Are you planning to visit an Amish community? What are some things to keep in mind when you go?
In today’s post we look at five tips that you might find helpful. I realize people are in different situations–some of us have visited Amish communities many times, while others have not but may be planning to.
This post assumes you are visiting as an outsider without a lot of connections or contacts among the Amish. Thanks to reader Trish for today’s post idea, and for suggesting some of these tips.
Note: there is no comment below regarding COVID-19, so you should take whatever precautions you deem appropriate. Our posts on the Amish & COVID can be found here. Generally, media reports over the past months have conveyed that significant numbers of Amish in some communities believe that they have already had COVID, and that vaccination rates in Amish areas are generally reported to be low.
5 Tips For A Visit To The Amish
1. Visit the Amish “On Their Own Turf”
There are a number of things to do when you visit an Amish community–especially in those areas which have a developed tourist industry.
You can certainly have a good “Amish-style” meal, and you might even have an Amish person waiting on your table. A buggy ride with an Amish guide or a visit to a cultural center can be a good way to learn about the community and the Amish in general.
But many visitors would like to interact with Amish people “on their own turf.” Luckily, there is a great way to do this–by visiting an Amish business.
These are usually located at Amish homes and farms or in the form of roadside stands. Most welcome outside visitors (I’ve only really felt out of place once or twice in an Amish store). Amish communities usually have at least a handful of shops and often many more than that.
Not everyone is going to take five minutes to talk, but some store proprietors enjoy interacting with customers (particularly those in the more public-friendly trades, or those who don’t have other customers waiting to tend to). It’s not a bad idea to buy something while you’re there, which you’ll probably want to do anyway.
There are also some Amish who do home meals for groups, especially in the larger communities. You may have to ask around to find these as they don’t always advertise.
2. Relax and Treat Amish People Like People
Going hand in hand with the above, you don’t have to act in a stilted or stiff manner around an Amish person. The first time I really met an Amish person I think I was a bit awkward, and I probably said something dumb. This was a housewife in Arthur, Illinois, when I was doing my job selling books.
I found I didn’t know how to “relate” to this person who admittedly seemed exotic to me at the time in her plain clothes and with her small children chattering in some strange tongue which I later learned was Pennsylvania Dutch.
I think some people visit Amish with the idea that they have to watch every thing they say or not discuss technology for fear of offending someone.
I know I’m generalizing here, but it’s actually harder to offend Amish people than you might think. People have senses of humor and personalities in every culture.
This doesn’t mean don’t be respectful, but just to treat people like people and realize that Amish people may know more about your culture than you might think. Not always the case, but either way it’s a good idea to relax and be yourself.
3. Dress Accordingly
That said, you actually might want to keep one thing in mind: the clothes you wear. No, don’t go out and buy broadfall trousers or prayer coverings and try to mimic how the Amish dress–that would be weird.
But even though you may be visiting in the heat of summer, it can be a good idea to dress a little more formally than you otherwise would (read: show less skin).
Typical English clothing is by nature more revealing than what the Amish are used to wearing and seeing in their communities. And what might not seem immodest to us may appear that way to an Amish person.
To be frank, Amish people in the larger communities (and not only) are used to non-Amish people wearing revealing clothing, particularly in the summer. No one will say anything to you, but it will be appreciated, and you won’t feel as self-conscious if you cover up a bit.
4. Sunday is Not a Shopping Day…Even in non-Amish Places
You probably know that Amish don’t do business or work on Sundays. But it’s also worth mentioning that in some places non-Amish-owned businesses may close as well.
For example, Berlin, Ohio basically shuts down on Sunday (or at least it did last time I visited on that day; I think the coffee shop may be open 🙂 ). But it’s a ghost town compared to a day earlier, when in tourist season especially, traffic can be bumper-to-bumper.
On Sunday you will see more and different activity, especially in larger communities. This means more buggies (and foot traffic) on the road as people travel to and from church, go visiting, and as youth head to their singing groups, on dates and other activities.
5. Be Careful On The Road
We have touched on road safety often here, but it bears revisiting. You might be surprised at first how quickly a vehicle going 45 mph comes up on one doing 8.
Driving in an Amish community means taking down your speed a notch and turning up your alertness. In some communities, like Holmes County or Lancaster County, hills and curving roads can conceal horse-drawn traffic until it’s too late. Accidents have also been caused by factors out of our control, like the sun blinding a driver or horse issues.
Another thing to be mindful of: other automobiles. Some drivers are not very careful about when and how they pass Amish buggies. Don’t pass on blind curves or when a hill lurks ahead. Unfortunately, you may see people do this.
You may have to wait for what feels like a long time before you can safely pass. The buggy driver may try to accommodate you by veering over to the side, but don’t take this as necessarily a sign that there is enough room and visibility to proceed. And when you do pass, try not to cut the buggy off, but leave a wide berth if you can when returning to your lane.
Finally, it’s not just the buggies to be mindful of. In particular, you have to watch out for pedestrians–including children. Accidents happen with children walking on the road to and from school, or on or near the road for other reasons (sometimes driving a pony cart). Some are wearing safety clothing but if you’re not alert to it a bright orange vest can only do so much good.
That’s not to end on a negative note, just something to keep in mind. I hope these five tips were helpful. Of course they aren’t the only good ideas when visiting an Amish settlement. What other tips would you add to this list?
Images: buggy sign- shaun_and_jacki/flickr; buggies on road- Ed C.