I walked around in public, completely barefoot, no vibrams. Ive done this on occasion... but usually away from the larger city, where people tend not to care much.
Ive done it hiking and playing ultimate frisbee in the park. But the second I step off the grass... I get weird looks.
I decided to press the issue, and spent a day completely barefoot, going into businesses and seeing how they reacted.
Luckily all I got were ALOT of weird looks, and despite those, was not asked to leave.
But I dont really understand... why is it socially unacceptable?
why would people think its not ok to go into a restaurant barefoot? My feet are cleaner than most shoes... its not like im going to put them up on the table...
Tell me about your purely barefoot in city life experience and your theory as to why its socially unacceptable to be unshod.
Apart from the whole potential for injury/liability issue, I strongly suspect that this is a poverty related taboo. Not so long ago the very poor would often be forced to go shoeless - in fact my 96 year old grandpa tells how, when growing up, he used to see "ragamuffins" barefoot and in rags so tattered that "their bottoms were hanging out". At the same time, you are probably quite respectably dressed, which sends out very conflicting social signals. You can't instantly be categorised as either a potentially shiftless timewaster or as a valuable customer, which makes people uneasy. The idea that someone capable of affording shoes would choose go without is so very alien that some people might even suspect you had a few screws loose.
I propose a little experiment; go shoeless in scruffy old clothes and unshaven, and then try it neatly groomed and in a smart suit. If I'm right people will write you off as disreputable in the first instance (concordant social display) but will merely be uneasy and confused by your "eccentricity" in the second instance.
I think that sometimes weird looks are more looks of curiousity, not anything more sinister. You're doing something that doesn't conform to the norms, so you'll attract attention by default.
That said- a lot of businesses near where I am have "no shirt, no shoes, no service" policies. I'm not sure where the "no shirt" taboo came from (probably poverty-taboo-related, sure)- but the "no shoes" one does at least have some basis in disease transmission. There are diseases and parasites that love bare feet, as a couple of commenters point out above (plus the standard plantar warts, athlete's foot, etc). There's also the liability issue- if you are on someone's property and there's a bit of glass or something else that cuts you, they're liable (they have a responsibility to keep their property safe- tho they could fight that if you drop a knife/glass/etc on your own foot). If it cuts you, you get blood on their floor, and they have to clean it up- they have to follow blood-borne pathogen rules. If you happen to have a disease, and someone else trods in your blood- perhaps also with an open wound (burst blister, whatever)- then that's another problem.
So- even though I'm all for straight-up bare feet in more natural areas- areas which can deal with these nasties through their local ecosystems, and there's no possibility that anyone would think it's a sterile/safe surface- I'm all for things like Vibrams or flipflops or huraches in urbanized (or, ugh, even worse- suburbanized) areas. Furthermore, I'm even kind of twitchy re: lawns- those are not natural ecosystems. They're usually chemically-treated within an inch of their lives, and I've no desire to pick up more herbicides/pesticides than necessary.
Honestly- foot protection is a product of living in a community of more than ~150 people. The current inability of most people to live in groups this small without ridiculous externalities (sprawl, pollution, etc) is a result of overpopulation. The norm is to wear foot protection because you (or perhaps, the average person) literally cannot trust your neighbor/coworker/shopkeeper (the average local-geography-community-member) to not have transmissible parasites/diseases or have sprayed their flat surface with some chemical nastiness.
in many third world countries it is still accepted to go barefoot, although it means that you are very poor, that you can not afford to buy shoes. Outside beaches or your own home, it would be unthinkable to go barefoot if you have the means. BTW many hunter gatherers, in temperate and cold areas used to wear sandals or some type of footwear made often from leather...
It seems to be a combination of poverty stigma, obsession with cleanliness, and social convention. Some theorize that the "no shirt, no shoes, no service" thing is a product of changing times in the sixties as a slightly more polite way to say "no longhairs allowed in this establishment."
I've always hated wearing shoes and have tried to go barefoot as much as possible as long as I can remember. In fact, I just came across my sixth grade class photo, which was taken outside, and I am only wearing socks. I went to a progressive college where more people went barefoot than shod most of the year, me included. Since discovering the whole barefoot movement thing I've become more aware of people's responses than I was previously. I rarely get anyone talking directly to me about it, just the occasional passing grumbling about glass/needles, dirt, the cold, and assorted variations of the "lol that's so random" variety.
I think the 'dirty' and 'stinky' stigma that feet carry with them is the main reason, and if you think about it, it is only the very 'bottom' of your feet that people see as necessary to cover. Fact is, if you are walking around barefoot, the bottom of your feet do become extremely filthy. But more than half the people in Cali were sandals all through summer. Nobody views this as barefoot. Also, woman often wear "shoes" that reveal almost their entire foot, save for one little strap over the big toe, and it's regarded as cute and appealing, so long as there's a layer between her foot and the surface she's walking on, other than "dress appropriate" situations for certain events where fully or mostly covered feet is expected.
I don't really have an answer, although in Belgium I have found that people give me more looks if I wear VFF, then when going totally barefoot.
Cultural beliefs/customs can be so strange. In Tanzania my wife got an angry response from an old lady because she had short pants, although very decent. Apparantly, you don't show your legs. Funny thing was that the old lady herself had a long skirt, but was topless!
In Uganda (and in many other African parts), adult men don't wear shorts, no matter how hot it is. Shorts are obliged in primary school. Once you can go to secondary school, you can wear long trousers. Shorts are for kids.
If I have good reason to do other then the rest, I don't care what people think. That's why I'm barefoot on walks and runs. But otherwise, I like my Feelmax Pankas. They are the most minimalist shoes I have tested. And they do not attract strange looks as much as VFF.
I think it maybe a cultural thing. Here in Australia it is perfectly acceptable to walk around barefoot. Unless it is into restaurants pubs or clubs. The reason for this is a safety one. If you step on glass or a knife falls and stabs you ect.
This is spain. I got stopped by the police, they thought I was a drunk or something. They asked me if I was ok... their main concern after establishing that I wasn't drunk, was that I would step on a syringe or broken glass. It has to be tried to be understood - that is the problem, when people see from the outside, they don't understand. I don't go barefoot much at the moment (maybe I will in the summer), I don't like doing it on concrete anyway.