What is it that keeps us all so enamoured by the idea of travel? The answer to that one is so personal to us all. Some of us are lucky enough to be able to flit around the world as we please. Others don’t have the disposable income to rival the Kardashians, and settle with reading of others’ adventures, enjoying the whole idea vicariously.
Whatever your situation may be, one concept that binds us all is the exotic allure of new places. Some are in it for the chance to visit the big bucket list cities and landmarks, while others want to hop right in with a foreign people and see whether their high school French or Italian can still cut it (spoiler: it probably can’t, and you’ll end up inadvertently insulting the owner’s mother instead of asking where the bathroom is).
Cultural norms around the world can be fascinating case studies. It’s a sad fact that so many of us are quick to judge those we don’t understand (and even when we do, the average internet comment section is not a friendly place to be on that score). We really should open our minds.
Take the Amish, for instance. They take a lot of snark for their technologically-challenged ways (see ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic’s Amish Paradise), but theirs is an intriguing way of life all around. Let’s look beyond that simple fact, and learn which Hollywood celebrity was Amish, which brand of computer was specifically designed for the Amish people and why they love Mexican food.
20 What’s In A Name?
A good first step in our Amish odyssey would be to take a look at the origins of the word itself. The term Amish itself derives from the name of Jakob Ammann, an Anabaptist (a branch of Protestantism believing that baptism should take place later in life, when the person is able to make their own choices) from Switzerland.
After a snafu with other members of the Mennonite church, Ammann (who pushed for a literal interpretation of the Bible) distanced himself from them. Those who followed his way of thinking began to be known as Amish.
19 No Fighting Please, We’re Amish
Considering the Swiss roots of the sect, it’s only appropriate that the Amish would adhere to a strict code of pacifism. Their simple and pastoral existence is one thing that just about everybody knows about the people (although there’s more to it than that, as we’ll see later), as well as their rejection of the possibility of integrating with society at large, but this is also interesting: all forms of violence are very much taboo.
With this in mind, they will not serve the military in any capacity. This is nothing revolutionary for people of faith, of course, but it’s another angle to their insular ways.
18 Because Rumspringa Spells Party Time
What is Rumspringa, you ask? Well, I’m not saying it’s spring break for Amish adolescents, but I’m not not saying that either.
At the age of 16, an Amish adolescent engages in Rumspringa (which means 'jumping around' in English), a time period where they are able to experience society at large. They may drink, experience modern technology and wear casual street clothes, should they choose. This isn’t intended as a time to just abandon all of the rules and go wild, but rather to consider things before signing up to the Church proper, as an adult.
As Amish America reports, the majority simply opt to go the movie theatre or the like, but some Amish boys have gotten themselves driving licenses and vehicles during this time, which they have parked at their parents’ homes.
Shunning the faith (and being shunned in return) is not a popular choice, with around 90% dedicating themselves to the Amish way of life.
17 Made In America
As we’ve seen, then, the Amish people originated in Switzerland. Today, though, they’re mostly found in the United States. According to Hyperactivz, the Swiss were completely intolerant towards the Amish, who fled the persecution.
North America became their home when William Penn offered them a place of their own in Pennsylvania. This remains the home of some of the biggest Amish communities, but have since spread their wings and moved further afield in large numbers. Separate communities have sprung up and thrived in other states across the US, each with slightly different customs and conventions (as we’ll see later in this rundown).
16 EVERYBODY Else is considered English
The Romans, proud, gladius-brandishing souls that they were, commanded an empire the likes of which the world had never seen. Granted, it gradually splintered apart into hunks of sad, soggy failure, but man was that an achievement.
They tended to refer to the natives of many of the lands they conquered as barbarians. This supposedly derives from the ba ba ba sounds of their (in the Romans’ view) primitive language.
Now, the Amish don’t have togas, empires and all the rest of it, but they have a simple term for outsiders too: English. Regardless of the language you speak, if you aren’t Amish, you’re English. This dates back to the founding times of the Amish people, when every outsider they encountered was an English-speaker.
15 The Hassle Of Hochmut
While the word hochmut may be unfamiliar, you probably already understand this as one of the key principles of Amish life.
