I first noticed it at the gym. When women get changed in the locker room, they never let their bare feet touch the ground. They’ll peel off shoes and socks, stand on a towel on the ground, and then slip their feet into flip-flops and walk to the shower, One time, back when I went to the fancy gym, I walked barefoot from the locker room to the pool. I stepped over multiple pairs of flip-flops to get into the pool. I swam my laps and I walked back to the locker room. Again, totally barefoot. The looks I got, let me tell you. I didn’t know much Spanish then, but the look of disgust (aimed in the general direction of my feet) is the same in every language.
At my new, less fancy gym, it seems the same bare feet rules apply: Don’t let them touch the ground EVER! Once, I forgot my flip-flips and considering skipping a shower, or else scooting myself to the stalls on my towel lest I be branded the gross American girl with disgustingly bare feet.
At the airport, when taking off one’s shoes to pass through the metal detector, most Spanish people grab a pair of disposable booties from a nearby bin to put over their socked feet. They’re double-socking it to walk six feet on a tiled floor.
So my question is this: Are Spanish people so grossed out by feet that the thought of dirty, smelly, bare feet stomping around on public space is too much to handle? Or is it the other way around and the ground is so ripe with the fifth of strangers that it would be distasteful to soil one’s clean and dainty soles?
Before I moved to Yemen, I remember someone telling me that in the Middle East, it’s considered rude to have the bottoms of your feet showing, which is actually kind of difficult considering Arab folks seem to enjoy sitting on very low couches or else on the floor. I’d always make sure that in whatever legs-tucked-under-me or cross-legged position I was in, my soles were hidden. And of course in many Asian cultures, and in that one episode of Sex and the City where someone stole Carrie’s Manolos at a baby shower, it’s considered rude and dirty to keep your outside shoes on indoors.
I guess I just can’t relate to the foot disgust because I am so not grossed out by feet. I once face planted into the soles of a man swimming laps in front of me and I didn’t find that gross. I’m not disgusted by people who take off their shoes on flights, and I don’t even bat an eye when I see the bare toes of the person behind me resting on my armrest. On the contrary, I’m like “Oh that looks comfy, good idea.” When I saw that video of the girl who was born without arms and how she cooks and eats and drives a car with her feet, I started thinking I wasn’t doing enough with my feet. The guy from My Left Foot could paint and write with just one foot and here all I’m doing with mine is walking around in prophylactic flip-flops.
But you know, when in Rome. So I’ll continue to cover up my tootsies for the rest of my time in Spain. But wait until I get back to the U.S. I may just up and decide to be one of those people who walks around barefoot.