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Why New Zealanders Don’t Wear Shoes

They’re barefoot, but they’re not all peasants.

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Many of the people don’t wear shoes in New Zealand. It’s not just the kids, but grown adults as well. They walk down the sidewalk and across paved streets and into shops completely barefoot.

This isn’t because the weather is particularly warm. I would understand going barefoot in the hot climes of the tropics, but it’s winter here in New Zealand. It’s cold. I also haven’t been led to believe that these northern New Zealanders have an abnormal resistance to cold weather either, as they are often wearing winter jackets at the same time that they are walking around barefoot. I’ve also concluded that this is also not a direct symptom of poverty, as many people that I’ve seen going around without shoes seem to have everything else that they require.

It just seems to be a Maori thing — something about connecting with nature and respecting the earth to the extent that they don’t want to tread on it.

But it’s probably more likely that they just don’t like wearing shoes — the product of an acculturation where footwear is optional.

It’s not just the poor rural Maori going around barefoot, either, but you can also see urban Caucasians and the obviously monied-sects getting out of cars in nice clothes and naked toes.

Here in New Zealand, footwear just seems to be an optional fashion accessory, like a hat or sunglasses. It’s something that only must be worn when the environmental or weather circumstances demand it. But for everyday life — like going to work, walking around shopping, or hanging out in a cafe, whether or not you have anything on your feet is socially irrelevant.

I’m now remembering how many kiwi friends of mine or New Zealanders that I’ve met traveling elsewhere would often not wear shoes. I just took them to be hippies trying to make some kind of earthy point, but they were actually just doing what’s completely normal in their home country.

Fair enough, but I have to say that it’s a touch difficult to not feel a sympathetic chill when you’re shivering on a cold northern New Zealand morning and you see people walking by on the frigid pavement with nothing on their feet.

There is also the issue of going into public toilets barefoot. I’ve watched people do this numerous times. It just seems …


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Filed under: Culture and Society, New Zealand, Travel Diary

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3722 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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