It’s been about 2 months since I have spent any real time inside of an office with hundreds of people. I sort of forgot how much fun it can be here in India with the ladies in saris, the diverse rituals like morning and afternoon tea and the amazing aromas that come out of the kitchen mid-day. And I certainly forgot about how many bare FEET one sees all around the office throughout the day! My couple of hours at work today – coupled with a fabulous piece of fan mail I received this morning from a man who wants to worship my feet – started me thinking all about feet. So here we go!
The feet thing still stops me dead in my tracks. India doesn’t have the same strict etiquette rules with footwear that we have in Europe or the U.S. I see so many kids running around town, even kids with backpacks on and headed to school, who don’t wear shoes. I see children playing in the streets or in front of construction areas in the dirt without shoes. This is something that you would never see back home. Perhaps for some families struggling to make ends meet it’s a budget thing. Kids are expensive and I certainly remember when my daughter grew out of her shoes every couple of months – it’s frustrating when they are young.
Yet it’s not the shoeless kids who have surprised me the most. For me, there are two very different scenarios in India that both win first prize in the “why the HELL don’t you have shoes on” competition.The first winner is really sort of loser because I worry about their safety. All around India, construction workers, manual labourers, and guys who climb up telephone poles go without shoes. I sort of understood it the first time I saw it. There was a huge truck of cement or some type of mixing powder being emptied onto a job site. One of the guys was in the back pushing buckets of it toward the front. I am sure that if he had worn his shoes in there they would have been destroyed and his wife would have killed him for putting them in that state. His feet probably weren’t in any danger but it just still felt wrong to me.
The guys who DO really concern me are the ones who are on job sites using long steel rods to dig into the earth to loosen dirt and break up the soil. They hold it straight up and down in front of themselves, then with both hands clasping the rod they bring it down into the ground with all their force right between their feet.…their two very vulnerable feet with NO shoes on them! In the U.S. a man can’t work at certain construction site unless he has steel-toed boots, etc… so witnessing these guys day after day without construction hats, no proper shoes and doing dangerous construction work is alarming. Oh, and I forgot to mention that are typically wearing a lungi – what I consider to be the male version of the sari – while performing all these tasks. Shocks the hell out of me! I wonder just how many of these guys are injured each year?
My all-time winner and favourite “no shoe” sighting was of a guy working on either the electrical or telephone wires outside the hotel I was staying at the first five weeks I was living in Bangalore. This little Tarzan actually walked up to the pole he needed to climb, took off his sandals and then proceeded to climb the pole like a real pro. He was really fast and appeared to be highly efficient in climbing his way to the top!! It was almost like something out of Cirque du Soleil, I swear, that little guy was awesome!! Since then I have seen these Tarzans around town a couple of times. I don’t get it 100% but they seem super happy jamming up the poles and using their toes to anchor themselves from one peg to another… maybe it’s easier without shoes? Seems like it might allow for a more natural hold on the pegs but still seems monumentally unsafe to me!!
Now we come to the strangest place I have seen people running around with no shoes. For me that place is without a doubt at the office. It’s just not done in the U.S. or Europe. I can’t imagine arriving into the office, kicking off my shoes and then running to the cantina for a tea. Haha! It just doesn’t happen outside of “bonding meetings” or something similar. In fact, I think the only time I have seen someone without shoes on at the office is when a male colleague was in a skiing accident and had a cast on his leg and therefore couldn’t wear a shoe! But not in India.
Here it is quite commonplace to see people take off their shoes at their desk when they sit down and to then even get up and walk around. It’s sort of sweet, like everyone feels quite at home. But it does feel inappropriate when officers in the company do it. I promise you that I was SO shocked the first time I saw a top-level executive at the office kick off her shoes at her desk and curl her feet under herself in the chair in such a way that everyone could see the bottoms of her feet. MAYBE if they were perfect feet it would have been okay but they weren’t … the feet were in dire need of a pedicure, including the nails… but she seemed totally indifferent to it all.
One day my colleagues thought I had gone completely native, it was fantastic. I always wear high heels. So when I started with my first job here in Bangalore I was pretty sad that the sidewalks around the office were really scrappy and not at all meant for walking on in nicer shoes. So I started keeping a pair of flip-flops in my desk to change into so that when I ran out to the pharmacy or to the shops during the day that I wouldn’t ruin my shoes. No one was around one day when I slipped out of my favourite Tod’s and into my flip-flops and headed out to run errands. But when I came back the whole zone was looking at me and then down at my feet! They actually thought I had gone out without shoes after seeing mine abandoned by my desk! Haha! They didn’t know me at all ‘cuz there is no way on God’s green earth that I would ever run around in public with no shoes! Haha I love that they thought that though!
It’s been 4 months and I still wear heels every day. I know that monsoon season is upon us but I so far refuse to buy cheap or sensible shoes to use during the rainy season. In fact, I am still VERY keen on the Wellies plan but all my Indian friends laugh their asses off every time I bring it up!! I’m sure I will lose a bit of my prissiness eventually and behave like a resident of monsoon weather… I just need a bit more time!
© Angela Carson, 2011