I don’t think I have unusually large feet. Lets start there. I think I have perfectly normal sized man feet, as far as I’m concerned. Size 44s, or 10s in old money. Sometimes I’ll go up to 11s for football boots, or down to 9s for work shoes if I’m concerned that my preference for smart shoes with long pointy toes makes me look too much like a well dressed penguin. But generally I’ve never had a problem finding shoes that fit.
…At least, that was until I came to Hanoi. A few weeks ago I had a bloody nightmare finding a pair of smart shoes that were big enough for my big Western slabs. The shoes shopping routine became established where I would walk into a shoe shop, find a pair of shoes I liked, and ask ‘Do you have them in 44?’
‘No, no 44’, the shop assistants would reply through toothy grins and a bit of a giggle. ’42 biggest size. 44 too big. No 44.’ They’d actually laugh at me. I was being laughed at because they thought my feet were massive.
Time after time this happened, and we’re not even talking about little back street shoe shops here where they might only have one size in each style. We’re talking about proper big shiny shoe shops in proper big shiny shopping centres. I did finally find a shop that stocked a smart (if overpriced) pair of brown brogues which just about fitted in a large size 43. But the effort I went through to find said shoes was intolerable.
So you can imagine my frustration that this week, I’ve had to go through it all again. I want to join a football team while I’m here, is the thing, and thus I needed to buy a pair of football boots. Now I’m quite particular about football boots. I’m pretty shit at football, you see, and my theory is that if I swagger onto a pitch in the latest flashy pair of Nikes only to then trip over in a bundle of flailing limbs as soon as a ball comes my way, then all my posh boots really do is compound my embarrassment. What I’m saying is, I’d rather be a bit shit in a standard pair of black shoes than be a bit shit in dayglo boots.
But alas, again, the same problem: everywhere I went was unable to sell me the pair of 45s I needed. When I finally did buy a pair – Nike Mercurials in size 45 – they were the only pair of 45s the shop had in any range. Just I was forced to buy football boots that will make me look like Lionel Messi when I walk onto the pitch, but more like Francis Benali as soon as I get the ball.
There has to be a better way. There has to be something we, the expats of Hanoi, can do to address this shocking dearth of supply in shoes for the larger footed gentleman. We must come together, we must make our voices heard, and we must say – no more size 42s, no more sniggers from Viet shoe shop workers, no more hour long bike rides into the middle of nowhere trying to find a shoe shop that exists only in rumours!
Because, AGT fans, I have a dream. I have a dream that we expats will no longer be discriminated against just because we’ve got big feet. I have a dream of a day when expat boys and expat girls can jog through Lenin park side by side in comfort. I have a dream that we’ll skip through meadows in well fitting plimsolls, that British boys will play football and British girls will dance and sing in shoes that neither chafe nor pinch. I have a dream of being able to walk into any shoe shop in Hanoi – yes, ANY shoe shop in Hanoi – and to not only be presented with a range of size 44 shoes, but to also be offered matching fitting flip-flops in a special Buy One, Get One Half Price offer!
I may not get there with you. But I have seen the promised land!