Sunday, July 18, 2010

The barefoot issue

Growing up in South Africa I was often barefoot. The story of Shaka Zulu making his warriors run barefoot over thorns to toughen their feet led to a cultural bravado about barefootedness -
"their feet were hardened, by frequent runs over the hot stony ground and by stamping thorns into the ground so that scar tissue would form."

Perhaps not over thorns, but I could run all the way across the burning sand at North Beach from the waterline to my towel. If it got too hot I could dig a hole and stand in that a while!

In Australia, my ex-husband's BFF was a bare foot zealot. He taught akido and believed that we should not wear shoes and so he did not. When his baby-Mama won a prestigious art fellowship to travel to France for a year, he finally had shoes for emergencies (like snow and major gallery receptions) but tried his best to stand by the ethic.

Coming to America, I found that bare feet are considered bad form. Many stores have signs prohibiting service to barefooted people and on more than one occasion when I have had a young child, barefoot, in the heat of summer I have been told that they just can't have a child barefoot in the store for their own safety because we can't guarentee their safety and there could be glass or something on the floor!

Apparently, America is vulnerable to an attack from the floor. Perhaps a shard of glass here or there will bring capitalism to its knees, really.

Regardless, Frost hates shoes. Really. He has about 4 pairs of shoes that are not for soccer (Blundstones, flip flops, some parkour shoes and a rather posh pair of Sperry topsider sandals.) Unless I nag, he does not wear any of them. IF I nag, he wears flip-flops and kicks them off as soon as we are in the car/library/out of the store.

Last week, taking Frost to the radiologist to have his "end of braces x-ray" I did not nag. We arrived at the medical tower to find he had no shoes. He knows enough about public opinion to feel awkward.

Here he is entering the elevator without shoes. In Washington State, this is a radical act.

And here he is hiding his bare feet in the waiting room.

I explained to the radiographer that 'we' had forgotten them, and she said it was alright because "we have carpet and nothing sharp on the floor."

ARGH! Enough with the sharp stuff already! Don't they know about Shaka?

When we returned to the car, Frost FOUND his shoes under the seat. He had taken them off in the car and forgotten. The drama was over. I wait to see whether there was a lesson in it. Nothing natural happened as a consequence, so I doubt it. But we shall see whether the fear of consequences broke through his shoe apathy.


Linda said...

In Norway too there's more of a culture for bare feet. My grandpa use to love Summer mainly because he could walk barefoot in the grass (and when he was a boy they didn't ever wear shoes in Spring and Summer). I used to go across town with no shoes and quickly learned to avoid the broken bottles on the sidewalks. Here someone would've been sued for that broken glass...

Shannon said...

So, we can theorize an inverse relationship between a culture of liability and a culture of barefoot boys?

I am glad someone else had the pleasure of a shoefree summer :)

tamusana said...

Shannon - I do recall that you had a nasty barefoot encounter with a pencil while you were running [across the hockey field?] at DGC.... but I'd say that was a freak accident. Then again, that is exactly the type of Deadly Hazard that the average American fears.

Coincidentally, I recently googled the term "barefoot" (I was trying to figure out if I should say barefoot or barefooted; turns out either would be OK) and came across this very edifying bit on Wikipedia:

Many stores, restaurants, and other public venues have policies against bare feet, which most likely arose during the 1960s as a way to keep undesirable hippies out. While private business owners are free to set their own policies, many also cite nonexistent OSHA or health department codes, though there are requirements that pertain to employees, but not customers. Many people also believe that it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle barefoot, but there are no laws in either the United States, Canada, or the United Kingdom pertaining to this.

Shannon said...

Well, if I find myself in need of a political campaign I will start going barefoot in stores to test this non-existant health code.

I am startled, really startled, that people think that it might be illegal to drive barefoot. I am always driving barefoot.

I think that there may be an argument against driving with one shoe on and one shoe off, however. I have discovered some weird neurological thing where I cannot drive safely in this condition. It happened first when I had hot feet and removed one shoe at a traffic light. The light changed before I could pull off the other and I found I couldn't drive. It was so peculiar. I couldn't 'find' the automaticity of brake and accelerator.

Since then, I have had the same issue again in a milder sense, and have been careful to get completely barefooted before I drive off.

I was not running on a field when the pencil went through my foot. I was running up stairs in the Centennial Hall. The pencil fell from my pocket and landed in the crease of the stair, pointing upward.

I challenge any anti-barefooter to replicate the accident

AND ANYWAY (public at large)

my parents did not sue for my terrible psychological trauma even though I was told by the school nurse:

"You will die of blood loss if you pull that out" [worth at least 5K?]

Waldorf school mama said...

Fred went barefooted into Peak's Frozen Custard just the other day and I have to say both Aleander and I were mortified (only because we did not want someone cursing us) but now that I know it is not against the law I am going to go barefooted more often. I LOVE going barefoot. I remember being a "flower child" in San Francisco in the early '60s and stepping in dog poo... that sort of memory really sticks! I was able to wash my foot in a fountain. And, I never got worms through my feet either!!! According to someone when we went camping, worms through your feet is a good thing... was that you Shannon?

Anonymous said...

I think you can find some useful information on the barefoot lifestyle at

Anonymous said...

I just read this after viewing a link to your blog that was posted in the mailing list of "The Society for Barefoot Living"
It might take half a year as in this case, but we eventually find out about any news regarding barefoot access/lifestyle etc.
Just wanted to make sure that you are aware of our organization, most of the urban legends regarding health codes, driving, bare feet in public places, etc. are debunked on our website. Also,there are state by state letters proving that bare feet are allowed everywhere.
Give us a visit if you have'nt already!