What’s true about Amish and Mennonites

All right. We know that some of you have been watching some of the Amish “reality” shows that have appeared on TV in the last few years. And, you are thinking “Can this really be true?”

Amish man and wagonWell, the key thing to remember is that these shows are “entertainment”. They aren’t documentaries and they make no claims as such. Wikipedia defines a documentary as “a nonfictional motion picture intended to document some aspect of reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction or maintaining a historical record.”

On the other hand, reality TV is described by Wikipedia as a genre that “often highlights personal drama and conflict to a much greater extent than other unscripted television such as documentary shows.”

So, without condemning anyone’s show business career, let’s list a few things that are true about the Amish and Mennonites.

True: Not all Amish are the same

It’s pretty dangerous to generalize about the Amish. There are many variations of Amish churches, somewhat like the Baptist or Methodist denominations. Some are more permissive than others. In reference to the Ohio Amish groups, the most conservative group is the Swartzentruber Amish. They reject conveniences that “English” might consider the most basic – running water, indoor toilets, battery-powered buggy lights, even slow-moving vehicle signs on their buggies. Muddy driveways are common since gravel is not allowed. Farming is done without even the most modern of horse-drawn equipment (technology of 50 or 60 years ago).

On the other end of the spectrum, the Beachy Amish allow members to have electric, drive cars and tractors and have telephones in the house. They don’t approve of TV, movies or the internet, but they still require button-up shirts for men, homemade dresses and prayer coverings for women.

In between these groups are the New New Order Amish (yes, that’s two News), New Order Amish, New Order “Tob”, Old Order Amish, “The Dan Gmee” and probably a few groups we’ve missed. And within each “order”, the bishop in each district can make decisions about what’s accepted – even neighboring districts can be quite different. They pick and choose the types of technology that will serve the community, but not destroy it.

True: Not all Mennonites are the same

Amish and Mennonites (and Brethren, Apostolics and Hutterites), come from the same branch of Anabaptist Christian faith. Note that this is not anti-baptism. It means they believe in a Believer’s Baptism for those who have committed their lives to the Lord.

There are all varieties of Mennonites and most of them are more liberal than the Amish. Among the most conservative are Old Order Mennonites and Black Bumper Mennonites. Then there are the Conservative Amish-Mennonites all the way through the Mennonite Church USA conference. Many Conservatives may have grown up Amish, but “jumped the fence” to become Mennonite. Some Mennonites wear plain dress and a prayer covering, some do not.

True: Amish and Mennonites get along just fine

People are people and not everyone gets along with each other on a personal level. But as a community, the different Orders of Amish or Mennonites get along with each other. They may make fun of each other’s differences, but they generally will speak with each other and do business with each other.

Mennonite Disaster Service is one place where this teamwork is demonstrated. In the case of a hurricane, flood, tornado or other disaster, you may see both plain Amish and liberal Mennonites working together on one roof to repair shingles that have been torn away by the wind.

True: Amish do ride in cars

To clarify, some Amish will not ride in cars. But many Amish think nothing of hiring a driver to take them grocery shopping or on a hunting or fishing trip.

What’s the difference between owning a car and riding in someone’s car? They fear that owning cars and traveling at will could pull the community apart. The horse and buggy signifies the separation of being “in” the world, but not “of” the world. Families and neighbors should stay at home, work together, eat together and play together for the sake of the community. Traveling by tractor is accepted in the less conservative orders of the Amish, but again, many tractors don’t go much over 20 miles per hour.

Amish taxi drivers are often Mennonites.

By the way, Amish do go on vacation, usually by van, bus or train. They do travel on long trips to Florida or the western US, but they rarely fly unless there is a medical emergency. Air travel is not allowed by the more conservative orders.

True: Amish do pay taxes

Everyone pays taxes, including the Amish. They pay income tax, sales tax and property tax.

Amish do not collect Social Security, unemployment or welfare benefits because they believe that they should insure themselves. Insurance shows a lack of faith in God. Depending on where they work, they may continue to pay these payroll taxes even though they were exempted in 1965.

There are Amish-run LLC’s that lease workers to English businesses so that they can be exempted from payroll taxes. Note that once an Amish person exempts himself from paying payroll taxes, he o she cannot reverse this decision.

