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 clean.

A couple times a year, the headmaster makes a big deal about it.

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 run upstairs.

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.

I hope that this column will provide thought-provoking observations of local life that will be interesting for a Saturday-morning read. If you have any suggestions or comments, please pass them along to bruno@brnodaily.cz.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. The publishing of this article does not constitute an endorsement of or any other expression of opinion by the management of Brno Daily.

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