My informant KM explained that in some cultures it is very disrespectful to have the bottom of one’s foot face someone.
KM went on a trip to Egypt with seven other students in the summer of 2013 for an International Relations class at USC. KM explained, “we were in a meeting with a very powerful woman in Egypt. It was the nine of us asking her questions. One of the guys on the trip was sitting next to her with his leg on his knee and his foot facing this woman. Halfway through the interview the woman said, ‘Something smells! Who has smelly feet?!’ She didn’t say it because his feet smelled, but because she was uncomfortable with having the bottom of his feet face her. He was really embarrassed so he readjusted his position. The interview was kind of awkward after that. But she was a harsh woman to begin with. ‘Who has smelly feet?’ became a running joke on the trip.”
After the meeting, KM and her group explained what had happened to one of their tour guides. He explained to them why she was so upset.
KM’s experience in Cairo demonstrates that facing the bottom of one’s foot to a person is so disrespectful and offensive that the woman would stop mid-meeting to correct the faux pas. Perhaps the bottom of one’s foot is so offensive because it is the dirtiest part of the foot.