in australia and new zealand barefoot is a way of life

A celebration of (at least occasional) shoelessness.

The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau. Sign up to get it by email. This week’s issue is written by Natasha Frost, a reporter based in Melbourne.

I had just moved to New Zealand, at age 12, when a new friend suggested that we slip out to the corner store (dairy in New Zealand English) for some candy (lollies).

It wasn’t a warm day — July or August in Auckland hovers around 50 degrees Fahrenheit — yet when I stopped to put on my shoes, she looked at me with bemusement. Why would I need shoes for a quick trip down the road?

New Zealanders — and their Australian cousins — like to go barefoot. They’ll often eschew footwear to go to the gas station, the grocery store, the playground and even the pub.

Seth Kugel, a writer for The New York Times, who visited New Zealand in 2012, put it like this: “People walk around barefoot. On the street. In supermarkets. All over. It’s not everyone, but it’s a significant enough minority to be quite striking and a bit disconcerting. Sure, city sidewalks are clean. But they’re still city sidewalks.”

(He was also surprised by a lack of tipping culture, the fine distinction between a flat white and a latte and the preponderance of te reo Maori, the country’s Indigenous language.)

In Perth, in Western Australia, at least one elementary school has a “shoes optional” policy, with administrators citing claims that going barefoot “helped children improve posture, develop sensory awareness and strengthen their feet and body.” (Podiatrists are less convinced.)

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