True: The Amish are community-centered, but not a commune

Each person in the community is expected to do business honestly and fairly. They are expected to pay their own bills and manage their own money. Individuals that have trouble with their finances are sometimes said to have “no management” and may be assigned a mentor by the church to teach them how to pay bills and control their finances.

True: Amish Aid does exist

Amish do not generally buy health insurance, but there is indeed a fund called Amish Aid or Amish Insurance. This fund is overseen by a committee of leaders and members of the Amish churches pay into the fund to help pay each others’ medical bills, etc. When there is an accident or sickness that incurs a huge expense, the community bands together to help raise money to pay the bill, such as fundraisers and benefit auctions.

The insurance “fee” is set by the committee of members. It’s voluntary, but most people are happy to participate.

True: The Amish do use cell phones, sometimes…

For Amish youth on Rumspringa, a cell phone is a must. Many Amish churches frown upon members owning a cell phone. That said, it’s not surprising to see Amish with cell phones, particularly for business use. Often, cell phones are limited to basic flip phones that do not have internet access.

True: Amish and Mennonites are people just like you

In a fast-paced world, it’s easy to think that living where life moves slower must be happier. Amish and Mennonites are just people like you. The same human problems plague us just like the English world…rebellious children, financial problems, marriage problems and so on. Problems are solved through the lens of living peacefully with one another.

For both the Amish and Mennonites, a key to their faith and community is submitting to one another. That means that each church member agrees to give up his/her own will for the benefit of the community, as Christ modeled for us. Loving your enemies, praying for those who despitefully use you and not taking revenge are tenets of the faith.

The Old-fashioned way of making Apple Butter

The cool days of autumn are a sign that it’s time to “put up” the last crops of vegetables and fruits of the year. It’s time to harvest pumpkins, apples, grapes and squash in preparation for winter.

Apple Butter and Bread

Apple Butter and Bread

Here in Amish Country, one of the traditional ways of preserving apples is to make apple butter. Yes, it’s possible to make apple butter in your kitchen, but it’s often an event for families to get together, visit, eat and stir a big batch of apple butter to share. My neighbors, the Harry and Kate Gerber family made it a priority every October to schedule a stirring where everyone, old and young,  chipped in the help prepare apples and then help stir the pot. It is an all-day affair.

Prepare the apples

According to June Miller, Harry and Kate’s daughter, the first step is to purchase the right kind of apple. Grimes Golden is the Gerber family pick, but they’ve tried blending other varieties to enhance the taste. Grimes Golden a yellow apple and is the perfect for apple for apple butter because it cooks down to a fine texture and is sweet. Although it can be used for eating, it’s also an excellent apple for pie baking.

The night before the Stirring, the family gets together to peel the apples (yes, done with an old-fashioned apple peeler). The peeled apples are quartered or cut in eighths if the apples are large. This is called schnitzing. The seeds are cut out and discarded and the apple slices are soaked in water overnight.

Stirring the Apple Butter

Apple Butter Stirring at Yoder's Amish Home, Walnut Creek, Ohio

Apple Butter Stirring at Yoder’s Amish Home, Walnut Creek, Ohio

It literally takes all day to make apple butter – the Gerbers start cooking at 7:00 or 7:30 in the morning. The soaking apple pieces are drained, then a copper kettle filled with 13 gallons of apples and 13 gallons of fresh water is set over the fire to cook…and cook…and cook. The kettle must be watched at all times so the apple butter does not burn.

A long-armed wooden paddle is used to stir the pot almost constantly for 8 or 9 hours. This is not a job for the weak and frail. It will work out your arms and back after a day of stirring!

When is the apple butter ready?

After the apple slices have cooked down into a fragrant brown sauce (you don’t want to see any pieces floating) it’s time to add brown sugar and white sugar. How much depends on how sweet you want your apple butter to be. It’s especially important to keep stirring the apple butter once the sugar is added because it will burn more quickly.

The apple butter is ready when it cooks down to exactly the right consistency. To test it the “Gerber way”, dip a spoonful of apple butter out of the kettle, let it cool slightly on the spoon and then tilt the spoon downward as if to empty it. If the apple butter slowly drops off the spoon with a “plop” (a very technical term), it’s finished and ready to take off the fire.

