6 Amish Myths
A few months ago we looked at three, frankly, off-the-wall Amish myths I’d come across in various places online. Donald Kraybill has a new article out on six other, I would say more widely-held, myths about the Amish. They are:
1. The Amish Are Slowly Dying Out
2. The Amish Are Technophobes
3. The Amish Don’t Pay Taxes or Vote
4. Amish Elders Arrange Marriages
5. Because They Refuse to Cooperate with Police, an Amish Mafia Protects Them
6. Rumspringa Is a Wild Time When Teens Live in Cities
Don concisely debunks each of these misconceptions, which you can read here. Good to share with anyone you know who might believe the above.
The first four of these, it seems, have been around a long while, dating back even generations. For example, the Amish were predicted to go extinct decades ago. People I talk to today are sometimes surprised to hear they are growing rapidly.
The last two on the list are of a more recent vintage, or have at least been popularized (or fabricated) in recent times. These two may hold fast for awhile, given the success of Amish-themed reality shows which are casual about reality.
These are certainly not all of the misconceptions out there about the Amish. In fact, last time we covered this topic, you added quite a few interesting ones to the list.
This led me to think a bit about myth-making–where myths come from, and why certain groups of people might attract more myths than others.
Why do you think so many myths have grown up around the Amish? Are there any other groups of people who have been similarly mythologized?
The first four myths have been around for a long time and continue. Many people just do not want to take the time to learn about what Amish life is really like. Amish America is of great service in making accurate information readily available. Thanks for this posting, as well as the posting last week about the Amish of Beeville, Texas. The Beeville posting helped dispel another myth — that the Amish all live on farms with white houses and red or white barns, with verdant green pastures all around.
Yep, I used to think they lived in white farm houses with big red barns too, from all the Amish fiction I’d read. Then I drove through an Amish area in upstate, NY (Stone Arabia) and the homes were all natural wood color or a grayish wood color. Barns the same color. Not painted. Outhouses on some properties and no flowers or adornments around at all. I assume they are Old Order Amish.
When I first began visiting Amish communities I had the impression all the homes were white with no shutters. I was going to places like Kalona, IA and Arthur, IL, where that seems to have been the case, maybe still is. When I got to Lancaster County I saw homes that were quite different.
The Stone Arabia community is horse and buggy Amish, a group called the Byler Amish, quite a plain group.
One of our readers Darlene visited Stone Arabia and shared some nice photos and comments here: https://amishamerica.com/amish-new-york-mohawk-valley/
comment on 6 myths
Do they use electric and watch tv
The ones I have known will use electric in the shop to run power tools, but no electric in the house.
Solar, not traditioal electric
They do not watch TV and they do not have elec. in their home or shops…when they use power tools, it’s largly for their stores (like powering a cash register) and they draw it from solar, not from electric lines.
Native American Indians were probably the object of myths long after their lifestyles had changed.
Many people think that the Amish don’t go to see doctors and are instead prone to practice “quackery.”
Dali, I know that visiting a doctor is a personal decision that varies widely between persons, and communities.
However, from what I understand, a number of Amish do prefer “natural” or “homeopathic” remedies, and a quick read of the Budget newspaper shows it is full of ads for vitamins, supplements, and other untested remedies. We’ve had some discussion here about unauthorized dentists, vaccinations and those who reject them, and other remedies. I’d say that the Amish community uses such treatments much more than the general populations.
Well, I do see quite a few ads from companies or individuals who offer nutrition advice or supplements…and, they’re not cheap, either. Does anyone know of Registered Dietitians who specifically work with the Amish community?
Six Amish Myths
Yes, I have heard some of these Myths, before, but first time I heard a few — I went straight to doing some research and learning about the Amish culture and religion, through books, online research, this blog, etc. That was the easiest way to understand and know the truths about them.
