I’ve had an unexpected bout of culture shock and I can’t honestly say how I’m adjusting.
Let me explain.
This is a Muslim culture where removing one’s shoes to enter a mosque or a living space is the custom and the expectation. Generally speaking (there are some exceptions), people don’t remove their shoes to go into an office, shop or restaurant. However, they definitely remove their shoes to enter a mosque and also when they get to the doorway of someone’s house.
Since my colleagues and I live where we work, that means our centre is not just considered work space; it’s a living space as well. So on any given afternoon (except on Sundays when there are no classes), you will find a mess of shoes at the entrance to our centre. Everybody takes their shoes off when they get here – the children, their parents, the local volunteers, everybody. Understandably, long before I came along and as mark of respect for the practice and culture of the children who we serve, my colleagues made a decision that they will also remove their shoes at the entrance to our centre and walk barefooted inside at all times, whether or not the children are here.
Now, I like to think of myself as a reasonably seasoned traveller and, as such, I try to be sensitive to the culture of any country or region that I am visiting. Also, I try to observe the practices of the organisations with which I work, at least at first. But this barefoot thing is turning out to be a problem for me. Apparently, I’m scornful.
The fact is, unless I’m at the beach, I do not like the bottom of my feet to be less than clean; I just don’t! And even when I’m done at the beach, I have to clean my feet before I leave.
Truthfully, I enjoy walking around barefooted indoors as long as the floor is spic and span – absolutely, positively sparkling clean – and there isn’t a speck of dirt to stick to the bottom of my feet. The minute I feel anything less than clean under my bare feet, my mental nose turns up and my mental mouth screams, “Laaaaaaahhhhd!!!” This is why, as a child, I never ran around barefooted outside; I’ve always been footbottom-proud (if I was a Hobbit from Lord of the Rings, would I be a Proudfoot? Nerds unite!).
There are three homes on whose floors I can walk barefooted without question: my mom’s, my sister’s and my anam cara‘s. Their floors are spic and span. Everybody else, I’m a little suspicious. In any case, unless you’re a workman or a transplanted Jamaican living in North America who loves your carpet more than you do the people who come to visit your home, Jamaicans do not take off our shoes to enter anybody’s house. So I’ve never had to deal with this issue before.
As I say, this isn’t a problem if the floors on which I’m walking are so clean that I could eat off them. Not so these floors that I’m living on (except the floor in my room – you know that’s high level clean!), and I’m finding that I just cannot adjust to the feeling of dirty feet.
I think I’m a fairly flexible person and I can roll with lots of things. Less than spic and span floors is apparently not one of those things. I’m trying but I feel like this isn’t something to which I want to adjust. So if I’m to fit in with the team here and respect the culture, I’m thinking I need to have something done about these floors.
Am I alone in this? Is anyone with me? Or am I being overly stoosh?