June recommends having some freshly baked butter bread ready to test taste and consistency of the apple butter as you go along. This is half the fun of the stirring!

After the apple butter is cooled, everyone brings their own jars to fill and take home for the year.

A recipe for a small batch of Apple Butter

Most of you won’t be stirring apple butter in a 30 gallon kettle, so we’ve included a recipe for a small batch you can make in your own kitchen. If you don’t want to schnitz apples, you can also cook apple butter directly from applesauce. It should cook faster that way.

APPLE BUTTER  – taken from Der Dutchman’s 1973 Cookbook
Contributed by Mrs. Ben D. Miller
3 gallons uncooked apple schnitz
8lbs white sugar
1 gallon Karo

Put all ingredients together and cook 3 hours with the lid on the pan. Take the apple butter off the heat and put through a sieve (such as a Victorio strainer). Return the apple butter to the pan and heat again. When the apple butter is thick, put in canning jars and seal.

 

 

 

Make hay while the sun shines

Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “you’ve got to make hay while the sun shines”? You might think it’s a figure of speech, but to a farmer, it’s the gospel truth. The definition of hay is dry-cured fodder for animals, and the only way to cure the hay is to dry it in the sun. In the winter, the hay is the primary feed for grazing animals such as cattle, sheep, goats and horses.

What exactly is in hay?

Hay is made up of grass, legumes or other plants. The actual content of the hay depends on the region of the country, the method of harvesting and the type of livestock that will be eating the hay. In Ohio’s Amish Country, we have plenty of rainfall so native grasses are generally very common.

Horse hay is generally made up of grasses such as timothy and orchard grass. Horses that are working hard, either in the field or in the buggy may require a richer blend with more energy. Heifer or Dry Cow hay is also mostly lower-quality grass (by the way, a heifer is a cow that has not had its first calf.) Dairy cow hay is usually rich in alfalfa and other high protein/high energy crops such as field peas or forage oats. Dairy cows and other lactating livestock have high energy requirements and need the boost in nutrition.

The sweet smell of Alfalfa

Alfalfa is an important crop for livestock forage

Alfalfa is an important crop for livestock forage

Alfalfa is one of the most common crops you may find in Ohio’s Amish Country, due to the many dairy farms in Wayne, Holmes and Tuscarawas counties. It’s a deep green bushy legume that is not only excellent fodder but enriches the soil because it returns nitrogen to the soil. Nitrogen is an important component of commercial fertilizers so raising alfalfa reduces the amount of fertilizer needed for the next crop (often corn).

Cut alfalfa has a distinct scent that is unmistakable. The next time you roll through the back roads of Amish Country, look for a drying field of mowed alfalfa. Even with the windows rolled up, you’ll smell the rich sweet scent of sun-cured hay.

How to make hay

Amish and “English” farmers have several methods of making hay. First, the hay must be cut. Back in pioneer times, hay was mowed by hand with a scythe, but now they use horse-drawn or tractor-drawn implements to mow the hay. Amish farmers may still use a sickle-bar mower which has a horizontal set of blades that move rapidly back and forth to mow the hay. Alternatively, they may mow with a haybine which requires a power cart (a horse-drawn cart with a diesel engine). The difference between the two is that a haybine has rollers that will crush the grass to aid curing.

Work goes faster when three teams of horses hay mow at one time.

Work goes faster when three teams of horses mow hay at one time.

The hay needs time to dry so they only mow when they weather forecast is for warm, sunny and breezy days. After a day or so of drying, the hay can be fluffed up with an implement called a tedder. It tosses the hay in the air to get air to the bottom layers of grass that haven’t had direct sun.

After more drying time, the next step is to rake the hay. This rolls the bottom layers to the top for drying and prepares the hay to be harvested. Some of the more conservative Amish farmers may fork the hay by hand onto a flat wagon and which is then unloaded as loose hay into the barn for storage.

However, many farmers bale the hay into small rectangular bales or into large round bales. Small bales must be loaded onto a wagon by hand, then stacked in the barn (again by hand). Round bales are simpler to bale, but must be collected with a tractor with a loader. All dry hay should be stored inside a barn or under a tarp to prevent mold. Moisture can cause mold to grow on the bale or inside it.

What are those giant marshmallows?

