Image: Stock picture / Freepik. For illustrative purposes.
One of the most talked about issues at the gymnasium
where I teach is the shoe policy. Students are supposed to change their outdoor
shoes for some kind of indoor shoes when they get into the building. It makes
sense when there is snow and slush and mud outside. The hallways are easier to
A couple times a year, the headmaster makes a big deal
And that is when all H-E-Double Hockey Sticks breaks
loose. (It’s a Catholic school.)
The students get angry. They bitch and moan and complain
that they are being treated like children. “I cleaned my shoes at the door!” “Visitors
mess up the hallway then we have to walk through it in our slippers!” “But I
like my shoes! They’re so pretty!” “It’s just so stupid!”
Most of the kids change their shoes, but there are always
some rebels who decide that this is the issue with which to fight the power.
Eventually there is word that random inspections are
imminent. Then the draconian leaders of the school barge into the lessons to
inspect the feet of the students. The rebels are caught and shamed. And, as
they walk out to go to their locker and change their footwear, they point to
the teacher’s shoes and whine: “But, Bruno didn’t change his shoes!”
And that gets me in trouble.
* * *
In the United States, my family was the outlier because
we always took our shoes off at the front door. None of my friends ever did in
their homes. Tennis shoes, dress shoes, boots — my friends had all of their
footwear in their bedroom closets. I never understood that, but I don’t
remember if their houses were overly dirty. Maybe they were or maybe they just
cleaned more often. Out of common sense, they must have taken off really dirty
shoes at the door but I don’t remember anyone making a big deal out of it.
I definitely take off my shoes at home here in Brno. It
is normal for me. I have cheap slippers that I wear everywhere inside the
house. Even when I forget my keys or my lunch as I am about to leave the house
in the morning, I dutifully remove my shoes and put on my slippers in order to
The rebellious students aside, it is common practice
around here to change your shoes when you go inside a home. In fact, there are
at least four Czech words for the home footwear: Pantofle, bačkory, přezůvky,
papuče. All of them are cheap and always
seem to be on the edge of completely falling apart.
This custom, however, makes me uncomfortable with guests.
I’ve had electricians working on complicated wiring schemes in my home while
wearing flimsy flip flops. It just seems strange to have my buddies wearing
cheap house shoes when we’re drinking whiskey and playing poker.
And, if you throw a party, it is very awkward to deal
with women. They put a lot of thought into their appearance. Dress.
Accessories. Hair. Make up. “You look fantastic! Now, would you mind taking off
your high heels to wear these slippers?”
* * *
In offices — and, now that I have been ratted out,
schools — I don’t change my shoes. It just feels too strange to be walking up
and down public hallways in cheap Birkenstock knockoffs. And if I dress up,
like when I go to the theater, I don’t want wear a suit with slippers. People
do this. It is the height of tacky.
It gets worse, too. Recently there has been a barefoot
craze around here. I’ve seen many people around Brno without shoes, even in the
winter. There is a walking path south of here that is set up for barefooters,
with different levels of difficulty. Even runners are completing races without
shoes (and running faster than me!).
In the office where I work, many of my colleagues go
barefoot. I don’t get it. Socks, I guess, but barefoot? They even go barefoot in
the restroom, where — newsflash! — men’s aim is not always real great.
Maybe these barefooters just got tired of having to constantly change their shoes. I can understand that.
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