What is hochmut? Amish Furniture Factory explains that the word “…refers to a combination of pride, arrogance and haughtiness.” These are negative traits that the Amish community seeks to avoid at all costs. Their society is defined by being humble, plain and refusing to hold some people in higher regard than others.
To that end, children are taught the virtues of hard work and simple living from an early age. Their pastoral, low-key lives are all lived out in such a way as to reject hochmut in all its forms.
14 Taking ‘Sleeping’ Literally
Now, being a strictly pious people, there are certain things that you’d probably take for granted about the Amish. Their lack of tolerance towards young couples sharing a bed before marriage, for instance.
Curiously, this isn’t the case at all. On the contrary, it is strongly encouraged for these couples to spends nights together. There’s a catch, though, unsurprisingly. They’re strictly to remain clothed, and a thick board is placed along the middle of the bed to prevent any contact. This practice is intended to ensure that the new couple spends the time talking and bonding, determining if they are right for each other before engaging in the marriage that is so important to the community.
13 They’re Super Healthy (But They Also Aren’t)
On the one hand, of course, the Amish people’s lifestyle does wonders for their health. Farming is demanding, physical work, which does wonders for you in terms of exercise and fresh air. Being far from the congestion and stress of big city life is a major boon, too.
The trouble with all of that is, they’re also very limited in terms of potential partners. The population of around 250,000 hails from just 200 or so families, according to Listverse, which results in a dangerous case of the 'Founder effect'. The chance of congenital disorders is multiplied many, many times over, and the infant mortality rate is sky high.
12 It’s A Computer, Jim, But Not As We Know Them
As we all know, the internet is among the most powerful and unstoppable tools humanity has ever developed. We have just about the entire sum of human knowledge, all right there in our smartphones. It’s actually mind-boggling to think about.
The trouble is, though, it demands responsible usage. Procrastination is a real and ever-present threat. Have you ever set out to start an important paper, only to find yourself, seven hours later, watching videos on what happens when you crack an egg underwater?
If you have (and we all have, don’t @ me), you need a Classic. This is a personal computer targeted at the Amish community. It’s completely devoid of games, Wi-Fi and other such distractions, boasting only business functions like spreadsheets.
11 They’re Reality TV Stars
Now, there are certain things we all know about the Amish. Right there on page one of The Amish For Dummies, it says in boldface, they are not big on technology. Pop culture, the pursuit of celebrity, all of these vacuous things are not what being Amish is all about.
Nevertheless, as I said earlier, we all have that intrinsic desire to learn more about things that are unfamiliar to us. A lot of reality shows lately have striven to educate us on their unique ways. Breaking Amish saw younger members of the community sapling the outside word and deciding which path they wanted their lives to take. One of them, Kate Stoltzfus, left to become a centrefold model.
10 Good Ol’ Fashioned Meal Times
Following on from that whole concept of eschewing technology, there’s an argument that this could also do wonders for them. Personally, I commute a lot, and my fellow passengers all stare at their phones with I wouldn’t look up and acknowledge you even if your hair was on fire expressions on their faces. It makes me feel some type of way at times, it really does.
Meanwhile, Amish communities pursue a sense of community and togetherness. As Hyperactivz reports, meal times are communal, potluck-style affairs. Everyone brings a dish or two, and it’s all set out on long, long tables. As people dig into whatever takes their fancy, they take the time to talk, bond and generally catch up with each other. It’s a great system, in my eyes.
9 Take A Picture? I Guess So
Next up, we’ve got a common misconception about the Amish that needs setting straight. Many of us think that the people hate to have photographs taken of themselves, in keeping with the whole technophobic thing they’ve got going on. While It’s true that you’re not going to see them uploading tons of selfies to social media, they’re not as averse to photos as you may think.
The important distinction, according to World Lifestyle, is that they often won’t vainly pose for a photograph. They’re a range of schools of thought among communities on this, and some will refuse to have pictures taken, but others are happy to be filmed and photographed in a candid way.
8 The Scariest Dolls You Ever Saw
As a huge fan of horror movies, I feel like I’ve seen enough spooky dolls to last a lifetime. After all, that’s one of the most popular tropes in the genre.
