Monday, April 2, 2012

B is for Birkenstock

I'm in basic brown Birkenstocks on a balcony in Rome.
B is for Birkenstock

The Piazza della Signoria in Florence seemed busy all the time. There seemed to be a healthy population of locals and tourists on any given day. For two months, I called the city home as I studied Italian.

After class each day, I stopped by a small shop for a cheap slice of pizza — nothing like the Little Caesars or Pizza Hut versions I ate at home. I sat, soaked in the sun and the environment. My daily chant included: Remember. You are here to study, to learn and to live.

The intensive language program featured an assortment of twenty-somethings from around Europe and our group from the University of Georgia. The Greek students from Athens and I joked about being from the same city. They were from Athens, Greece. I came from Athens, Georgia.

My Italian was OK. A brunette roommate seemed to think I got by mostly with my blonde hair.

"Biondina!"

Men shouted "Little blondie" from street corners. One man said it inches from my face as he grabbed me by the shoulders at a train station. Instead of helping me, a police officer laughed as I broke free from this man's grasp.

As my hair lightened and my skin tanned under the Tuscan sun, I learned how to say, "What the fuck are you doing?" to the more aggressive ones. The strong language and a quick hand gesture startled these men enough for me to get away from them, so I could go about exploring Italy by trains, bus or the random ride on a motorcycle.

My hair color didn't make me feel different there, but my shoes did. I wore chunky tennis shoes or Birkenstock sandals most of the time. During a trip to Pompeii, I was shocked to see Italian women walking about the ruins in high heels.

When I travel today, I continue to wear comfortable shoes. You won't find me wearing high heels roaming ruins or an airport escalator. You may hear me explaining in English to the confused flight attendant, ticket agent or customs official that I am an American and not German — "No tedesca."

My passport backs up my story, but their confusion reminds me that it really wasn't that long ago that my ancestors traveled from Europe. It is a small world.

51 comments:

  1. I enjoyed this glimpse into the past, Stacy. Was this part of an erasmus program? I found living around France and Italy that footwear is one very distinguishing feature between southern and northern Europeans! I learn to wear Birkenstock when I live din Germany, land of the B!

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    1. Joanna, My university had a study abroad program. I'm not sure, if it was a specific program or just organized through my school. We studied at an international school in Florence.

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  2. Birkenstocks really saved my problem feet! I even wear them as slippers around the house. Sounds like you had an amazing adventure in Italy. We spent a little time there in the summer, but I wish we had stayed longer. I liked how you kept the Italians in line! Julie

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    1. Julie, They do make great slippers. Expensive slippers, but worth it.

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  3. I could have done with some birkenstocks when I was in Paris. I only wore heels out once, never again.

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  4. Hi, I am nearly 79 and I just got my first pair of Birkenstocks a couple of weeks ago through my podiatrist. I love them! Enjoyed your story, too, except for the "F" word. I think Hell would have worked just as well. Anyway, I agree about the high heels; I don't know how women walk in them anyway.
    Regards to you, Ruby

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    1. Ruby, Enjoy your Birkenstocks. I don't know if another word would have worked as well, but understand how it's offensive. I believe the shock value of the word is what stunned the men bothering me into leaving me alone.

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  5. Fun story, Little Blondie! I have a pair of Bass mules, soles of which have worn through, but I refuse to let go. Birkenstocks might be in my future!

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    1. Karen, Those Birkenstocks served me well for many years.

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  6. I had no idea how 'tedesca' translated, so I Googled it and found this fun random travel blog post from 2005 that I think will make you laugh:

    http://ryereflections.org/servlet/pluto?state=30303470616765303037576562506167653030326964303033363636

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    1. Oops. Perhaps should have made that more clear. I had to Google check it, because I can't find my Italian dictionaries - lost among the books in the basement. :)

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  7. What fun to see a glimpse of 20-something Stacy! You certainly learned to handle those guys :)

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  8. I'm with you all the way. Comfortable shoes is the only way to travel. And those Italian women in their high heels also were wearing full make-up and killer fashions too. Hard to carry off on hot days and I never even tried.

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  9. I think I am the only person in the world who has never owned a pair of Birks. I must be missing out.

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  10. Italy is still on my wish list, but you can bet I won't be wearing high heels, either. Sounds like a wonderful experience.

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  11. I want some of those!!! They look so comfy. Pal -o- mine, YOU ARE WELL-TRAVELED! *jealous* :-)

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  12. That's such a great story. I have heard Italian women dress for just about anything. I am the practical-shoe-wearing type myself.

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  13. golly, I have never had a pair of Birkenstocks. I've heard they are very comfy but my footwear of choice is definitely the flip flops...good B word though...

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  14. Would love to see Rome one day. Since reading this post I will however take a hat. Gotta cover up the blonde hair I guess. Have never had Birkenstocks either, but have never been grabbed at a train station either.