I think there is myths surrounding alot of different cultures, that make up this world. If people would stop and learn something about another culture or way of life, there wouldn’t be so many rumors or myths that circulate. Of course, now with the Internet and everyone “being connected”, one hears any news or rumors, etc. in a matter of seconds! And it quickly becomes like a disease, spreading to the far corners of the world, and becoming like an epidemic that it is then hard to “squash” all of the mis-information. That’s why I usually read things, with an open mind, and take the time to think about it, and ask questions or research before taking part in a discussion, if it arises.
Thanks to ERIK and this blog, I have learned a whole lot about the Amish, in which now I’m glad I did. I really think the Amish are very mis-understood.
Agreed on all points — but since you mention us “English” being instantly connected by the Internet, etc. how do we explain the “Amish telegraph”, which seems every bit as efficient in getting out the news?
It probably could be tied into the myth that the Amish pay no taxes (and since they shun expensive modern “conveniences”), but I’ve also heard people aver with great “certainty” that the Amish are ALL as rich as Croesus.
'Amish people are all secretly wealthy'
That is one I’d heard before, but hadn’t thought of lately City. I also think it may be helped along by examples such as the one in Oldkat’s accounts of the Texas community who was able to pay in the neighborhood of a million dollars for a large tract of land. When an Amish individual or families can pay cash for large purchases like that, that makes an impression on people (regardless of whether the cash has been diligently saved over a lifetime or the individual is in fact a wealthy businessperson).
The idea of rich-as-Croesus Amish people also strikes a chord being that the plain exterior can seem so austere…it’s the hidden contrasts people are intrigued by, kind of like stories of old spinsters who secretly squirreled away millions. Stories about Amish behaving badly gain traction for a similar reason–the backstage life does not match what the world sees. I guess people are just drawn to those sorts of tales.
Amish culture & families are typically non-materialistic, and non-consumer oriented. They reuse, share, & recycle out of conservation and add even more savings. Many are able to grow/raise some or all own food. They are however charitable with time, talent, & treasure.
Erik & others(Nolt, Kraybill, etc….) have noted Amish are prolific savers. When they plan a big purchase it is certainly well vetted, for the benefit of family/church/district. Money is not the root of evil, the love of money is. rich-as-Croesus is not accurate because this savings or wealth is not in the appetite, it is a byproduct of good stewardship.
TV show (Treehouse)
I watched Discover Channel’s A Taphouse Treehouse which was filmed in Ohio. Halfway threw the program they needed help and recruited 3 Amish carpenters. At the Amish sawmill and on the Job it was stated that Amish are not allow to use power tools unless they belong to another non Amish person then it is ok to use. I know they don’t connect to the electric grid, but I also know they use generators and air compressor (powered by an engine) to run power tool which I thought they own. Sound like another TV myth. Can anyone either affirm or disagree with this statement made by both the show star and the Amish carpenter?
Amish use electric tools on jobsites
Corky many Amish carpenters, builders, etc. will in fact use regular electric power tools on jobsites, tapping into the homeowner’s electricity supply.
Amish tools which are used at home or in shops will typically be pneumatic or hydraulic driven, or in more traditional groups shop equipment will be powered by a line shaft and pulley system, which is typically driven by a diesel engine. There are photos of that setup here: https://amishamerica.com/inside-amish-furniture-shop/
Thanks Erik, that is what I always believe and didn’t think it right when I heard it.I do study the Amish (lots of books and DVD’s) and when I visit my Sister in Law in Ohio alway make a trip to Holmes County.
Amish do use power tools
Some Amish will use power tools. If their Bishop approves it. Amish are not like a lot of religions when it comes to standard rules. The Bishop is allowed to change the rules in his area. My Amish would not be able to compete as carpenters with the English if they did not use power tools. They built a tree house (sleeps 7, bathroom, kitchen, living room etc 25 feet off the ground) for me in eight days with them see http://www.TheMohicanCabins.com They also built a Barn Wedding Facility for me That is awesome see http://www.TheMohicanGrandBarn.wordpress.com I have spent the last 3 years with them and employ about 12 of them.