Wrapped hay may be preserved for up to a year.

Wrapped hay may be preserved for up to a year.

On almost any trip to Ohio’s Amish Country, you’ve probably noticed those big white round “marshmallows”, either stacked by a barn or in rows along a field. They’re actually hay bales that have been baled wet and then sealed in plastic. It’s similar to wrapping food in a zip-lock bag. Inside the air-tight plastic wrap, the hay ferments but does not spoil. It’s a way to preserve good quality fodder even if the weather is not optimal for drying. It can be fed to cows and to some extent sheep or goats, but it is not feed for horses. Horses must have dry, mold-free hay or they can become sick and die.

Learn more about horse-drawn farming at Horse Progress Days

Mowing hay at Horse Progress Days

Mowing hay at Horse Progress Days

Believe it or not, but there are technological advancements being made in horse-drawn equipment. A good way to learn about current techniques is at Horse Progress Days in Mount Hope, Ohio on July 4 and 5, 2014. You’ll see new equipment for horse-drawn farming, demonstrations, a breed parade, hear speakers discuss horse care and training and more.

 

If you’re hungry, you might even sample homemade ice cream, made on a machine turned by a Haflinger horse. Fun and educational – we can’t wait!

 

 

 

Who is Eli Mose’s Sam’s Henry’s Noah?

Recently, I was invited to an estate auction for my Amish neighbor, Mosey S. Over the age of ninety when he passed, he had collected both a wealth of interesting household items and a large extended family of nephews, nieces, cousins, cousins once- or twice-removed and so on. Mose was a fine man and friend to everyone, evidenced by the many Amish and “English” neighbors, friends and church members in attendance. Everyone wanted to take home a memento of Mose.

I bought one item (inscribed with Mose’s signature), a genealogy book familiar to many people of either Amish or Mennonite ancestry – a 1938 edition of 1,391 page book, The Descendents of Barbara Hochstedler and Christian Stutzman. In this volume, I found both a fascinating snapshot of Amish pioneer life and almost endless lists of names of my relatives dating back to the early 1700’s. Why is this important to me? Because our culture values family and understanding where we have come from.

Family History is important

Family Bible

Amish and Mennonite families kept track of births, marriages and deaths in family Bibles such as this one.

Long before websites and television shows that show you how to look up your ancestors, the Amish and Mennonites kept track of their family histories. Almost every family had a Bible inscribed with the names of the husband and wife, date of marriage, children’s birthdays and possibly their spouses and marriage dates.

From these family records came large genealogies dating back to the early 1700’s when the first Amish left the persecution and wars of Europe for the religious freedom of The New World. We can’t begin to understand the courage of these people who left family and friends behind to carve out a new life in the deep woods of the American frontier.

Eli Moses’s Sam’s Henry’s Noah?

At Mosey’s auction, I ran into a local man who is known as Eli Moses’s Sam’s Henry’s Noah (that’s pronounced “NO-ee” if you’re in Amish Country). He was related to Mosey S. and inspired the writing of this blog post. That’s five generations of identification, all needed to swiftly and accurately identify one of many Noah Millers.

If you’ve ever looked through a phone book in any Mennonite or Amish community (or the Amish Directory for that matter), you’ll see that there is a concentration of surnames. Each community has more or less, but in Holmes County (Ohio), it’s Yoders, Millers, Hochstetlers, Troyers, Masts, Beachys, Hershbergers, Mullets, Kauffmans, Rabers, Gingerichs, and so on.

How many John Millers or Jonas Yoders might there be in our community? It’s hard to say – sometimes it causes issues. For example, if your name is Sam Troyer (names are made up to protect the guilty) and your neighbor up the road (also named Sam Troyer) doesn’t happen to pay his bills on time, you might be out of luck if you call the local grain elevator to deliver a batch of cattle feed. So, you might call yourself by your father’s or grandfather’s name, such as “Jake Eli’s Sam”. Ah, yes. Now you’ve established EXACTLY who you are. The cattle feed will be promptly delivered.

