Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Barefoot Babes...

One day this (north American) summer, I was in the US and Skype-ing with my dear husband. We had the following conversation:

“T, why doesn’t Elisa have shoes on?”

“Because it’s hot outside and we’re in the house.”

“She needs to have shoes on.”


“So her feet don’t get big”

(insert weird look and an eye roll here)

“Why do you think your feet are so big?”

(I burst out laughing.)

Now, after seven years in Chile and five of them married to a Chilean, I’ve learned that most cultural differences are not a matter of right or wrong, rather a difference in perspective and/or life experience. Most times I can accept and respect beliefs for what they are; however, the need to cling tight to shoes is one belief that I really struggle with respecting.

I’ve learned to smile and accept the admonitions that: my insistence on going shoeless (even in the house) will get me sick and then I’ll give whatever horrible illness results to my daughter, who is innocent in the whole matter; and that the bichos (literally bugs, but in this case germs) in Chile are “stronger” and I don’t realize what I’m up against. Not to mention that any time Ely or I have a stuffy nose, it's because I've been going pies pelados (bare foot, but applies to stocking feet, too).

(Note: A concerned acquaintance asked her doctor about my horrible habit of going barefoot in the house. (No joke!) Her doctor told her that if they do that in my country and I’ve grown up doing it, my immune system is stronger and that is why I don’t get as sick as Chileans would. He also told her that she should not try the same thing, for she didn’t have such a dangerous upbringing. (Phew! Glad to know that evolution has saved me!))

So, I’m pretty used to the broken record telling me that daring to take my shoes off indoors will bring great peril. I'm not used to nor was I prepared for my darling husband telling me that the peril has already come- in the form of gigantic, sasquatch feet!

(Another note: Apparently, my mother-in-law had also noticed Ely’s bare feet in a Skype session. It was so noteworthy that she commented to my parents’ Chilean neighbor, who asked me about it.)

Now, I will admit, wearing a 9 ½ in Chile is not something I would recommend, if you have any control over the matter. Here’s why:

Shoe shopping goes a little something like this:

#1 I walk into a store without bothering to look around. I find a sales associate who looks like they might be willing to help me and ask politely, Cuales modelos tienen en cuarenta? (Which models do you have in 9 ½?) Invariably, the sales associate looks me up and down in disbelief and says, Cuarenta?!?!?! (9 ½?) If they are older, sometimes I get, Estas segura, mija? (Are you sure, honey?) Once I explain that I do, in fact, wear cuarenta, they either ask their co-worker if there’s anything available in cuarenta (who then has the same reaction) or head back to the stock room. If I’m lucky, they come out with a box or two. If not, they shake their head with pity and tell me they have nothing to offer.

# 2 Just today, I got a pedicure with paraffin wax. Well, my foot didn’t fit in the little bucket with the paraffin . The podologist looked at me, seemingly embarrassed, and said “Don’t worry. Put your heel in and I’ll splash the paraffin on your toes.” I smiled and agreed. She told me not to worry. She did not say that it happens to everyone, just that I shouldn’t worry about my enormous feet. (Did you see me just cross that off my worry list?)

So, you see, having large feet is quite inconvenient and could be a horrible problem if not for frequent trips to DSW when I’m in the States. But, let’s move away from my feet and talk about Ely’s feet…

In most cases, when R voices a strong opinion on parenting, I respect his wishes. But, this shoe thing, I confess, I have not followed through on. We’ve come back to a spring that feels more like summer and I am enjoying the cool tile under my feet. So, I’d imagine Ely is, too.

Last night, after dinner, I offered Ely a walk around the block in her chariot tricycle. She liked the idea and went to look for her shoes, saying “djuice, djuice” as if she were calling them. She came back with one. I went to find the other, but it was not to be found. I had four choices:

  1. Renege on the offer and face the consequences (Darn this age when she understands!!)
  2. Keep looking for the shoe and push bath time and bed time back.
  3. Take her with one shoe
  4. Take her without shoes

Seeing as how this is a tricycle that I push (she doesn't use her feet) and it was 80 degrees outside (see? Not springy!) I chose option four. She didn’t seem to notice. We happily pushed around the block.

Guess how many people commented on her shoelessness? THREE! (a security guard, a mom and a grandma) With each comment, I giggled to myself and explained the whole not being able to find the other shoe. The guard smiled and nodded. The mom and grandmother both looked at me as if I was publicly abusing my daughter.

I didn’t go home embarrassed or annoyed. I went home feeling triumphant that I was able to give my little girl part of the essential gringa experience: summer (or spring, as the case may be) barefooted-ness! I hope she enjoyed it as much as I did!

I'm glad to have my concerned acquaintance’s doctor’s “expert” opinion telling me that if I start her young, she’ll be able to do this her entire life! And thank goodness Ely’s growing up in a globalized society and can order shoes in whatever size she ends up wearing. (Maybe this is what she will hate me for when she’s a teenager?)


  1. This cracks me up. Your husband, neighbors, and MIL would be absolutely horrified by how often Camden & I are barefoot (and how often I take him outside and let him walk around in our driveway without shoes!). You know, here all of the "experts" recommend babies wearing shoes as seldom as possible while their feet are still growing and developing. It's just so interesting how different cultures are. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I hadn't heard the big foot theory - what a hoot! Maya's bare feet sticking out of the pram get so many smiles from strangers in Chile, I can't see how anyone could object. Then again, I don't understand much espanol so who knows what's actually being said ;)

    Go the barefoot babes!

  3. Thanks Lani. I think it's interesting that the Thai have similar bundle-them-up attitudes!