    Gregg Metcalf

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  15. I remember being so excited when I got my first pair of Birkenstocks. They were red and I wore them everyday. Then I had my little girl and my feet changed and my Birkenstocks that I'd spent so much time breaking in became horribly uncomfortable. It was a sad day when I had to finally get rid of them. Like you I had clocked many tourist hours in those sandals. Thanks for this reminder of my Birkenstock days!

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  16. Hi Stacy! Enjoyed the post. I used to have a couple of pairs of what I called "fake" Birkenstocks. I don't remember who made them or what store I got them from. They were pretty comfy. Maybe I can get myself a pair of the real thing this summer.

    Susanne
    PUTTING WORDS DOWN ON PAPER

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  17. i would love to try some authentic pizza-you are so blessed to have been able to have such an experience-funny the sandals do not look comfortable :)

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  18. Nice post :) I go for comfort when it comes to shoes too...at least now that I'm older. I may have been roaming the ruins in three inch heels when in my twenties, but I seriously doubt it! Going to Italy has always been a dream of mine...would love to see where my grandfather came from. After reading your post, I will be sure to either wear a hat or dye my hair brown before I go. ;)

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  19. What an amazing experience, Stacy, and well worth putting up with the rudeness of others. Ah, to travel is one of life's greatest experiences! :)

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  20. I've seen Birkenstocks worn by other people but I never owned a pair. They look so comfortable though, I may have to get some now that the Summer is just around the corner :)

    ~Nicole
    Blog: The Madlab Post
    @MadlabPost on Twitter

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  21. I love your chant! I am visiting from the A-Z challenge and picked you to start with because you were number 43, my age. :-) Have a great day!

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  22. Cheers to comfortable shoes. I am a firm believer in them and as I have had a really hard time finding plain sandals that are comfortable and well made, I have been thinking I should go back to them myself. I am a habitual Dansko clog wearer and I have come to realize that all shoes (except maybe Birks) are bad in comparison. Be sure to check out my D post, though not the same, I wore Doc Martins around the same time I was wearing Birks.

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  23. I'm with you on the shoes. High heels give me shinsplints. It's comfort all the way.

    ~Debbie

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    1. Debbie, Ouch on the shinsplints. Go comfort.

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  24. I love Florence. Such a beautiful place.
    I can't imagine wandering the ruins at Pompeii in high heels though. lol.

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  25. I've heard not to wear athletic shoes to Europe as pickpockets identify Americans this way. When in Rome (or Italy), do as the Romans do and wear their shoes.

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    1. Stephen, That's a great tip. I opted for the comfortable shoes and took other precautions to avoid being a victim of a crime. (Well, as much as I could prepare for it.)

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  26. I have a pair. Haven't worn them in a coon's age. I just signed on to the A-Z challenge, nearly at the last minute, but I'm trying to visit every blog at least once.

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    1. Last minute! Sharkbytes - you are adventurous. Have fun.

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  27. Lucky you've been able to go there, but not so lucky about the weirdo at the train station. *cringe* That would freak me out.

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    1. Leigh, Sadly there are lots of weirdos like that guy. The majority of people were very nice and respectful.

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  28. I finally bought a pair when I was pregnant with #3. Among other things, I had no arch support. I cringed to see myself in them, but still have them and live in them in the winter. Maybe it's time for one of those pretty silver summer models. Nice B post.
    A2ZMommy and What’s In Between

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    1. Tracy, They are supportive. Yes a nice silver model would be nice.

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  29. This post made me want to take off for Italy...immediately!

    Patricia Stoltey

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  30. You have lead an interesting life, friend.
    And just fyi: I have never owned a pair of Birkenstocks.
    I just ... haven't.

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    1. Beth, While I didn't fit in with the other women, my feet appreciated them.

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  31. Enjoyed visiting the carefree, 20-year-old Stacy. Loved that you had to develop specific language to keep the brazen men away. Didn't realize it was such a problem.

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    1. Patricia, yes very specific. From Julie's post, it continues to be a problem 20 years later. :)

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  32. This is hilarious and so reminiscent of my own time in Italy when I was in college, and honestly, it's not so different having just recently returned. ;-) Being blonde in Italy has both benefits and drawbacks. On my last trip, I asked one hotelier where I could go to eat dinner alone and not be a standout. He said, "Sweetheart, you aren't going to blend in anywhere."

    As for high heels, I tried - I really did - to wear them for one of my meeting days. As I hobbled back to my apartment, I decided then and there that I would just have to take Italy by storm in flat shoes. I don't know how those Italian women do it either - it's probably genetic!

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    1. Julie, I rolled with laughter when I saw this comment. Today's style seems to be either flat, flat or sky high. I'm more of the flat, flat kind of shoe right now.

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