Or, you might have a nickname, such as ‘Bama Dan or “Pretty Mose”. It can be assumed that Dan visited Alabama at some point in time, hence the ‘Bama nickname. Pretty Mose used to keep his beard neat and trimmed, and therefore was “pretty”. John Schmid, a local musician and evangelist often sings a song that describes this phenomena pretty well. It’s in Pennsylvania Dutch, but you won’t have to speak the language to understand the names he’s listing. John’s song is called Amish Nicknames. It makes me smile, and I bet you’ll enjoy it too.

Where were you in 1969?

From guest blogger, Vicki VanNatta

For some of you, 1969 was ‘before your time’….way before your time. For some of you, 1969 was part of the ‘good old days’ — dating, less responsibility and more fun – and those great cars: Chevrolet Camaro, Pontiac GTO, the Ford Mustang.  Others were in the throes of raising your children, dealing with how long your teenage son’s sideburns were, making sure his hair didn’t touch his collar. And were your daughter’s skirts down to her fingertips when her arms were at her sides?   Infractions meant they would be sent home from school or reprimanded.  Wearing slacks or jeans to school? Forget about it. It wasn’t happening.  It was a different time in Walnut Creek, Ohio.

What was happening in Walnut Creek, Ohio in 1969

In 1969, Dan and Shirley Lehman had just partnered with Emanuel Mullet and Bob and Sue Miller to purchase Der Dutchman Restaurant on the square in Walnut Creek. I was a teenager, and I began my very first job as a dishwasher at Der Dutchman Restaurant. A paycheck! I earned a paycheck!

Original Der Dutchman Restaurant

The original Der Dutchman Restaurant in Walnut Creek, Ohio

Bert and Emma Hershberger had started the small 75-seat restaurant in what was previously a hardware store. The business was doing well, but if you’ve ever been in the restaurant business, you know the demands put on your time and energy can be draining.  It was those demands that led Bert and Emma to sell Der Dutchman Restaurant to Dan Lehman, Emanuel Mullet and Bob Miller, owners of Dutch Corporation, formed for the specific purpose of purchasing the Restaurant.

It started with one restaurant

Forty-five years later, that 75-seat restaurant is now a 650-seat restaurant that has undergone six major renovations and expansions. What was once known as Dutch Corporation is now Dutchman Hospitality Group, and that ‘group’ includes two Carlisle Inns, six gift shops, a retail food market, a wholesale food and hospitality supply company, live theater productions, and not just one 650-seat restaurant, but six, with locations in Ohio and Sarasota, Florida, plus a sister location in Middlebury, Indiana.

45 years later…still the same traditions

Der Dutchman Walnut Creek

Der Dutchman Walnut Creek as it appears today.

Forty-five years later, high school freshmen boys might have their hair below their shirt collar and most girls are wearing jeans and shorts to school, but Der Dutchman Restaurant is still on the square in Walnut Creek.  Der Dutchman is still serving real mashed potatoes, delicious pan-fried chicken, dressing, noodles and more than twenty kinds of pie.  Their traditional menu hasn’t changed, but at each Dutchman Hospitality restaurant you will find a variety of menu items including delicious salads, stir fry, and salmon plus other regional and local favorites – just in case you aren’t craving mashed potatoes on any given day.

Relax, visit with each other

What you won’t find is a large screen TV over your head in the dining room. You won’t find loud music playing and you won’t find a bar. But you will find a place where you can sit down, look across the table and actually have a conversation about the day or just quietly relax and enjoy.  Dutchman Hospitality restaurants, shops, and inns are all about fellowship and food around the table, a sense of peace and comfort during an overnight getaway, and delightful shopping for your home, your friends, and your family.

Continuing to grow and adapt

Forty-five years later, I’m not washing dishes at Der Dutchman, but Dutchman Hospitality continues to grow and serve the six communities they now call home. Throughout the annual seasons, Dutchman Hospitality employs approximately 1300 individuals who speak a variety of languages; arriving from many parts of the US and the world, Dutchman Hospitality employees work together each day to make sure everyone eating at their tables, staying at their inns, and shopping in their shops enjoys the traditional foods, simple comforts, and rural charm of the Midwestern Amish and Mennonite communities.

Dutchman Hospitality remembers 1969 as the year it all began.  No matter where you were that year, 2014 is good year to visit any of the Dutchman Hospitality restaurants, shops or inns. Bring a friend, your family, or your neighbors. Gather ‘round. It’s time to make some memories of your own.

