One thing it has taken me a while to adjust to living in Taiwan is indoor footwear etiquette.
Growing up it wasn’t something I ever really thought about. I would run in from playing outside and tromp my muddy sneakers all over the house (without realizing the extra work this caused for my parents). At school we only changed shoes for gym class if needed.
I remember one of the first things my boss asked me when I arrived at school was if I had slippers. I thought to myself like anyone born and raised in a cold northern climate; No, why the heck would I bring slippers to a sub-tropical island? She gave me a pair of foam flip flops, the kind a college freshman would use for a dorm shower. After wearing these around in the rain for about two weeks I realized what she intended me to use them for, the classroom, oops. Slippers were supposed to be indoor shoes.
My school has an open air layout, so the office and all the classrooms are inside, four walls and a roof, while the hallways and corridors are all outdoors, a roof and floor with no walls. In the office and halls we can wear normal shoes but then it was expected to take your shoes off each time you entered a classroom. All the teachers and students have “slippers” that they wear only inside the classroom. Not aware of this for half of my first semester I wore my sneakers and took them on and off each class. I finally brought back a pair of actual slippers with me that I leave under my desk at the office and change into when I arrive and slip on and off for each time I go into the classroom. Since I do not have a classroom of my own this is the acceptable way to do it.
Which brings me to my pain point. How oddly intimate socks are. In my mind socks have always been considered an undergarment, (clean socks and underwear always together), a piece of clothing no one else should really see. It was really hard to get used to teaching in just my socks. I felt very naked, exposed. It is very discomforting to go into a new class and teach with just socks on your feet. The students automatically see a part of you that no one is supposed to see. As I got more comfortable with my students it kind of put me at ease, as if we were having a relaxed conversation in a home rather than a formal school setting.
I always wondered why there were aisles upon aisles of socks a department stores here and now I know why. Most of the kids where uniforms, so they show off their style with the socks that they wear. The younger students are always eager to show me when they get a new pair of socks (one of my kindergarteners is particularly fond of his Psy socks and shows me every time he wears them) and the older ones made fun of me one day when I wore mismatched ones. Socks are a very important display of your personality, that I have never had to worry about before.
Tonight was parents night for the kindergarten classes. I practiced with the kids several times throughout the week but I was still afraid they weren’t ready. The parents filled in and I am there standing in front of a bunch of strangers I have to impress, in my socks. Already knowing the pressure is on and then feeling even that little ounce of extra exposure is nerve-wracking. I wore my sweat proof cabin socks I got for Christmas, serious but the purple toes hopefully gave the impression that I am a fun kindergarten teacher. It went fine, most of my students parents don’t speak that much English and are just happy to see that their kids like school. Nonetheless I was relieved when it was over. I am still wearing my shoes in my apartment now, I have to do some laundry before Monday so I don’t catch any flack from the kids about my mismatched footwear.