The differences aren’t immediately obvious. We drive on the same side of the road. We speak the same language. We both went through a Celine Dion phase at some point. But the contrasts exist. They’re thoughtful and subtle, just like Canadians themselves. Yet after six years living in Canada, there are some cultural differences that my American brain struggles to adopt.
I’ll be forever loyal to “beanie,” not “toque.” I’ll never utter “double-double” when I roll up to Timmy’s. And a little part of me will always hesitate when I walk through the front door and kick off my shoes.
It Is What It Is
I grew up in a shoes-on household in the U.S., where the status of your shoes was never a point of discussion. Wear ‘em. Don’t wear ‘em. Nobody cares. I don’t know why we do it that way…it just is.
And that’s sometimes the nature of culture. Beliefs evolve, times change, actions adapt, and only a few people truly understand the origins of why things are the way they are. I am not one of those people. At least, I wasn’t…until the discomforts of going shoe-less lodged a deeper exploration into the soul of my soles.
Don’t get me wrong, I can see the case for embracing a no-shoes policy. Just picture walking across a public washroom floor, and you’ll wanna burn every pair you own. Where practicality is concerned, it’s automatic to kick them off when it’s muddy or snowy outside – conditions that govern rural Canada for eight months a year. More so, it’s a level of respect for someone else’s home.
But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
When the Shoes Come off
It starts with cold feet, a phrase that was probably coined right here on the stone-cold tiled threshold – a place that greets you with a warm hug from the indoors and a cold reminder from whatever you just left behind outside: pools of water collecting from jackets, clumps of dirt dislodged from boots, the lingering draft from opening and closing the front door.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be the first to arrive, ditching your shoes with carte blanche abandon and dancing across a clean floor in your warm, dry socks. Arrive fashionably late to a group soiree, however, and you’ll be dodging booby traps of snow-melt like a game of Minecraft, only to miscalculate the edge of a puddle with your warm, dry socks that are now neither.
Sockless it is.
A Crumb-y Experience
So, you stroll down the hallway, your bare feet blindly exploring the miniscule details that make a house a home: the dog hair, the cat litter, the dried spaghetti that draws a little blood, the LEGO®s, the sticky puddles of orange juice (yeah, uh, let’s go with that), the micro splinters of firewood that will take a grown woman to her knees, all fossilized into the bottoms of your feet before you’ve even faire la bise’d your host hello.
We mingle for a while, always congregating in the kitchen, sockless and shifting our weight from one foot to the other, alternating the pressure of standing on cold, hard floors and grinding crumbs deeper into our heels.
Eventually, someone gestures towards the couch, where fuzzy rugs and pillows and throw blankets lure us into a more comfortable space.
As I decompress with my feelings, grateful to be in the company of friends, I wonder if they feel the same warmth of relief, or if, like my own upbringing, no one gives it any thought. It’s just the way it is, and it’s just the way it’s been. And why question cultural convention and values? Why challenge something so trivial and silly like taking off your shoes?
Walk Comfortably, Walk Considerately
I approach those questions cautiously, because my comfort is never more important than respecting your household rules. But conceivably, the answer isn’t mutually exclusive.
Maybe, back there at the front door, the symbol of sanctuary and acceptance, is a basket of socks, loaned by the host, in a variety of sizes and colors and fabrics. We hang our hats and pick through the basket and find what fits our needs (the thicker, plusher and harder working, the better!) so we can comfortably dance over whatever obstacles hide under our feet, no matter which side of the sock you’re in.
About the Author
Steph Nitsch makes words by day and snowboards by night. She’s dually based in British Columbia and Utah, finding inspiration in mountains, bikes, and a good night’s sleep. Learn more at stephanienitsch.com.