12 July 2010

Kiwi Mystery #1: The case of the missing shoes

New Zealanders have a mystifying propensity to go barefoot at the most illogical times.

Now, on a sunny day at the end of long winter in Canada, I have seen people outside in winter coats, toques, short pants and sandals (usually with socks too, which maybe not fashionable, but certainly is sensible considering the season).

That practice may seem illogical to some, but it makes sense to me and I can tell you why: After a long winter you want to thumb your nose at snow and ice and celebrate the sunshine that promises spring is just around the corner. So you dip into your non-winter wear and head outside. There may be a bit of snow left on the ground, but the sidewalks are clear and when you go back inside it’s warm and dry.

What doesn’t make sense to me is Kiwis’ practice of going bare foot in the middle of winter.

Yesterday morning it was six degrees out. I saw an eight-year-old girl, far from anywhere that could be home, walking in the shade on cold wet pavement. No shoes.

I saw a father bundled up with an equally bundled two-year-old girl. This wee darling was wearing a pink winter coat, pink woolen hat, mittens, even a scarf; but, you guessed it: No shoes. Nor was her Dad carrying her shoes.

And it’s not just in the winter: I have seen groups of shoeless children and random shoeless adults wandering about cities like Auckland and Wellington in the height of summer – some days so hot that heat waves rise from the asphalt - unfazed by hazards like broken glass, murky puddles or garbage.

I see bare feet almost everyday. No matter the time of year. No matter the weather. And it mystifies me!

Now, I know that New Zealanders pride themselves on being tough. So maybe this belief in ‘toughness’ as a virtue is the foundation for this obsession with bare feet (even when logic dictates that shoes would be appropriate), their stubborn refusal to properly insulate or heat their homes (even in the south where they get snow and ice) and in a common New Zealand saying: “harden up”.

I have asked countless Kiwis: Why don’t people here insulate their homes and install central heating (especially when New Zealand has high rates of childhood asthma because houses are damp and cold in winter)? Why do so many Kiwis go bare foot outside in the winter?

I’ve yet to receive an answer that provides insights beyond my guess that it links to a deeply ingrained cultural compulsion to be ‘tough’. In fact, the usual answer I get is an amiable shrug and chuckle accompanied by an “Aw, mate… harden up!”

1 comment: