On my first, tentative venture into Maastricht, that ancient European town, the impermeable student bubble, of the great treaty itself (yes, the very one), I was faced with a gargantuan conundrum. This conundrum was to plague me for months, keep me awake at night, haunt me during tutorials, eat away at my soul. It was the most profound of riddles, and the deepest of puzzles. This cultural abyss had me close to surrendering to mental asylum, poised on the brink of insanity. And the conundrum was thus:
Is it humanly possible to wear heels in Maastricht?
Now, on first inspection, this may be a trivial question. A mere inconsequential detail, you say? A trifling thought, a petty speculation. But no. If only it were that simple.
Skill of the native
The reason this becomes so fraught with problems is firstly due to the fact that most of Maastricht’s history-ridden streets are paved with cobbles, presenting the first difficulty to be overcome by the potential fashionista. Some of my newly acquainted Dutch friends seem to be able to navigate the cycling-with-heels spectacle, leaving us mere international students in awe. Some opt for the circus-worthy balancing act of actually walking on the cobbles in their heels, a marvel that stirred great admiration in me the first time I witnessed it. However, anyone with any sense – for everyday life at least – seems to avoid the whole commotion and stick to trusty boots or flats to negotiate the dangerous territory of Maastricht’s paving. Is heel-wearing a sign of alliance and fellowship with the true people of Maastricht?
Secondly, there are the cultural norms to consider. Do the Maastrichters, or quite possibly more importantly, do the students in Maastricht wear heels? Do they wear them to uni or just on a night out? Is it socially acceptable to clatter into a 9am tutorial in the latest Jimmy Choos? Or to stumble into your lecture in last seasons’ Prada? This is another of the puzzles to be faced by the Maastricht University newbie.
Maastricht as detached from the rest of society
Maastricht is not your average-joe city. It does not have a ‘high street’ so to speak, where one can parade down the pavement as if a catwalk. Nor is it particularly ‘cool’, like Paris or Rome might be. It is the wise, if slightly badly dressed and weird-smelling grandmother of towns. A colourful past, an international vibe. A relaxed, rose-wine drinking, retired artist kind of town, full of charm and secrets. It houses the students like unruly children, takes them under its’ ancient wing. Maastricht is wise to the students less-respectable of activities and knowing of the growth that will befall them whilst within the city walls. Maastricht is like that odd city in the south, almost not even in the Netherlands, almost not even in contact with the real world. Time very nearly stands still in Maastricht, just about oblivious to the passing trends and fashions. Where would the heel-wearers of this world be placed in such a city?
Now, for the more important implications of The Heel Question. What does the Wearing Of The Sacred Heel imply symbolically for those in Maastricht? Is it a capitalist symbol of wealth and materialism, only to be associated with the School of Business and Economics? Is it an item only to be worn by those stylish and well-ironed old women who seem to be eternally walking their tiny dogs? Or does is stand for those who defy the restrictions that Maastricht puts upon us, and refuse to let anything get in the way of their self expression? Or is it an inherently Anti-Maastricht stance, standing for the suppression of the inner city-child within.
I still haven’t quite decided what the implications of this bout of shoe politics are in Maastricht – I have only dared wear heels twice since arriving here in February (both times traumatic, both times painful). For a girl who wore them at least twice a week when back in Edinburgh, this is quite a change – but along with many other changes, though these other changes may be less obvious. Small town Dutch student life is quite different and quite a challenge, although probably the best decision I ever made. What I do know is this:
To Heel or Not to Heel, That is The Question.
Hey I'm Catriona and I'm from Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. I am 18 years old and am currently in my 1st year of UCM. I enjoy art, film, fashion, literature, music, sociology and philosophy. http://ilikecheesyurlnames.tumblr.com/