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Kiwi Feet

October 19, 2010

On a chilly mid winter morning when the ground was finely coated with Jack Frost’s calling card, I watched my friend walk towards my house from her car which she had parked out on the street. While I waited, huddled around a gas heater, I noticed something wasn’t quite right with the picture in front of me.

My friend was in this picture along with a bag of freshly baked muffins in her left hand and her car keys and purse in her right hand. She had on a thick woollen coat, a long homespun muffler and matching pumpkin coloured beanie, but  I couldn’t put my finger in the thing that was missing. And then it clicked. On her feet she had nothing.

“What happened to your shoes?” I asked her as I opened the door. She smiled holding up a bag of muffins unfazed by the temperature and her barefeet.

“I dunno.” she replied “No worries eh.”

That was the end of the discussion. I had forgotten my friend had a dislike for shoes, excluding jandals (flipflops) opting to go around unshod and free whenever she could.

I, on the other hand, prefer my feet well shod when walking outside on the pavement, road, icy cold grass, sopping paddocks, animal defecated pastures and sunburnt sands.

Many New Zealander’s — bless them — also prefer their feet shoeless: 24/7.

Inside department stores, discount stores and supermarkets unshod feet trod over dirty grimy floors, concrete pock marked with gum, and tar stained roads. All I can say to this a part from “eeeewwwwww”, is that I don’t associated myself with this part of the kiwi psyche. In fact I cannot understand it. Never have and never will.

Like Hobbits, Kiwis who trudge around without shoes have a common ailment known in the shoeless fraternity as “Kiwi Feet.” Here the sole is likened to rhinoceros skin and the foot’s width foot has broadened due to years of being outside a constricting shoe.  Another unique fact is the amazing tolerance Kiwi Feet have in subzero temperatures or high heat after standing on a discarded cigarette stub.

It used to be that shoeless feet could be seen everywhere throughout the country’s urban and rural centres, but over the generations as more New Zealander’s travel the globe bringing back etiquette and style (kind of) with them, the shoeless foot has succumbed to ruralisation with feet seeking out fresher and cleaner grounds to wander on.

Shoeless feet can still be found kicking back in rural schools, rural pubs and medical clinics, pushing down on acceleration pedals when driving, running across paddocks and running into the surf.

I cannot guess when going barefoot first entered the New Zealand culture. New Zealand Maori and Pacific Islanders may have introduced this to early European settlers when their footware fell apart, or surfers who lost their sandals and thought “why not?”. The list is endless.

via Interrobangsanon

If you want to know more about this oddity in Kiwi Culture, simply Google it and see why tourists are as baffled about it as I am.

Caffeinated Traveller

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16 Comments
  1. neilsharp permalink
    October 20, 2010 7:03 am

    hi cate-really love your stories. your wording is unique. you give us the opportunity to use our minds to imagine what is what. keep up the good work and godspeed in all your travels.may your quest be lengthy!

    • October 20, 2010 10:34 am

      Thanks you Neil! I am very happy to read your lovely comment, it made my morning 🙂

  2. October 20, 2010 8:59 am

    Wow. What a quirky local habit! I think it’s great to be close to nature and let your feet be free. I’d get a kick out of seeing barefeet in all kinds of weather. I couldn’t do it personally but I admire Kiwi independent spirit. It says a lot about a culture when they’re willing to go against typical protocol.

    • October 20, 2010 10:36 am

      That’s so true, to be able to go against the norm it hard especially in these times. From reading expat forums on NZ there are some who can’t appreciate this type of quirkiness and at times I know I get sick of it. Barefeet comes across as being a bumpkin and is usually confirmed when the person opens their mouth. But what freedom!

  3. October 20, 2010 9:10 am

    I think it’s also that in NZ at least, the ground is generally nice to walk on. It’s also a little bit about reclaiming kinship with the ground at least for the Maori… Maybe I’m biased, but like Fly Girl, I think that it’s an excellent demonstration of independent spirit.

    • October 20, 2010 10:39 am

      True, the ground is usually cleaner, but not always. I agree with you on the spiritual aspect from Maori and other indigenous groups. But there should be a time and place for this, I mean do you want to see this in a school? Children use the restrooms and play outdoors with no shoes on bringing their feet back into the classroom.

      • October 21, 2010 10:38 am

        Yes, I agree that there is a time and place for this… there shouldn’t be bare feet in schools or in hospitals… (that said, I have taken off my snow-soaked boots in class before…)

  4. Catherine permalink
    October 22, 2010 8:13 pm

    I had no idea this was part of the kiwi psyche and culture!!

    • October 29, 2010 2:33 pm

      That is probably a good thing don’t you think? Kiwis can be odd at the best of times. Myself included.

  5. October 27, 2010 3:33 am

    Nice post! My feet used to be so much tougher, but these days I tend to wear shoes most of the year. Well, OK, summer time is strictly jandal time! I’ve worked in primary schools where the kids arrive with shoes on, but they tend to get discarded as soon as possible as they head out to the before-school go on the playground equipment. You can just see the restricting feeling that some children have when they have to have shoes on.

    I’ve noticed that the “no shoes” issue is one of the first things people mention when they visit me in NZ.

    • October 29, 2010 2:29 pm

      Neither did I until I started looking into this topic. Funny how things are seen differently from one culture to the next.

  6. Time Traveler permalink
    October 28, 2010 9:31 am

    During the late 1960s and early 1970s, America was like that for a while. Young women especially could be seen barefoot in public, shopping, and what is done in NZ. Even in New York City you would see at least some young people doing it. The hippies started the fad during the late 1960s, and it spread to the mainstream population by 1970 or so, but it started to go out of style by the second half of the decade, and by the 1980s it became rare to see people barefoot outside of beach towns, and is very rare now. And how the older generation of conservatives hated that – they associated bare feet with the unpatriotic anti-war movement. So signs started appearing on doors – ‘no bare feet’, ‘shirts and shoes required’, and later, the more condescending ‘no shirts, no shoes, no service’. It all started in order to keep hippies out, and most people in the US today think there are regulations against bare feet in stores, but that is not true. So you guys in NZ have more social and cultural freedom than we do with regards to this. Do not take this for granted.

    • October 29, 2010 2:26 pm

      Absolutely! It’s things like these that fall by the wayside as people go about trying to better themselves and their lives. If only these precious things that define ourselves and culture were appreciate more and taken to heart not for granted I think our lives would feel much richer. Hope all this rambling made sense. But thanks for your wonderful comment.

  7. Iain permalink
    October 31, 2010 10:02 am

    Hey there , rare to find kiwis in Florida how you liking it ? Been here around 4 years now originally from north shore Auckland

    • November 1, 2010 12:48 pm

      Hi Iain

      Florida is going well just as long as I stay in close proximity to an air conditioner. A little warm for my liking but I guess it’s a matter of getting use to it. Where in Florida are you?

  8. November 6, 2010 9:56 am

    Normal to you, new to me. Interesting post, Cate!

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