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Just like any other group of people, there are often stereotypes of the Amish which don’t match up well with reality. We wanted to spend some time here to explain Amish fact vs Amish fiction. We hope this helps you understand our culture more.
The origins of Amish culture date back to the 1500s as part of the bigger Anabaptist movement in Europe. The actual start of the Amish faith was in 1693, when followers of Jakob Ammann split from the larger movement over disagreements in the practice of the faith. Ammann preached a more strict interpretation, including social shunning and more frequent practice of communion.
The Amish story in America began in the mid 1700s, with the first Amish settlers staking claims to lands in Eastern Pennsylvania. The first settlement was established in 1760 in Lancaster County, with other settlements starting in Somerset and Mifflin counties in the later part of the 18th Century.
A second larger wave of Amish arrived in America during the early and middle 1800’s, once again settling in Pennsylvania but also in settlements across New York, Ontario, and portions of the Midwest. By the 1930s, Amish all but disappeared from Europe, and today the church counts approximately 300,000 members, mostly in the United States.
The Amish often refer to themselves as “Plain” people, and that is a good description of our way of life. Amish dress is plain and typically in solid colors, and in some situations either white or black. We also believe in a strong family life, which includes the greater Amish community as well.
In a way, this explains why many Amish isolate themselves from the outside world in both personal life and the use of technology. While Amish don’t necessarily believe either is evil, poor management of either could ultimately result in evil.
So depending on what order an Amish man or woman belongs to, their exposure to each could either be rare, or very common. The Church plays a large role in these types of decisions.
If you guessed it was German in some way, you’re correct. We call it “Pennsylvania Dutch.” It is a dialect that incorporates some English words. It is generally spoken rather than written however. Much of the written language is in ‘High German’, a dialect which owes its origins to the Martin Luther translations of the Bible.
Children often grow up learning Pennsylvania Dutch first, then learning English as a second language. However, not all Amish speak the same language: our brothers and sisters in the Midwest speak a slightly different dialect, and the Swish Amish a much different dialect.
Despite what you may think and see, the Amish have slowly adapted to modern life — but only out of necessity. Much of Amish daily life remains virtually unchanged over the past 300 years, but some have adopted new technologies as long as it does not interfere with the principles of the church.
Let’s use the website that you’re reading right now as an example. Conservative Amish would shun its use, since it involves use of technology in some way, which they see as disruptive to their way of life. ‘Progressive’ Amish do not see it this way. Some may choose to employ the ‘English’ — the Amish term for an outsider regardless of ethnicity — to handle these affairs, while even more progressive members of the church may handle it themselves.
One thing is nearly universal: none of this can be done in the home. In fact, modern conveniences like electricity, telephones and cell phones (which some Amish do own) are kept in barns, businesses, or a roadside shack for communal use.
Possibly due to increased contact with outsiders, use of technology whether it’s cell phones, computers, or the internet is increasing among Amish youth, and is a very controversial topic. But they don’t look down on people who use technology, choosing to manage technology rather than have it manage them. The Amish are just more cognizant of the negative effects of technology on our daily lives than the English are.
For sure, the idea of ‘Amish made’ has taken on a life of its own. The problem with this is that it runs against what we in the church believe. We do not take pride in the idea of ‘Amish made,’ as pride is considered an abomination. However, we do realize that in the age of mass production, there is something to be said for handmade goods.
However, the consumer would do well not to assume that anything with the label ‘Amish made’ is automatically better. Among the English, there are many craftsmen that do great work, and you should judge an Amish craftsmen just the same, using quality of work as your guide rather than a label.
Where we differ is in quality, and a determination to make sure things are right the first time — and if it’s not, we’ll work to make it right. This also means we’ll do things a bit differently, and will often use the same process over and over, even if it’s not the fastest way to do it. While it may seem like we’re being stubborn, we’ve found these processes to consistently result in a better experience for you the customer.
We also aren’t in the business of taking on as many clients as possible. With a big box store like Lowe’s or Home Depot, the primary aim is volume. As a result, any issues are dealt with in the order in which they’re received, and you could be waiting weeks for answers to even the simplest questions.
In an Amish shop, volume is secondary to the desire to do right by our customer. As a result, we aim to ensure satisfaction from the start, and issues are taken care of promptly. In today’s mass produced world — that isn’t something you often find.