Sunday, January 07, 2007

No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem

I don’t know what it is, but McDonald’s has some seriously good marketing over here (although I guess it doesn’t take that much creativity to top “I’m Lovin’ It”). There is one commercial in particular that actually makes me want to got to McDonald’s and specifically request that the profit go to the person who wrote the ad. Okay, in reality the commercial is not really that amazing (still infinitely better than “I’m lovin’ it,” though), but there is one line that makes me laugh out loud every time: the narrator is describing how the new “Big Ocean Burger” is made with hoki, “because Kiwis love hoki almost as much as they love not wearing shoes.” To me, that line captures the essence of Kiwi culture in two key ways:

1. The ability of (and affinity for) Kiwis to make fun of themselves
2. The observation about Kiwis’ lack of footwear

While it would easy for me to go on and on about the comedic self-deprecation aspect of New Zealand life (which I absolutely love), I’d like to focus this entry on the other, significantly less desirable quality. Seriously people, where are your shoes?

This is an issue I first noticed in Australia. It was obviously fine to see bare feet around beach areas, and—although it was not a choice I’d make—I wasn’t too bothered that people would venture a few blocks from the beach without slipping on a pair of thongs (aka flip flops if you’re American, jandals if you’re Kiwi). But the first time I saw a shoeless person wandering around the supermarket, I was horrified.

I don’t consider myself to be particularly germ-phobic. I share water bottles and chapstick, I’ve used frat house bathrooms, and I sometimes apply the five-second rule a bit more liberally than I probably should. But I was also raised in a Purell-obsessed culture that loves to instil fear of all sorts. If the terrorists don’t kill me, E. Coli definitely will. So the nausea I get when I see bare feet in a restaurant is a purely involuntary reaction, conditioned by a lifetime of Lysol commercials and 20/20 special reports.

A Kiwi friend swears that the shoeless trend is only common among people in rural areas and rich city-dwelling teenagers who are trying to be cool. Really, that’s what makes you cool? Maybe it’s the whole thrill-seeking aspect of Kiwi culture that motivates them. Stepping on a rusty nail is not only more dangerous than bungee jumping, it’s also a lot cheaper (especially if you can write it off under ACC). Despite what my friend says, I get the impression that pretty much everyone goes without shoes whenever the opportunity arises. People walk around my office barefoot, my flatmates often don’t bother to don shoes between the house and the car, and there was very little footwear to be seen in the resort towns I’ve passed through.

Travelling has definitely opened my mind to a lot of new ideas and ways of living, many of which I would like to adopt, both for myself and for my country/culture. However, going barefoot in public places (especially places that sell food) is definitely not one of those things. Sorry, it just grosses me out. I guess it’s just another reminder that deep down, I am an American. An American who likes to wear shoes.


Adrian C. said...

Do not bring the no shoes deal to the USA. I do not think that would go over well here. But you know that, cause you are an american who likes to wear shoes.

teana said...

haha. i totally feel you. i get squemish when i see people with their bare feet on the dashboard of SOMEONE ELSE'S car. no way is that ever happening in my car. gross.

Anonymous said...

What is wrong with you young'uns? Old fogies, such as myself, know that feet are happiest when they are bare. I wish I lived where it is warm enough to go without shoes and a place where people did worry quite so much about germs. Ah, those barefoot days--those were the real good old days.

Geetha said...

It's not that I don't love my feet being able to breathe--I would wear flip flops all year long if it weren't for the snow. And I do love bare feet. I just love them indoors. And then my flip flops can provide a nice 1/2 inch foam barrier when I'm outside. I know it's probably irrational, germ-wise, but it's better for my mental health :)