography called ‘Words’
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