If you’ve ever visited Amish country, you already know that you’ll see and hear things that are both unique and fascinating. And while you may have the feeling that you’ve traveled back in time, please remember that this is, in fact, real life for everyone who lives here – both Amish and “English”.
To enhance your experience, you’ll want to remember a few things before setting out on your trip…
Driving in Amish Country
You’ve left the beltways and four-lane highways behind for a slower pace. A very slow pace. A trotting horse will be traveling at 8 miles per hour or less. A team pulling farm machinery may be painfully slow. Especially on the hills of Holmes and Tuscarawas Counties, you may catch up with a buggy or bicyclist on a hill where you can’t see oncoming traffic. Just be patient. You’ll get there eventually – wait until you have a clear view of the traffic coming from the other direction.
Be very cautious at night – even though some Amish churches allow reflectors and lights, black buggies are still difficult to see on a dark road without streetlights. The most conservative orders of Amish allow only one lantern hung on the side of the buggy and are almost impossible to see at night. They are most common in the Mount Hope and Apple Creek areas in Ohio.
Honking is rather disrespectful. Horses, by nature, are flight animals. Honking can “spook” or frighten them and cause a wreck. Most horses on the roads are “traffic safe” (broke to drive in traffic) but you never know. Give them the benefit of the doubt and be ready for anything. If you feel the need to alert a buggy driver, a light tap on the horn will suffice.
Photographing the Amish
Amish do not pose for photographs or videos, the key word being “pose”. Posing for photographs is seen as prideful or interpreted as making a graven image, forbidden in the Ten Commandments. Exceptions may be made for children or young people who have not yet joined the church.
However, many Amish will not resent visitors taking photos of their buggy, working on the farm or in public places. Just be careful and respectful – no need to hang out of your car trying to shoot an up-close photo of a “real Amish person”. If you feel uncomfortable taking the photo, just ask permission. The answer may be no, but your polite request may open the door to a conversation!
Buggy horses and other farm animals
It’s fine to stand back admire that beautiful field of shiny black and white Holstein dairy cows, but it’s impolite and dangerous to enter the field to pet or feed them. Again, animals are unpredictable – they have teeth that could bite or heels that could kick! The occasional bull in the field could also ruin your day.
The same warning applies to buggy horses tied at a hitching rail. It’s always best to ask permission to touch the animal or buggy. Stories have arisen of Amish returning after shopping, only to find tourists sitting in their buggy posing for pictures. Please, don’t do this.
Conversations with the Amish
Tourism is so common in Ohio’s Amish country that most people have become accustomed to questions and conversations with visitors. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or say hello, especially in a public setting. Be genuinely interested in the response and never make anyone feel foolish (a good reminder for all conversations!)
One fellow blogger recommended trying to speak a little Pennsylvania Dutch. This makes me smile – the day-to-day Dutch spoken by the Amish is a little different than the “Dutch” you may read in popular Amish romance novels. Even those of us who know enough Dutch “to be dangerous” would not try speaking more than a few words here and there. That is, unless you want to be the latest amusing story at their next Sunday church lunch.
Amish Etiquette 101
Really, the main thing to remember is the Golden Rule, paraphrased as: treat others the way you’d like to be treated yourself. It’s mostly common sense. Amish Country isn’t a zoo or a show with actors. We’re all people just like you and appreciate the same kindnesses that you do.