Why is “Pennsylvania Dutch” called “Dutch”?

What’s that language that the Amish speak? It’s called “Pennsylvania Dutch” or just “Dutch”. It confusing because it’s not the Dutch that people in Holland speak – it’s a dialect of German. So why is everything in Amish country is called “Dutch” when the dialect spoken is really German? This will require a short history lesson, so bear with us.

Deutschland, the homeland

The original Anabaptist Christian movement (meaning “re-baptizers”) began in the 1500’s in German-speaking Switzerland. Many Anabaptists lived in the mountains around Bern, Switzerland, the Alsace-Lorraine and the German Palatinate. In 1693, a conservative sect of these Swiss Anabaptists broke away from the main branch and followed the teachings of Jakob Amman, later known as the Amish. The main branch of the movement was eventually called the Mennonites, after a priest from Holland named Menno Simons.

When the Amish and Swiss Mennonites came to America, they brought with them their Swiss dialect. Along with the many German-speaking immigrants who came to Pennsylvania, the entire group was termed “Pennsylvania Dutch”. Dutch or “Deutsch” is actually German for the German language.

Du sind Deitsch!

Modern Pennsylvania Dutch varies from community to community and state to state. “Deitschers”,  or those who can speak Dutch, can always tell if someone is from out of the area just by their way of speaking. English is often mixed into the vernacular so you may catch a few phrases or words if you listen closely. High German speakers will find it difficult to understand and communicate since the Dutch dialect is so evolved – Swiss and Low German is similar but still quite different.

A word to the wise: those of you who read Amish novels may expect to have a good grasp of the Amish language. Believe me, it’s not even a drop in the bucket. I’ve lived in an Amish/Mennonite community all of my life, know enough Dutch and German to be dangerous, but I would not even try to speak Dutch to an Amish person. It’s not offensive to them, but you’ll find yourself to be the chuckle of the day and a good story at their next family gathering. Try speaking Dutch only if you have the ability to laugh at yourself!

A short glossary and the comedic side of “Dutch”

Dutch is really a fun language. This is a short list of common and amusing Dutch words. The words are spelled as they sound.

  • Diener – Minister
  • Dawdy – Grandpa (Sometimes the little house built next to the big family house is called the “Dawdy Haus“.)
  • Mammy – Grandma
  • Ferhuddled – Mixed up or confused
  • Groombadda mush – Mashed potatoes
  • Greeny bonna – Green beans
  • Lumba – Dish rag
  • Butz – To clean.
  • Wie bischt du? – How are you?
  • Kannst du Deitsch schwetza? – Can you understand Dutch?
  • Schmutz – Grease
  • Doplich or Dobbich – Clumsy. “I’m so dobbich, I tripped over my own feet!”
  • Loppich – Naughty
  • Gook mal doe! – Look at that!
  • Strubblich – messy. “My hair is so strubblich!” Grandma used to say this.
  • Hook die hanna. – Sit down! Often heard on the bus ride home from school.
  • Hinkle – Chicken
  • Gol or Golly – Horse
  • Kuw – Cow
  • Schlock – To hit. “He schlocked the ball over the fence.”
  • Bush – Trees. “He schlocked the ball over the bush.”
  • Shiddle – To shake. “My custard pie is so slimy, it’s shiddling.”
  • Glevalich – Slimy. “My custard pie is so glevalich, it’s shiddling.”
  • Iss da Chim dat? – “Is Jim home?” – A direct quote from my youth. The neighbors called us often at 6am, looking for my dad, Jim.)
  • Maydy, vit du hayra? “Girl, do you want to get married?” This phrase is actually a well-known Dutch song by Ohio musician John Schmid.

Lost in translation? German has a different word order than English, so the translation to English (and vice versa) can cause fits of giggling.

  • I stood up at 6 this morning. “I woke up and got out of bed at 6 o’clock.”
  • Make the lights out. “Turn off the lights.”
  • The lemonade is all. “There is no more lemonade.”
  • Throw the cow over the fence some hay. “Throw some hay over the fence for the cow.”
  • We get too soon oldt and too late schmart.

Have an amusing Dutch word or phrase? Post it (clean ones, please) in a response. We’d love to hear them.

Etiquette in Amish Country

Amish Farmer Chopping SilageIf 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.