In many countries around the world, displaying bare legs or wearing shorts when you’re a woman in a sacred place is a definite foreign faux pas. However, it is easy to forget this while traveling during a scorching hot summer in Greece.
On one particularly blistering day, on the island of Paros, my friend Indira and I arrived straight from the beach — in shorts — to visit a beautiful Orthodox church.
Fortunately, a practical employee had provided a basket full of Orthodox sanctioned itchy, unflattering burlap looking sacks that passed for skirts.
The basket rested beneath a sign that had a stick figure wearing shorts and a red “don’t” line running through her. The instructions were pretty clear, so Indira and I each selected a skirt.
However, before we put them on over our shorts, a little boy who was attending a baptism celebration marched over. In his Sunday best — a green soccer uniform including athletic shorts — he furrowed his small brow and crossed his arms. He then motioned to our legs and let us have it.
The unofficial interpretation of his stern rebuke: “Don’t you know you can’t wear shorts in a church? This is bad – very bad. Are you children? Can you not read? There is a sign right behind you. By the way, you look lame in those burlap skirts.”
Indeed, I did feel like a child since, in the first place, I hadn’t been able to read signs or communicate properly for nearly a week; then, I had just been reprimanded by a six-year-old Byzantine bouncer.
One of his female relatives, who wore the microest of miniskirts, exposing more skin than Daisy Duke ever did in cutoff shorts, came to retrieve him. Before he left, Indira, who actually had mastered “hello” in Greek, said, “yasou,” to the boy. He shyly smiled, revealing two missing front teeth and then hid behind his aunt. Apparently forgetting our cultural insensitivity, he gave a little wave and then returned to the ceremony. Our little bouncer was adorable, and it was worth it to be blasphemous just to have an exchange with him.