The difference here is that these traditional Amish dolls are not intended to be frightening in any kind of way. Their lack of faces is to symbolise that core belief of theirs, that everybody is equal and equally worthy. It also ties in with their deep aversion to anything that may be seen as vain or prideful.
There’s something sweet and poignant about these, too. Like relics from a more innocent time.
7 The Biggest (And Smallest) Celebrity
As we’ve seen, then, the Amish have slim-to-bupkus interest in outsiders’ modern way of life. The cult of celebrity, the desperate clamour for likes, retweets, comments and little heart emojis on social media is not their scene.
Interestingly, though, there is one celebrity who has roots in the faith: Verne Troyer. The actor, who sadly passed away in April, was born and raised Amish until his parents left the faith (as he told The Guardian).
“The best part of growing up Amish is that it’s a very tight-knit community,” he said. “If you fall on hard times or something bad happens, your neighbours pitch in to support you and get you back on your feet.”
6 We Don’t Need No Education
Another interesting and controversial aspect of Amish life is schooling. Unlike the conventions of much of the outside world, Amish schooling ends at the 8th grade level. From there, boys and girls have their lives all planned out. The boys, World Lifestyle explains, head off into a trade, while the girls begin ‘training’ for their lives as housewives.
Employment options, naturally, centre around trades that are of vital use to the community, with farming being paramount on the list. It’s a harsh and oh-so-practical system, but it’s one that the communities have embraced for as long as they have been established.
5 Environmentally Unfriendly?
Now, you might think that the Amish way of life would result in them being cleaner (atmospherically speaking) than much of society. After all, there are no huge industrial machines and toxin-spewing factories around here, are there?
While this is true to an extent, the Amish certainly contribute to the planet’s pollution problem too. As The Richest explains, the Amish own 5,000 farms in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and the amount of fertiliser and other dangers they release into the Chesapeake Bay is quite frightening. Couple this with the fact that they don’t abide by the guidelines of the EPA (considering it outside interference), continuing to use their traditional, environmentally hazardous methods.
How much cow dung is there in the water? Too much, that’s how much.
4 A Taste For Mexican Food
Now, this one, you probably did not see coming. I can certainly appreciate a good taco, fajita or enchilada, but did you know that some in the Amish community have a huge hankering for Mexican cuisine too?
The community may have its roots in Switzerland and the USA, as we’ve seen, but according to The Richest, they also have ties with Mexico. A century or so ago, Mexico was a huge draw for the community, thanks to the easy availability of land and medical care (which they don’t have health insurance for in America). While there, of course, some of the traditional cuisine got itself wrapped up with that of the Amish.
3 The Same, But Different
As with any other culture and community, it’s important to remember that some things we think we know are severe generalisations. With the Amish, it’s a little unfair to just claim that they hate technology, period.
The Kalona Amish, of Ohio, aren’t so strict when it comes to these things. They may not have the latest fiber broadband and those sorts of mod-cons, but as Amish America demonstrates, they’re among the most accepting groups of all. Inside flushing toilets, mechanical refrigerators, power lawn mowers and pneumatic tools are all used by the Amish of Kalona, as are rototillers and chainsaws.
2 The Moustache Mystery
Speaking of those overly-generalised views we sometimes have of other cultures, how about the Amish and their beards? It’s a widely-held belief that a furry face is a requirement of all Amish men, but that’s not quite the way it works.
While, for spiritual reasons, they don’t tend to shave, this is a requirement of married Amish men, which begins after the ceremony. It derives from the Bible, in which beard-wearing is commonplace.
Another interesting caveat is the fact that, even though your beard may reach Albus Dumbledore levels of hairy powerfulness, you are usually required not to have a moustache.
1 The Amish Takeover
As we’ve seen, Amish communities live a life that is far removed from societal norms. There are many of us who just couldn’t imagine living without PCs, laptops, games consoles, tablets, air conditioning… the list goes on and on and on.
Some might say they’ve been ‘left behind’ by technology, but the Amish population continues to thrive. It’s booming, actually. Owing to the fact that large families are encouraged, and the Amish don’t believe in contraception, their numbers are growing at an exponential rate. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were estimated to be 5,000, and there are now over 250,000! Their population is believed to double every generation!