No shoes, no service 

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I saw it for the first time a few weeks back.

There was nothing particularly remarkable about him.

Except when you looked down.

No shoes. No sandals. No footwear. The dude was barefoot in the village McDonald's — nothing but cold, sticky concrete beneath his feat.

I thought I might be hallucinating.

Unfortunately, I wasn't. And since then, I've seen it again (twice), and spoken to enough people to say confidently that it is, in fact, a thing — that dudes (and it seems to be mostly dudes) are walking around Whistler in bare feet.

I like to think I'm a pretty liberal, open-minded person. But when it comes to bare feet and public space, I'm strident: Unless you're on a white sandy beach, cover your soles.

Cities are dirty places, breeding grounds for bacteria, and going barefoot can result in a number of nasty ailments — from plantar warts, to parasitic infections, to athlete's foot.

Moreover, feet are gross. The small toe in particular — the way it jets off at sharp angles — is a stark reminder of humans' ongoing evolution.

My dad's feet are the absolute worst. After work, he would lie on the couch and pick at them, pulling on long strands of dead skin until they snapped like rubber bands.

Up until recently, I assumed that people were agreed that getting footloose in public is a serious no no.

Over beers, a dear friend enlightened me. It's hot in Australia — bloody hot, he explained. And it's more or less acceptable to go from the beach to the liquor store to the grocery store without any shoes. People aren't hung up about it.

Just that morning, he — a clean-cut, border-line preppy guy — walked into Roland's without any footwear.

A clerk (who presumably deals with this regularly) reached behind the counter and handed him a pair of sandals.

I shook my head in disbelief. But isn't that like gross?

He didn't think so. Socks and shoes are gross, he protested. Why coop your feet up when you can let them "breathe" and "be free?"

As the conversation continued, I got the sense that my line of questioning was beginning to aggravate him.

What seemed like common sense to me was fussy, almost puritanical to him. It seemed as though the right to bare feet — like the right to bear guns for our U.S. neighbours — might be tied up in larger notions of identity and nationality.

Curious, I went to the internet for answers. Writing in The Australian, the country's most popular newspaper, Nicky Gemmel extols the virtues of going barefoot, referring to it as the "most delicious and deplorable of Aussie traditions."

Gemmel started going barefoot after spending time in the Northern Territory, where she observed, "that long, slow walk of the Aboriginal women, unhurried, unstressed, leading by the feet rather than the hips, soles as tough as leather."

Foreigners — and "a fair few Aussies" — just don't get it, writes Gemmel. It's all about "freedom" and "letting your feet breathe rather than being entombed in sweat."

For Gemmel, there is an almost spiritual dimension to forsaking shoes, allowing her to feel "connected" and "alive to the natural world."

"The only horrors, apart from offending the sensitive among us, are navigating public bathrooms and stepping in doggy-do. You learn."

I did, however, find a more reasonable opinion in The Daily Telegraph, a popular Australian tabloid. Going barefoot, is a gendered phenomenon, with guys seeming to "have a much thicker skin" for it.

Like me, Melissa Matheson was appalled to see someone shopping for groceries in bare feet.

"It's revolting," she writes.

Matheson ends her piece with a compromise — something to bridge the gulf between people who want "the freedom" of going barefoot and people who find it repellant: "If you can't see the water from where you're standing, then you can't be barefoot."

I can get behind that.

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