Saturday, 23 June 2012

If the shoe fits....

I have odd size feet.

One is a 6 and the other is a 3.

You would think this would be a fairly simple matter for anyone to understand. 

You would be wrong.

It would seem that the concept of mismatched feet is a difficult one for the average denizen of Britain’s shoe selling establishments to grasp.  Which is odd, given that there must surely be a fair number of people with odd size feet, and that every pair of feet must, at some point, pass through a shoe shop. 

So why in the name of arse is it so spectacularly difficult for anyone working in a shoe shop to get their head round the idea that my feet are Not The Same Size?

I went into a certain, well-known shoe shop the other day.  I was lured in by the sight of a rather comfortable looking pair of grey shoes.  I have had something of an ongoing quest for grey shoes recently, and there they were, all soft and shiny and grey, calling softly to me.

Disclaimer – I am not some Imelda Marcos type, determined to obtain shoes in every colour of the rainbow.  I just happen to have a lot of grey/khaki/blue clothes and only an ancient pair of grey Nike trainers to wear with them.

I should have known better.  I should have resisted temptation but they lured me in with their wily greyness.  Even Ben could presumably see what was coming, judging from the way in which he began beating my back frantically with his fists and Mmmmmming in distinctly worried tones.

I ignored him and made my way to the display where the grey shoes were flaunting themselves provocatively, whispering buy me, BUY me.  I stroked them gently and they snuggled against my hand.  Buy me.

There was still time to turn and walk away.  Ben’s Mmmmming now had a slightly desperate edge and he had resorted to pulling my hair.  But then a shop assistant slid into my line of sight and the next thing I knew I was uttering the fateful words.

“Do you have these in a six…..and a three?”

The assistant’s eyes slid sideways almost imperceptibly and her shiny, practiced smile slipped just a tiny bit.

“A six AND a three?”

MMMMMMMmmmmmmm!  I ignored the now completely hysterical baby and plunged into the fray.

“Yes.  A six.  AND a three.”

The assistant looked about, slightly frantically. 

“Um.  We can’t do that.”

With a terrible sinking feeling I realised that I had once again allowed myself to be drawn into the Shoeshop Dance of Doom.  But I took a deep breath and pushed on into the fray.

“Why not?”

The assistant was now squinting at me.  Well not actually at me.  Somewhere just past my left ear, as though she was hoping I would disappear before she had to make eye contact again.

“We can’t bring different sizes out.  It has to be a pair.”

“Yes.  So bring me the sixes and the threes.”

“But we can only bring pairs.”

“Good plan.  Do that.”

At this point she brightened up.  Something had clearly occurred to her.

“I can bring you the sixes if you like?”

I would like.  I would definitely like.  The problem was that I would also like the threes.  I communicated this.

“Um.  I can bring the sixes and THEN the threes if you like.”

This might be acceptable if I was planning on hopping around on one leg.  However, when I buy shoes I have this silly little obsession with actually being able to walk in both of them at the same time.

“That’s not going to work out so well.”

“But I can’t bring odd shoes.”

At this point the penny dropped.  It was time to go back to basics and explain things reeeeeally slooooooowly and caaaaarefully.

“I wear odd size shoes.  This means I need to buy two pairs of shoes.  Please bring me both full pairs of shoes so that I can try one of each on and discard the other one if I chose to buy them.  At which point I will of course pay for both full pairs of shoes.  Both pairs.  Both.  The full, actual pairs.  Not the odd shoes.  And I promise not to try to pull any fancy size-switching sleight-of-hand.”

I swear a cartoon lightbulb appeared above her head. 

“Oh.  You want to buy two pairs.”

Yes.  This is what I want.

“And throw one away.”

Yes.  Unfortunately this is what is required.

“That must be annoying.”

Yes.  But that is how I roll.

She duly disappeared and returned with two pairs of shoes.  And in a supremely ironic twist, these turned out to be among those very, very rare shoes that I can stuff with inserts and so get away with buying one pair.

