People and their relationship with their shoes, is an important personality identifier as well as a cultural values totem. Janna, an Iowa farm girl, loves her bare feet. She wanders the apartment and neighborhood in bare feet as often as she can and as weather and circumstance permit.

Going barefoot isn’t as gross as wearing Vomit Pants to bed, but it’s close. She has even gone barefoot in New York City where the things on the street are the stuff people spit away and pets purposefully deposit on the scorching asphalt.

The soles of her feet are blackened and are like thick leather. She is not, however, one of those sorts who kicks off their shoes on an airplane or at work where everyone within ten feet can smell the floating stank and witness the growing fungi. Those people who feel the need to share the freedom of their feet always fascinate me in the way of the grotesque and self-interested.

The soles of my feel are paper-thin and non-calloused. Like Janna, I was raised in the Midwest, but I was taught you put on your socks and shoes — you always wear socks with any kind of footwear — when you wake up at 5:00am and you only take them off at 10:00pm when you go to bed. That’s 17 hours of non-barefoot, always-on, socked-and-shoed, walking. If, after 10:00pm, you need to put your feet on your floor, you put on socks again first and then sandals and then you are free to walk around because bare feet are only for sleeping. Never for walking. When I talk about cultural values with my friends and students, a good stepping-off point for identification and persuasiveness is this whole “Shoes Thing.”

I usually get cacophonous laughter when I tell my shoes story. Most of my Asian friends were raised to always take their shoes off the moment they entered the home. They then wear socks while at home or they wear special sandals that are never worn outside the home. The reason for the “No Shoes in The House Rule” — one genius medical student told me — is because “In many parts of India the streets are filthy.

The streets are open garbage cans. It would be unsafe and unhealthy to bring in the street into your home. So you leave the street outside by taking off your shoes when you arrive home.” That makes sense if you live in India, but what do you do with visitors and workers in America who do not share your no shoes, please, we’re Asian beliefs?

I always find it strange when I am ordered to take off my shoes when I visit someone’s home. Their home is their castle, but my shoes are my moats. I know people who make delivery and repair folk take off their boots before entering their home to work. If the workers refuse to remove their footwear and many of them do — plastic is then rolled out for them to walk on and paper bags are strewn in front of them to walk on where the plastic cannot reach like pieces of Apsyrtus cast into the sea to slow down the mongrels in the chase. Feet were not made to be bare.

Feet were made to be encased Always! and swaddled in socks and captured by shoes with a heavy soles and steel shanks. Forget this not or you will soon feel the wrath of the world seeping between your toes.

33 Comments

  1. Ahhh.. barefoot! I haven’t been barefoot since I was a kid. We always went barefoot. Shoes were to be saved. You had to save your shoes for school and church, holidays and special occasions. Sometime around 13, a plantars wart took up residence in the ball of my right foot. My mother kept saying it would fall out. By the time I was 15, I couldn’t walk correctly, because I couldn’t put any weight on the ball of my foot and had to walk on my heel. Finally, a doctor cut it out – very painful and a good portion of my foot was gone also.
    So, I don’t go barefoot. At home, I have moccasins for indoors that never go outside, and many shoes that go outdoors and sit by the door on a little rug on the inside. I don’t want to bring in dirt, pesticides, invisible nasty things into the house (like raccoon roundworm that could infect my pets).

  2. Now that I’m a little older, I always like to wear shoes, except when I’m at home.
    I usually try to always wear nice leather shoes — even when I’m wearing jeans — since someone told me people always take a look at your shoes and make judgments.
    When I was younger, I used to always like to go around barefooted until it was too cold, or I would be refused service because of the “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” rule.
    It must have had no inhabitions about showing my feet because I spent a few years in Kentucky when my dad was stationed at Ft. Knox. 🙂 In the summer, I always went barefoot or wore flip-flops when I lived in New Jersey as a kid.
    I remember running across burning hot blacktop roads burning the soles of my feet because I didn’t wear shoes when I was younger.
    I’ve also witnessed the cultural divide about footwear.
    My wife is asian, so we always take off our shoes when we enter our house or the houses of our asian friends. You know that you should take off your shoes when you go to a party and see 50 pairs of shoes in the foyer.
    Always make sure you wear clean, hole-free socks as well!
    On the other hand, I dated an African-American woman when I was younger who thought going barefooted was the worst thing you could do — going barefoot in public reflected poorly on a person. She always liked to wear cool shoes, so I never minded that she didn’t like to go barefoot.

  3. Hi Antoinette!
    It’s so interesting you have “indoor shoes” and “outdoor shoes” and I understand your reasoning behind making those differences matter. Do you live in the city or suburbs or in the country?
    Sorry to hear about your surgery. That’s pretty awful.
    I, too, was raised with “church shoes” and “play shoes” and “school shoes.” Funny stuff!

  4. Hi Chris!
    You’re right the right shoes matter! People judge on shoes more than they judge on watches or cars. The right shoes speak for you in a good way.
    I would try to go barefoot at the pool or on the beach — but there was always slippery or gross stuff around that would get on my feet — even if I worse sandals or flip-flops! It was a better feeling for me to have the whole foot protected even if I broke the rule and didn’t wear any socks.
    Having the right socks when you have Asian friends is certainly important! Heh! You are culturally required to follow the codes and norms when you enter a house filled with 50 shoeless people!
    It’s interesting your African-American friend was against going barefoot. Where I grew up going barefoot meant you were poor and could not afford shoes. It seems like that might be a common assumption in some cultures against others.

  5. You’re right that some people view being shoeless as being poor.
    It goes along with the notion that you should always look your best whenever you leave the house, even if you are going to the grocery store for a gallon of milk.
    I don’t wear a watch — I stopped wearing one when I always had to take it off for security checkpoints and it seemed redundant since my cell phone has a clock — so I guess my shoes tell something about me.
    I purposely try not too dress up too much, however, when I’m out and about.
    I usually wear a sport coat with Dockers or some other sorts of slacks. I’m dressed up enough, if I need to be, but I can lose the tie and the coat, and I’m not overdressed. Keeping everything clean is easier also — I don’t have to dry clean anything, except for the coat.

  6. Hi Chris —
    Yes, I was raised with the idea of never leaving the house looking less than “presentable” and that meant nice clothes, combed hair and proper shoes. I’ve tried to relax that a bit over the years, but sometimes I get a look from Janna when I say, “I need to change my shirt before we go across the street to the deli.”
    😀
    I, too, have stopped wearing a wristwatch on a daily basis. Sometimes culture and codes require it at a meeting or a fancy event where it would be rude to always be checking my BlackBerry for the time. I’m a time freak, so I check the time often.
    Your clothes setup is perfect, Chris. You’re set for any condition, meeting or weather situation! I also try to avoid dry cleaning if I can.

  7. Right now, David, I am in the suburbs. But I also lived in the city for many many years. I grew up in a rural area.
    Chris, your comment about looking your best when you leave the house made me laugh at the memory of my mother putting makeup on before she went on her weekly trip to the grocery store. I could never understand that when I was a kid.
    Well, this has me wondering what people think of me based on my shoes.. Since I moved to the suburbs two years ago, I’ve been commuting by train and subway, so I have been wearing very practical steel-toed policewoman boots, rather than nice heeled dress shoes or boots…
    hmmm.

  8. Hi Antoinette —
    When you mentioned “raccoon roundworm” I began to think you were not presently in the urban core…
    “Commuter shoes” are popular here for women because the subways are so harsh on good shoes. Many women wear sneakers or boots with their beautiful outfits while they run around to work and then they put on their “proper shoes” when they arrive at the workplace. Some women carry their good shoes with them while others have a “mini closest” of good shoes hidden under their desk for use during the week.

  9. Surprisingly, I had problems with it in the city, where raccoons were rampant – scavenging through the trash and all. No raccoons where I am in the suburbs. Foxes, hawks, coyotes – no raccoons.

  10. Dave!
    Yeah!
    I know some folks who live for running around barefoot in the rain. They are crazy for it! I think it is pretty dangerous because hard things become mobile as they flow along the streets and sidewalks.

  11. That’s pretty much what I do, too, Dave… but barefoot around the house is as far as I’m willing to go. I feel every stray particle and pebble on my feet, though.
    That’s a good thing when you get older because the first thing to go in your loss of sensory balance is a deadening of the delicate feedback in the soles of your feet. If you can’t feel that next step you tumble down.
    One company has created a “vibrating insole” that changes speed and intensity depending upon the surface upon which one is stepping.

  12. I go barefoot as often as I can. Now bearing that in mind, that’s just around the home. For me it’s getting back to bature. I’ll sit outside in shorts and a Bikini top and meditate. The neighbours have learnt to leave me alone when they see me do this.
    I’ll walk up the drive in my bare feet, no matter what time of day or night it is, I walk down to the front of the house to check the mailbox. Always always in bare feet.
    I own exactly 3 pairs of shoes. Sneakers, Beach type Sandals, and a pair of Knee High Boots. My Sneakers are worn when I go hiking the mountains in the area, (although granted, we don’t go far up), my Beach Shoes are worn practically everywhere else (unless it’s raining, then the sneakers get a good pounding), and my Knee Highs are dressy, and are worn when I go out to a party, or for a drink or something.
    Mom always told me that I should wear shoes “because it’s what she bought them for”, but even as a Kid I loved going barefoot. I didn’t know why back then. As I said, it’s all about getting back to nature for me. Cavemen and our ancestors going back many many many years didn’t have shoes. God never made us with shoes on. Why try and cram your feet into something that’s going to feel like a torture device??
    No thanks. Shoes? You can keep em!

