On my first day of school in New Zealand, I was shocked to discover that no one was wearing shoes. I was ten years old, a recent immigrant, and my classmates were actually laughing at me for wearing shoes.
I found it strange to say the least. Where I’d just come from, England, the opposite would’ve happened: you’d get laughed at for not wearing shoes.
I remember asking a girl why she and the other kids weren’t wearing shoes.
“Dunno,” she replied in her upwardly inflecting Kiwi accent. “It’s more comfy wearing bare feet, I s’pose.”
As she turned away, I struggled to undo the confused knot my face had become. How was it more comfortable to not wear shoes outside, walking over concrete, gravel and bark chippings? (I was also laughed at for saying ‘bark chippings’ instead of simply ‘bark’.) I could understand not wearing shoes on the school field, but some kids walked home ‘in bare feet’ as well.
Maybe it’s cooler, I thought. It was quite warm, after all, even though it was August – winter in New Zealand.
I should mention that this story takes place in Waiuku, a small town surrounded by farmland and beaches. You don’t see many people walking around barefoot in New Zealand’s cities. You do see some though.
I’ve talked about this before, (in Kiwis, Kiwis and Kiwis: The People of New Zealand.) I met a kid who’d had a slither of broken glass stuck in their foot for the past few days. They didn’t seem too bothered by it, though. Their soles were so thick and toughened from years of going barefoot that it barely even hurt. I watched, oddly fascinated, as they casually dug it out with a needle.
What more proof do you need that New Zealanders really are hobbits?
My experience of being laughed at for wearing shoes is far from unique. Recently, I read an article in the Hamilton Press – that’s the free paper that keeps appearing in our letterbox – about a 105-year-old woman with similar memories to mine. She moved to New Zealand from England nearly 100 years ago – way back in 1918. Apparently, all the children at the local school went barefoot and called her a sissy for wearing shoes. As a result, she took her shoes off as soon as she arrived at school each day. Her feet became tough. Kiwi feet. Hobbit feet.
It’s funny how things don’t change. My feet have never hardened, though.
A few months ago, some people I know – Kiwis – clubbed together to buy a PS4 for one of their mates. He’d recently been burgled, you see, so this was an awesome act of friendship. They tricked him into accompanying them into an electronics store and surprised him, filming his reaction on a cell phone. This is the video – it went kinda viral:
As well as praise, it attracted quite a few nasty comments. (Well, duh, it was posted on the Internet.) Most of the nasty comments were from non-Kiwis disgusted at the guys’ lack of shoes. Another video was made to address the issue. I want to show it to you because it’s a lovely insight into this particular aspect of Kiwi culture. The guys are just so down-to-earth and light-heartedly funny about it – so Kiwi about it – that it makes me smile. Here it is: