Amish are known for their unique traditions, their desire to live a simple life without the complications of modern technology and their incomparable dress code. Being Amish is much more than riding horses and buggies, and it certainly has nothing to do with drug-fuelled Rumpsringa parties. This way of life is very poorly understood and many people mistakenly believe that it is a cult despite the fact that Amish culture is heavily based on free choice. Here are 20 facts you probably didn’t know about this community.
1. The Amish are trying to maintain order
One of the most fundamental things about being Amish is the intense focus on policing. The Ordnung, which means order, is essentially an Amish manual separate from the Bible. It lists all the rules of conduct and failure to comply with them has major consequences.
2. Beards give you information about the status of an Amish
Have you ever wondered what the status of an Amish person is? Their beard tells you a lot – even more than a wedding ring (if they were allowed to wear one). Amish people start growing beards as soon as they get married. The longer the beard, the longer they’ve been married. Amish men are not allowed to have whiskers, so they must be shaved.
On the other hand, Amish women have very long hair because they are not allowed to have their hair cut. Both men and women are at risk of being avoided by their communities if they decide to cut their hair or beard.
3. The Amish have their own language
The Amish can speak English, but they actually have their own language. This language is known as Amish, Low German or Pennsylvania Dutch, which is not at all like the Dutch spoken in the Netherlands. The language is actually rooted in Dutch or German.
It was spoken by the first German-speaking settlers who first immigrated to Pennsylvania. This language was not only spoken by a handful of settlers; it was very popular throughout Pennsylvania. Almost half of the population spoke Pennsylvania Dutch at once, although today it is difficult to find a non-Amish person who speaks it.
4. The dress code exemplifies Amish values
One of the physical traits that define Amish is their wardrobe. This is not only because the simple and uniform appearance is easy to manage. The Amish dress in a way that promotes some of the key values of their culture – humility and modesty. The dress code is strictly applied to avoid vanity and promote a focus on inner, less tangible qualities.
Yes, unlike the regular American culture that coats barely dressed models through the magazine covers, Amish people appreciate inner beauty and kindness. Women are not allowed to wear bright colours, patterns or jewellery and most of their clothes are handmade.
5. The Amish don’t reject all technologies
Although the Amish people take great care of their cultures using handmade tools, they do not reject all modern technologies. This really depends on the degree of rigour of the specific affiliation of the Amish (and there are about 40 across the country). Contrary to popular belief, Amish people use new technologies intelligently. They are deeply concerned about the technologies that will be added to their lives.
For example, a Lancaster Amish admitted that he checks his voice mail four times a day and uses a propane forklift truck in his shop. He also uses refrigeration to store milk. Other Amish subgroups use virtually no modern technology. The Amish population largely accepts the use of electricity but rejects the electricity grid that allows it to be introduced into American homes.
6. Amish believe in baptism, but that doesn’t happen to babies
Although it may seem that Amish culture is very far from everyday Christianity, it is in fact not that far away. The Amish are actually a Christian subsection called Anabaptist. This means that they believe in baptism, but they do not baptize babies as a typical Christian church does.
If you want to be part of the church, you must be old enough to independently affirm your faith. This usually happens between the ages of 16 and 24, with most Amish taking a brief exploration break (and a slight use of electronics) to see what the world has to offer, which ends with marriage. This is called rumspringa.
7. A ton of misconceptions are being propagated about rumspringa
The media described the rumspringa as a time of great holidays, drug use and prenuptial relationships between Amish youth groups. Of course, it happens sometimes, but it’s not typical. We have all seen the TLC Breaking Amish show, where young Amish people go to town during their Rumspringa to experience normal Western life (scandalous relationships and excessive alcohol consumption). It’s really not typical.
During a typical rumspringa, most young Amish do not even leave their parents’ home. They simply join a group of Amish youth and start socializing with the world around them on weekends. Most Amish teenagers use this time to find a partner because they already know they want to join the church. The key principle is that Amish culture is based on free choice. A teenager must venture outside to choose whether to join the church permanently.
8. Amish youth groups are generally quite docile and do not use drugs or alcohol
The Amish youth groups that teenagers join during the Rumspringa are much more docile than most of us generally imagine. These groups perform a number of functions, including helping the adolescent enter a more formal social world where he or she can interact with peers in a new environment and develop new relationships (such as in dating).
These groups vary and generally meet on weekends. Some are supervised by an adult. Others organize social events. Most youth groups meet wherever the service is held for healthy and planned activities, such as group singing and volleyball.
9. Drug-related scandals can occur in the Amish community
Just because most Amish don’t use drugs doesn’t mean they all avoid it. In 1999, two Amish were arrested and convicted of conspiracy to deliver Class A drugs. Class A drugs are among the most addictive, including heroin, cocaine and ecstasy.
The two men eventually bought and sold $100,000 worth of drugs between 1992 and 1998. The saddest thing about this story is that these two men were selling drugs mainly to young Amish people. The two men were eventually convicted for their involvement in the Amish drug network.
10. A “release from prison” card
Teenagers make mistakes, and that’s how it is. Banishment is a huge threat to a teenager who may miss his first outing from the Amish community. The truth is that Amish parents want their children to want to join the church, so they give them a “Get out of jail without jail” card.
This means that any Amish teenager who breaks the rules during the Rumspringa – which is about the goal – gets a very lenient punishment. Although most children do not, some do, and Amish parents welcome them with open arms.
11. A typical Amish date
The dates between Amish are like most dates, just much more supervised. A young man will usually meet his future wife at a youth group activity, such as Sunday singing. He will take her home in his buggy (which he may have equipped with electronic speakers that are only allowed during the rumspringa). The couple will exchange letters and see each other on weekends.
They will date for a year before the man asks the woman to marry. He must first seek the approval of his parents. If the woman says yes, the couple informs the deacon. He announces their intention to marry the rest of the church, and preparations for the wedding begin. This usually occurs between the ages of 18 and 22.
12. Amish couples spend the night together scandalously before the wedding
It is generally believed that Amish marriages are arranged and that couples are not intimate before exchanging vows. This is partly true, depending on your definition of intimacy. Couples should never have sex before marriage, but they can spend the night together in some places.
However, couples must be fully clothed. The bridal parade or “bundling” takes place as follows: the boy asks the girl if he can take her home, and she gives her consent. They go home, immediately go upstairs, get into bed fully clothed and have to talk all night without touching each other. Beds sometimes have what is called a separator that prevents neither side from accidentally touching the other.
13. Amish marriage is simple
Amish marriage is excessively simple. There is no dress worth thousands of dollars and no sumptuous honeymoon. In fact, most Amish sew their own dresses (which undoubtedly reduces wedding costs). The honeymoon is not usually a tropical holiday. Most Amish visit their families and collect gifts.
When an Amish decides to marry, he must marry another member of the church. Wedding rings are not exchanged (jewellery is prohibited) and invitations must be delivered by hand. To be honest, this minimalist approach really emphasizes the relationship between the couple rather than the act of having a marriage.
14. Amish do not learn beyond grade 8
The Amish do not have the same interest in education as the rest of America. There is no high school or college unless an Amish person permanently leaves his or her community, graduates from high school and goes to school. Instead, the Amish focus on trades, such as carpentry and masonry, that they will have for the rest of their lives.
Amish children attend a one-room school. Children are almost always taught by someone with only an eighth grade. Schooling stops after grade eight and men begin to exercise their future careers. Women do the same thing, but learn to clean and knit. The roles are very gendered.
15. Amish women wear their wedding dresses once a week for the rest of their lives
An Amish wedding dress is very different from a typical wedding dress. Women should always focus on “banality”, even on their wedding day. There is definitely no blinding, tight lace here.
A woman has to sew her own dress, and that dress is not even white. A woman’s wedding dress is always blue, and they don’t wear it just once. When a woman gets married, she wears this dress every Sunday for the rest of her life. This certainly reduces waste!
16. The Amish do not believe that baptism is an entry ticket to paradise
Most Amish are baptized at around the age of 18 and 22 when they have found a future husband. In many sects of Christianity, it is an entry ticket to heaven, as long as you apologize for your sins before you get there.
This is not the case in Amish culture. You have to do good deeds to get to heaven, so the Amish practice “Gottes Wille” (or God’s will). They behave well every day and do good deeds. It is the key to a prosperous life, and there may be something good to remember from that. Shouldn’t we all help each other every day?
17. It is the youngest son who inherits everything from the father, not the oldest
In most cultures, the eldest son is responsible for the distribution of the inheritance. The Amish do not really feel that the eldest sons are the ones who have to take care of the estate in the event of the parents’ death. It is partly for this reason that land and property are passed on to the youngest son.
Fathers are not ready to retire when their eldest sons reach adulthood. These sons then learn trades, but the younger brother may not be as well prepared when his father dies.
18. Amish have a low risk of developing cancer
Amish people actually have an extremely low risk of developing cancer because of their lifestyle. The Amish grow their own organic food. They do not drink or smoke, which considerably extends their life span.
The Amish even milk their own cows, look after their own meat and grow their own corn. Moreover, these animals are not subject to the same disgusting standards as the rest of the food industry. Chickens and beef are not full of hormones and antibiotics. They have the chance to grow up healthy before being shot.
19. If you don’t say sorry, you have to leave the community
Because the community is so religious, breaking the rules is not an easy task. If you break any of the Amish rules, you receive a Meidung order. This means that you must sincerely apologize or you have been expelled from the community.
If the Amish community expels you, your life becomes difficult and depressing. Amish family members will not eat at the same table as you, community members will no longer do business with you, and your family will not even be able to travel in the same car as you. Church members cannot receive gifts, money or help that you may want to give them either. They are forbidden to take anything from you.
20. There are Amish gangs
Apparently, there are Amish gangs that commit fairly serious crimes. In 2011, an Amish group was arrested in Ohio. They broke into the homes of their rival Amish gang members and shaved their beards while they slept.
Losing your beard is one of the most serious forms of degradation in the community. The leader of this gang was ironically called Samuel Mullet. Although he didn’t have a mule, he had an epic beard.