Beware the feet
There are still places where people go barefoot most of their lives, their feet thus becoming thicker than the toughest footwear imaginable. But even the most isolated groups have discovered the advantages of footwear, and today we have all kinds, with social rules on what to wear, when and where.
Until not too long ago, slippers were called tsinelas, with its connotations of pangbahay (for the house) or being pobre, poor. The rules were more flexible for women, who would wear shoes (high heels were still the norm) to the office, and then, while behind the office desk, change to slippers. But for men, slippers in an office was unthinkable. Blue-collar workers, on the other hand, could wear slippers even on construction sites.
How rules have changed. Even rubber slippers have been renamed flip-flops, or one of the expensive brand names like Havaianas, even if only knockoffs. In recent years, we’ve seen slippers with sports brand logos like Nike, Adidas and many more, made out of thin rubber. These reinvented tsinelas are worn everywhere now, including to school and in offices.
I know that for the poor, the slippers ensure that the shoes, safely kept at home for special occasions, last much longer. But I wonder if it should be the other way around. Slippers are made of light materials, not meant for tough conditions, especially the streets of Manila and our cities. It’s not surprising that people end up having to buy new slippers all the time, ending up spending more — given how expensive these slippers can be — than you would on a good, sturdy pair of shoes.
I worry most about the safety aspect. Back in 2000, I had a student volunteering to be my assistant for an anthropology field school, but the day we arrived at the site, he had an accident, fracturing a leg playing basketball. The people in the village blamed the dili ingon nato (the not-like-us) who come out at dusk to cause mischief. But I felt he fractured his leg because he was playing basketball in slippers, something very common in the Philippines, and slippers just can’t take the impact of basketball jumping and landing.
Even worse than flip-flops are those boasting sports brands, which are only slightly better than hotel giveaways meant only for room use. As if the risks weren’t enough, people now wear socks with the slippers, because the socks make slippers, well, slippery.
With slippers, you just can’t run as fast, whether to catch a bus or jeep, or to flee from a disaster scene, or, in rallies, from pursuing police or military.
The risks with slippers range from the minor — being stepped on, for example, although that, too, can be very painful — to stubbed toes, sprains and even fractures. The thin soles also mean constant wear and tear on your muscles and tendons, the damage radiating upward through the legs, to the knees and even hips. With slippers, too, you’re more prone to stepping on sharp objects on the ground that can land you in the emergency room with bleeding, and a risk for tetanus.
The better building and road contractors now forbid slippers among their workers, but you still see many violations. Workers shrug their shoulders, arguing that safety shoes are too heavy and too hot.
I worry even more about driving in slippers, because you need force to step on the brakes or to shift gears. Likewise, with a motorcycle, I wouldn’t wear slippers even to drive short distances, given how the feet are so crucial for many of the motorbike maneuvers (including, in the Philippines, signaling when you’re turning left or right).
One more tirade against slippers: I find them disrespectful when used at certain occasions like weddings. I’m uncomfortable even with slippers in classrooms, because some students (and faculty) can be quite sloppy with their foot hygiene: toenails looking like an eagle’s talons, and feet looking like you just came from a swamp. The worst discourtesy is to put up such feet, with equally dirty slippers, on the chair in front of you.
If you must — people who are more prone to fungal infections and want to keep their feet aired, for example — sandals are a good alternative, with straps that stabilize your feet.
Going barefoot still has its place in our times. And slippers are still great in your room, the house, informal gatherings, the beach, maybe even the wet market. But beware the section selling crabs.
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