Before moving to Thailand, I never gave much thought to my feet. The most attention I gave them was when I painted my toe nails or bought new shoes. But in general, my feet were one of those things I barely ever considered.
Like many things in my life, Thailand has changed that.
When I first arrived at my new school, I was given a quick warning by another teacher to always pay attention to my feet. In Thailand, feet are considered to be the lowest and, therefore, dirtiest part of the body. They should never be pointed in another person’s direction and they should never be used to move objects.
When I first started, I might accidentally extend my legs while sitting on the floor in a circle at the start of class (we don’t have chairs in my classroom). I was reminded to tuck my feet under because it’s considered rude to the person in line with the soles of my feet. In another class, I slid a beanbag across the floor with my foot– I received vocal protests from my 9-year-old students for this. It took time, but I now see and think about my feet in a similar way to the Thais.
And then there’s shoes. Before every class I teach, all of my students must remove their shoes before entering the classroom. I thought this was odd at first, seeing as how that meant I, too, must wear only socks while teahcing. It seemed unprofessional by Western standards.
But now, I no longer give a second thought when I am gently asked to remove my shoes on a daily basis. Many coffee shops and cafes have rows of shoes and flip-flips lined neatly outside the front door. Some restaurants host tables of barefooted people sharing drinks and meals. Even Jonathan and I now make a point to remove our shoes before we enter our little apartment, since the tile floor shows the dirt from outside.
It’s a minute detail in comparison to the many other ways that Thailand has changed the way I see the world, but, as they say, it’s keeping me on my toes.