Judging by the reactions of Polish people I’ve concluded that having bare feet must be one of the leading causes of death in Poland. If you want to provoke a horrified reaction in Poland don’t bother running around Krakow’s main square with your trousers off, just stand on some cold concrete in bare feet—women, children and grown men will weep and faint at the sight. It’s not just bare feet either. Inappropriate footwear has gotten me into more cross-cultural hot water than anything else. I have no idea where this strange Polish obsession with matters podiatal came from but it seems to be taking up more and more of my time. As they say: before you criticize, walk a day in the other man’s shoes—that way you’re a day’s walk away and you’ve got his shoes when he hears about it.
Just to prove that anything you can conceivably type into a Google image search will already have been thought of we present:
The ladies of Polish Feet Centre and their stomping great hoofers
bearing down on your puny masculinity. I’m not making this up.
Walking around in bare feet, even indoors in the middle of summer, may be just one of approximately 974 things that I’ve been told will almost certainly kill or severely injure me in Poland, but it’s pretty near the top of the list. Others include “dangerous breezes,” no breeze, night air, air after storms (getting the right kind of air moving at an acceptable speed is practically impossible), the tops of bananas, potato skins, too little salt, too much salt, tap water, and Russians. The two things that have actually come closest to killing me, vodka and cars, are either never mentioned or portrayed in a glowingly positive light.
The deadly risks of bare feet
I swear one of the questions they ask you at Polish passport control is “Did you bring slippers?” Answering in the negative can get you thrown out of the country as a dangerous lunatic or, if it’s one of those nice lady passport control people, can get you a free pair of Polish government slippers. These are issued to Polish commandos for tricky situations like minefields because, as every Pole knows, only a good slipper can save you from death. I’ve still got mine and often use them for crossing lava flows.
A mass cemetery for foreign slipperless victims of death just outside Poznan
Usually Polish people are too shocked or too unconscious to explain why walking around in bare feet is so deadly, but as far as I can gather it’s something to do with an evil force or coldness or something traveling up your leg and giving you piles or a bad back or arthritis. Followed by death. In a recent survey that I just recently made up the perils of bare feet came in the top ten of “Imminent dangers to the Polish state” well ahead of Islamic extremism and only just behind eating dinner after 2 pm.
Polish slippers: capable of withstanding nuclear-weapons aimed directly at your feet
The wrong shoes
When I first came to Poland I had two pairs of shoes. A pair of trainers/sneakers and a pair of Doctor Martins Slip-on boots. I loved those boots. They were probably the seventh or eighth pair of the same make I had owned. I could wear them year round, in any weather and they were waterproof and never too hot or too cold. Two-and-a-half years later I have winter shoes, autumn shoes, summer shoes, sandals, going-to-wedding shoes, visiting-priest shoes, walking shoes, “good” shoes and, of course, slippers. I never expected to own this number of shoes without first becoming gay. Polish social pressure is slowly turning me gay from the feet upwards.
The footwear of choice for the red-blooded heterosexual Englishman, before he moves to Poland
At first it was okay. But once I had met the same people more than a couple of times I began to overhear whispered conversations about my footwear:
Pole1: Aren’t those the same shoes he was wearing in late summer/early autumn?
Pole2: I think they are. I even saw him wearing them on the bus and at the theater.
Pole1: God’s wounds! What strange benighted creatures these Englishmen are!
Pole2: If you think that’s weird you should see his underpants.
I counted the number of shoe shops on my street today and there are almost as many of them as there are banks.
Must go now, I’ve got four hours of shoe polishing and two of foot cleansing and toenail care before I can turn in for the night. But first I’m going to really go to town with the tags for this post.