  13. lol, Yes I wash my feet. I have a damp cloth waiting by the door and a towel. (So call me weird lol)
    As for my three pairs of shoes, I just don’t see the use of having so many pairs of shoes. I have three pairs and they do for every occasion that comes up, although I have been thinking about getting a pair of dressy sandals for drinks in the summertime.
    My feet are smooth, I take a lot of care of them. Exfoliating, moisturizing, keeping them clean and so on. On the other hand, I hate painting my toenails. Maybe thats just because I can’t keep my hand still enough to not get nail paint everywhere AROUND my toenails too.

  14. Hi Chris!
    I agree coming out before they “get you” is best and that’s what McGreevey did. He was, as I understand it, being blackmailed by a gay lover over a government job and he threatened to “go public” unless he got a better job or hush money or something so McGreevey just decided to bring it all out in the open, resign, and let the issue die the bloody death it deserved.
    He did the right thing.
    However, when it comes to his wife, and young children, his charade of living as a straight man during the day while prowling the rivers at night for gay lovers was not the right thing.
    One of the biggest tragedies in our shared lives is when good men fall into bad behavior. We all suffer with him because we lose his grace and countenance in our lives.
    His book should be interesting but it will only work if he is self-critically brutally honest.

  15. I have a sort of unwritten shoes off policy in my apartment. Most people guess it is the case when they see the other shoes by the door. I do this because the apartment is noticably cleaner than when I had no policy. Shoes will always get dirty outside and bring it inside. I won’t argue with anyone who wants to stay shoed – much 🙂

  16. Hi Gordon —
    So someone comes over to your house who has never been there before and you tell them to take off their shoes?
    Out of 10 people how many comply?
    Do you remove your shoes on an airplane when you fly?

  17. I hope your floor is clean, Gordon! It makes me crazy when people order you to take your shoes off and then your white socks are black on the bottom when it comes time to leave. I don’t want to take home someone else’s grime on my socks in my shoes. It’s easier to clean a floor than it is to clean the insides of your shoes.

  18. When people come over – one or two, not a party – they generally see all the shoes near the door and take theirs off of their own accord.
    Funny thing, the first time I went to my boyfriend’s mother’s apartment, I took off my shoes at the door. It was winter, and they were wet and filthy. I didn’t want to track mud all over her place. She begged me to put them back on (said the floor wasn’t clean).

  19. Good discussion.
    However, when considering people who walk barefoot everywhere, remember that it is common for them to wash their feet often. Twice a day is typical for a thorough washing and maybe a wet towel when re-entering a home.
    When taking a daily bath or shower, your feet get quite clean. And additional washing get feet clean again.
    How often do people wash the outsides of their shoes? People in shoes walk everywhere, including some places that are not all that clean. Yet, you don’t find people washing the outsides of their shoes on a daily or regular basis. That could be considered not very clean at all.
    How often do people wash the INSIDES of their shoes? Some people keep the same shoes for years and years. men’s shoes and athletic shoes, especially, are havens for old pet hair, fungus, bacteria, yeasts, and all sorts of decomposing matter. Combine that with all the moisure from sweating feet and socks and some shoes become perfect incubators for all kinds of decomposition organisms and possibly some pathogens. When people remove their shoes and have smelly socks and feet, it is generally not due to their feet being dirty if they were encased in socks all day. The smell is the result of moisture (perspiration) combining with all of those micro-organisms. Such micro-organism just LOVE damp, dark, warm places to live so they often thrive inside shoes.
    Now, if that is not considered disgusting and unclean, I don’t know what would.
    So, which is cleaner: feet that get washed once or twice a day or shoes that have been worn for a year that have never been washed or disinfected?

  20. Well my girls (ages 11 and 14) almost always go barefoot (we live in the southeast). One time when my oldest was younger, she thought her shoes were in the van. I noticed her going through the door in her socks and I said “shoes?”, she said “theyre in the van”, and I said “and your socks will get dirty getting there, put some shoes on” (they both have always have plenty, sneakers, sandals, flip flops). She pulled her socks off and went to the van barefooted.
    When we arrived at the grocery store, she was looking under the seats and around the back of the van for her shoes. That was when I remembered cleaning everything out the day before when the van was cleaned and washed.
    Oh well… She was six at the time and I told her she would have to ride the shopping cart. She begged me to let her just wear her socks this once and not ride in the cart. I said, well you could go barefoot this once, just don’t step on any broken glass.
    I probably should not have given in — she almost is always barefoot now as is her younger sister. Oh well, dawn

  21. I think walking barefoot at home is nice, especially after having ur feet cooped up all day. I would only go barefoot outside as far as my front gate. At home I always walk barefoot.

  22. I loooooooooove me some shoes, every kind, except stilettos ! I live on the Canadian West Coast and I love to go barefoot, at home 24/7, on the garden 24/7, at the pool 24/7 but everywhere else, no shoes, no service ! I own 2 pairs of socks, which have never been worn yet, no boots but lots of super cute girly shoes & sandals. I take great care of my feet and toenails, very clean, healthy and short, never wear polish, it looks tacky ! I love my pretty shoes but love to slip them off at every chance I get !