Friday, September 30, 2011

Foreign or Exotic?


Shappi Khorsandi, a female British-Iranian stand-up comic says that "Exotic means the same thing as foreign, except you don't dislike it."

Exotic conjures up images of the far east or the New World. It is exciting colourful, sensuous and maybe a bit sexy. Foreign means something from another culture, but the word somehow lacks the exciting emotive power of the other word.

I am convinced that the English pronounce the word 'foreign' with a certain acidity. When we say the word 'foreign', there is a slight tightening of the mouth and a subtle narrowing of the eyes.

I have mentioned before about the different reactions of British and Americans to shoe removal in Scandinavia and the Far East. Expatriates in Japan and other Asian countries usually love removing their shoes and often bring the custom back, while many expatriates in Scandinavian countries find it really irritating. I suspect that the exotic/ foreign distinction at work.

When a tourist in Thailand has to go barefoot in restaurants and guest houses in Thailand, it is exotic. It is a taste of the colourful and sensuous east. On the other hand, when the same person is on a business trip to Norway and his Norwegian business partner makes him walk about the house in socks, it is foreign. Just like all the other foreign things he hates like undercooked steaks in French restaurants, bossy German policemen, overpriced everything in tourist areas and disdainful Italian waitresses.

Foreign is different, but it has a familiarity to it. Shoes-off in Japan reflects the beautiful alienness of that whole culture, shoes-off in Sweden just reminds you of those irritating fussy people back home (like me) who make you take your shoes-off to protect their carpets.

Nevertheless, we have to challenge our prejudices. We may find that steaks served very rare can be pleasently different. We may find that Germans do have a sense of humour and those Italian waitresses are quite pretty even if they think you don't deserve to be in their restaurant. And you may find that even if Nordic people are fussy about their floors, it actually makes a lot of sense taking shoes off.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Jane Norman

I was in Watford  Harlequin shopping centre and went past a fashion retailer called Jane Norman. I noticed the assistant dressing the window display had removed her shoes and was in her bare feet.

I have no idea whether that is a company policy in Jane Norman stores, but respect to that girl for her concern and carefulness. These days a lot of assistants don't bother removing their shoes before stepping into shop windows.

Last Life in the Universe

Last night I watched the Thai film 'Last Life in the Universe.' It's an interesting and creative film (though not without faults) that features a partly Japanese cast. Oddly, it's a tri-lingual film with the two main characters, a Japanese man and a Thai girl, struggling to communicate to each other in Japanese, Thai and broken English.

One thing that irritated me was the fact that the Thai character, Noi walks around her house with her shoes on. I'll  admit that I have never been to Thailand, but it is undisputed that removing shoes at the door is a universal norm in Thailand, apart from some of the highland tribes (I believe). I suppose that there might be a few odd Thai people who don't take their shoes off, but this would be so unusual in Thailand that it would be worthy of comment in the film.

I thought about a number of reasons why they had a Thai character breaking this fundamental rule of Thai behaviour. Perhaps the film is following the habit of American films of never having characters take their shoes off at the door. This would make sense if the film was keen to attract a western audience.

The fact the Thai character wears shoes in her house does build up the contrast between her slovenly and chaotic ways and the fastidious and obsessive-compulsive Japanese character. I'm not sure this was realistic though. I imagine even a slob in Thailand would remove his or her shoes, perhaps not for cleanliness, but just out of habit.

Another reason might be that the director wanted to make the moments when the character was barefoot seem more sexy and cute. The sexiness of her being barefoot might be reduced if she was barefoot for most of the film. I recently watched the Japanese classic, Tokyo Story (a beautiful film). As a result of its domestic setting, a lot of characters are barefoot for much of the film. I can imagine even a foot fetishist losing interest in all the female feet on display in that movie. In Tokyo Story, being barefoot is part of the mundane domestic reality of Japanese family life, where in Last Life in the Universe, being barefoot is meant to be cute and sexy.

                                                       Tokyo Story

The disregard of Thai norms with regard to shoes brings up some of the problems I had with the film. I don't think I learned anything about Thai culture from it. Noi, the female character could just as easily have been French or South American. The film could have been set in any country where there are a lot of Japanese expatriates living. The absence of any real exploration of Thai culture is magnified by the fact that the director decided to have the Thai anthem played rather pointlessly in one part of the film. More so than this, it seemed that the two characters existed independently of any society at all. I understand that the film is all about loneliness and isolation, but it seemed like it was following that dreadful habit of western romances of creating characters who are unbelievable because of their lack of wider social interaction. In so many romance films you have characters who are never seen to be working and don't seem to have any worry about paying bills. The protagonists of Last Life in the Universe seem very close to that category.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Odd Logic


Some people say that if you ask guests to take their shoes off you are implying that your floor is more important than your guests.

By the same logic, if a gym asks you to wear white-soled tennis shoes in their squash court that means that the gym values its floor more than its customers (and the fees they pay!).

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Recent Blogposts

Healthy Living Plus: Should homes have a “shoes off” policy?

In recent studies at the University of Arizona when researchers tested people’s shoes, some interesting facts came to light:
- They found 9 different species of bacteria of the type that can cause infections in the somach, eys and lungs.
- They found that bacterial live longer on the soles of shoes that in other places. This is because as we walk we constantly pick up new debres that fees the growth of more bacteria
- They found that children under 2 are the most vulnerable to this bacteria because they play on the floor and put their hands and other objects in their mouths an average of 80 times an hour.
- They found that the majority of bacteria contained coliform that comes mostly from human and animal waste.

So without becoming too paranoid what can you do about this problem?

Encourage your own family to remove their shoes when they get home and put on slippers. It will soon become a comfortable habit. You can either leave them in special storage at the front door or carry them to your closet. It might be a good idea to then wash your hands which you should do when getting home anyway.

If you want to keep your home cleaner, then you will find a way to persuade others to remove their shoes before entering your home without hurting anyone’s feelings.

Glasgow Humane Society: Be certain Your Home Remains Healthy
Take your shoes off outside the house, if possible. If not, kick them off within the front entrance to your house. When you walk around, your footwear come into contact and grab things, even in places like hospitals and malls. The bottoms of your footwear are covered in mold germs, a range of chemicals, dust, dirt as well as bacteria. When you track these things into the house, it settles into the carpets and rugs and flooring. It then becomes kicked up when there is activity. This ensures that instead of staying in the floors, you kick it up into the air for you to breathe in. If you take off your shoes outside the house or within the entry way of your home, you reduce this risk by leaps and bounds.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011



You will have noticed that there is lots of dust on the streets, unless you live in Finland, where the streets are immaculate.

You will also have noticed that on dry days soily ground is dusty. It is estimated that 35% of household dust originates in outdoor soil.

Naturally, as much of it originates from the ground, dust contains all the sort of things that are on the ground, such as pesticides, weed killer and lead. Things which are not good for your health. Keeping as much of this dust out of the home is a really sensible idea and this means taking off your shoes at the door and asking visitors to do the same.

Even if the dust that gets in is not full of toxins, it is good to reduce it. It reduces the quality of indoor air and can be a source of allergies.

A fashionable strategy is to remove carpets, as they absorb dust. However, this may be counterproductive as without the carpet, the dust is exposed. If you are going to go carpetless, you either need to opt for shoes-off (for all) or sweep very often. Hence, whether you choose to opt for carpet or sans carpet, a shoes-off policy is totally adviseable.