Is it the acceptability of bare feet in public a positive example of Australia’s laid back and easy going lifestyle and attitudes?
Is it is an example of a society that is too laid back, complacent and sloppy?
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In 2012 I was in San Sebastian as part of a month long holiday in Spain. I remember walking down one of the beautiful cobble stoned side streets and noticing a group of young men. I was too far away to hear what they were saying but they were very loud. What struck me about this group was that none of them were wearing shoes, bare feet all around. I felt that I knew what country they were from but I had to get closer to hear their voices and accents. As I got closer I could clearly make out their accents and my suspicions were confirmed. They were Australian and you are correct if you assumed that I was appalled by their barefoot antics.
When I think of people walking around with no shoes I imagine it occurring at the beach, by the swimming pool, and within the privacy of one’s home. However, bare feet in public are largely acceptable in my country: AUSTRALIA!
Australians have always had a reputation for being laid back and, for better or worse, it’s a reputation that continues to circulate around the world. Foreigners, who visit Australia, and even a portion of Australian citizens, are often baffled by the frequency and general acceptability of no footwear in public.
Bare footed citizens are often seen entering super markets, petrol stations, fast food outlets, retail stores and along asphalt and concrete roads and foot paths. It is not uncommon to see shop signs in the US requesting patrons to not enter their without foot wear (No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service). This is not a law, but a preference which is not common in Australia.
Summer is the most common time for bare foot public spotting in Australia. Understandably Australia can get quite hot in summer and there are open aired foot wear options to accommodate the weather, thongs (flip flops) and sandals. I’ve even noticed backpacking and bohemian foreigners on holiday in Byron Bay, NSW, taking on this abhorrent practice.
Aussies are aware of footwear options and when questioned a number of reasons come up. I have spent time asking random strangers why they chose to not wear any footwear in public. I compiled a collection of the most common responses. People that I have asked reacted with complete surprise at the question, like they had never been questioned about their bare feet in public before.
The common responses were:
-“Dunno mate, it’s just what we do”.
– “Can’t be fucked wearing shoes mate”
-“It’s more comfortable walking around with no shoes”
– “Gives ya feet a chance to breathe”
-“Left my shoes in the car”
It’s a reflection of Australian society’s tendency towards being more relaxed, less judgemental and laid back. We are not as strict as the US and Europe are about matters like this. The coastal towns of St Tropez and Monaco have rules against people walking around town without a t-shirt or shoes on. I was actually shocked by this, especially when a police officer reprimanded me for being shirtless as soon as I stepped away from one of the beach fronts in St Tropez.
Obviously I have no issue with bare feet around one’s home. I do not question it at the beach or by the pool side. I will even look past it if someone scuttles from the beach to the boardwalk/main street in order to purchase a drink or food. However, anything beyond that is completely unacceptable for my main three reasons below.
- Safety– There is always the risk of stepping on something outdoors that can cut and/or bruise the foot from glass to bolts to needles. Asphalt and concrete during the summer can get very hot and can burn the soles of feet. Wearing shoes in retail and hospitality outlets can prevent people from suffering similar injuries indoors.
- Hygiene– The soles of the feet become black and dirty, aiding in an increase in bad odour and poor hygiene. If feet are not washed after a day of bare footing, bed sheets will become soiled.
- Appearance– It is a sloppy and slovenly look. Bare feet in public is an uncouth cultural practise that is a reflection of a society that is too laid back, casual and complacent.
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