So my copy of How To Be a Perfect Stranger came the other day. I mentioned it before, it's a reference book of how to behave when attending religious services for different religions and denominations that you might find in North America.
I eagerly flipped to the Hinduism section and I'm a little skeptical of what I found there.
I think this book is a great idea, but I wonder if including so many different religions and sects made it difficult to research thoroughly.
It looks like they consulted only one Hindu group for the information in the section. There is useful stuff, but all of it could be found in a Hinduism for Dummies style book.
The thing that surprised me most was the section on what appropriate attire is for attending a Hindu function at a mandir.
It said that women should dress casual, open toed shoes are fine, and there are no rules about wearing hemlines that cover the knees.
I have a hard time believing that anyone would think it's okay to go into a mandir with a skirt whose hem is above your knee. In many cases, Indians are more uncomfortable with bare legs than they are with bare stomachs. If you go to a mandir in a short skirt, you are certainly going to feel out of place. You are also somewhat likely to be sitting on the floor. The text also doesn't mention that seeing Western clothing of any kind at a mandir is pretty unusual. Sure, if you're just a guest and visitor it's probably fine that you don't have Indian clothes, but I would highly recommend a long skirt!
The other thing I thought was odd was that the clothing section didn't mention that you will be taking your shoes off. That's where I would go to look for this kind of information. It does say that open-toed shoes are okay, but it doesn't say that you'll take them off before going into the sanctuary area.
It does say this eventually, in a little sentence under general tips. I think that could easily not be seen and it's very important.
So, all in all, the book is a great idea, but I'm not confident that I could follow it's suggestions and be appropriate for all religious services, as it promises.
Today I stopped at the bank before work and I was waited on by a young woman of Indian descent. She asked me if that was a bindi I was wearing and I told her it was. She said, "I like that." I smiled, but gave no explanation. It was nice. I hope that my wearing it will inspire some young people. I hope that this young woman and others like her start to see it as something they can do, not just something their mothers and grandmothers do. :)