By the time I left, we were practically best friends, the assistant and I.  We even had a little reminisce about my arrival at the shop.

“Remember when I thought you wanted odd shoes?”

Oh yes.  How we laughed.

I actually got off lightly on this occasion.  There was a notable incident at a certain bargain-basement shoe-shop in Brixton when I went in to buy some cheap work-type shoes - your bog-standard black slip-ons for £6.99 a pair. At the counter the assistant looked at me oddly and said "Do you know these are different sizes?"

I resisted the urge to peer at the shoes and say “Really?  Are you sure?” and simply explained the reason.

At which point she leaned over the counter and peered at my feet.  I should probably have performed a little dance.  Maybe an odd-soft-shoe-shuffle.

I then made the spectacular mistake of asking if she could throw away the odd shoes in the bin behind the counter.


"Because I can't use them and don't want to carry them around on my lunchbreak."

"But you can make another pair with them."

At this point she lined up the unwanted shoes into a pair and pointed proudly at them.

"But I can't wear them."

"Why not?"

"Because they are the wrong sizes."

She then looked very puzzled and said "But they are the same as the other ones".

I then explained slowly and carefully that no, they weren't the same as one had a left foot size 3 and the other had a right foot size 3.

So she moved them all around a bit more and then said "Well someone else could wear them".

By this time two other members of staff and a couple of customers were starting to snigger so I said I would just take them all and throw the unwanted ones away myself.

She appeared offended that I was not appreciating her enormous efforts to assist.  She was probably planning on using me as a case study in her bid for Customer Service Champion of the Week.  "No, no, you can throw them away here. But why can't someone else use them?

"Um, because I don't know anyone with the opposite size feet to mine."

At this point she came up with the best suggestion ever.  Her face lit up.

"Well can't you just wear them on the wrong feet?"

This is the reason why I do most of my shoe shopping in the US.

Well, when I say “most of my shoe shopping”, I actually mean “two large shoe-buying offensives in the last 5 years” but it makes me sound all cosmopolitan and swish to phrase it the first way.  As though I hop into Virgin first class whenever I need a new pair of flip-flops.

Because the US have Nordstrom.  The bestest department store in the world ever.  The only place on the planet that makes me actually like shoes, as opposed to suffering them as a necessary evil.

Apparently Mrs Nordstrom had odd size feet and persuaded her store-founding husband to introduce a policy of selling odd shoes to weird-feeted people for the price of one pair.  I did not know this until I was idly wandering past their shoe department while visiting family in the States.  An eager assistant popped up and wondered if he could possibly make his own day any better by helping improve mine.  I huffed grumpily at him that I hated shoe shopping due to aforementioned odd feet. 

He twinkled at me.

“But we will sell you two sizes.”

Well of course you bloody will.  If I pay for them.

I thought he was going to explode with glee as he revealed the store’s policy.  I think he actually hugged himself a bit.  Of course I was slightly distracted at that point as I had just performed a swan-dive straight into a pile of lovely, shiny, strappy sandles, and was snogging a Jimmy Choo.

The rest of my time in the shop passed in something of a blur.  I am pretty sure I remember shrieking “Those ones!  Bring them in the aquamarine!  And do you have any lilac ones?” but I might have been hallucinating by that point.

I didn’t leave with any aquamarine shoes.  But I did have to go to the luggage department and buy a new suitcase before I could leave the store with my haul.

So having experienced the utopia of mismatched footwear that is Nordstrom, you can probably understand that I have little patience for arguing the toss over a £6.99 pair of Shoezone elasticated black shoes that will no doubt leak in the rain and turn my feet an odd shade of purple.

Maybe I should have bought the lilac after all.

1 comment:

  1. I'm going to resist temptation to slag off all shop assistants - because there are just as many clever, efficient and helpful ones out there as in any other occupation. But man.....there really are some stoopid people out there. May I suggest that in future you take your unwanted size 3 and size 6 shoes, and rather than squeeze them on the wrong feet(!), you just use them to beat the assistant round the head? Hooray for Nordstrom!!!!! Shame they don't sell online?