You are right Kevin, use of power tools helps them be more competitive. However, decisions on technology are usually a bit more complicated than bishops just making decisions for the whole congregation, involving community consensus and congregational voting. Bishops do have a lot of influence and a strong leadership role.
Myths are spread about Jehovah’s Witness, Jewish, Black people, basically anyone who is different from us. I think these myths are started to make the different person look bad and the person who starts the myth look good. Some myths begin because we don’t understand them, others are started to cause fear and therefore keep our young away from them. I believe there are many reasons why myths begin. The Amish attract a lot of myths because they keep themselves separate and are not greedy, as most of us are. We humans tend to criticize those who make us look bad. It is a way of justifying.
Just my opinion.
Couldn’t agree more with you, Debbie! I think that myths begin when another culture is different than ones you are familiar with. The Amish are known as being in the world, but not if the world, so I think unless you live near an Amish community and visit with them, these myths begin. I have heard some whoppers, and I’m grateful for Erik and this blog. I also try to educate myself about their lifestyle and culture by reputable websites, books, and bisits to their farms. I try to educate others as I hear those myths circulate.
It gets you wondering: who is “us?” and who are “they?” 🙂
My Mom, traveling from NC, stopped @ McDonald’s and was surprised to see some Amish drinking coffee! She called to ask if that was normal! 🙂 Hmmm. 🙂 And this from someone who grew up in Allentown, PA!
Is it normal?
See and I’m still trying to figure out if it is normal for someone to move from Oregon to northern California, then to southern California, then to Bellville, Texas! Now THAT is NOT normal! (Insert smiley face here)
I still can’t get over someone that once lived in my town posting on Amish America. THAT really isn’t normal. Then again, some folks say that about me. Oh well …
My whole life has been a continual upheaval/culture change…army brat who attended 12 schools before graduating HS, PK (preacher’s kid!)- which meant I was exposed (in the army) to all religions at our dining room table. We even “kept Kosher” to host our Orthodox Rabbi friends!
What can I say? I met my husband in NYC and we married in my grandparents’ church in Macungie, PA! We were supposed to live near Minneapolis — found 10 below too cold and went on to Portland, OR! :))
OldKat, I sure wish I’d have met you 1997: I think we could have been friends…I’m not exactly a “cookie cutter” type, which has made blending into a community challenging. I think I’m drawn to Amish community as much as anything, though after reading more about Anabaptist beliefs, I’ve gained much from that as well.
Where did you live before Texas? If you’d like to communicate more personally, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Six Amish Myths
I think these myths are created by what non Amish see and hear about the group in question. It is easier to keep the myth going than to find out if it is true. I say they are human beings like everyone else. They just live out their humanity in a slightly different way. That leaves room for them to do some of the same things we experience every day.
I have to add: The Amish have a few myths about the English, too.
What is sad ...
is that even otherwise intelligent people will fall for some of these myths. My own brother, an educated man who spent 35 years working with all sorts of ethnic, religious and cultural groups in his 35 + years with a big city police department, refers to “the Amish” as “weird” people.
I have tried to tell him that they are probably the least weird of any group that I know of, but he won’t believe it. Makes me wonder what he read or what he saw that made him think that way; as I am about 99% sure he has never actually met an Amish person.
An Amish Myth I proved wrong to myself
I think possibly the biggest Amish Myth has to be the one that states that they are always docile, stoic and calm all the time. They might truly live by an unwritten code that states they won’t be outwardly violent, but an Amish person will get irritated and angry with you and be, depending on the situation, furious with others. They are human beings, with emotions, and human beings, the Amish included, have bad days where they are “grouchy”.
One of the first Amish people I had a brief conversation with years ago was quite abrupt and cross sounding when she identified her fait to me, Another Amish lady watched the transaction and a few minutes later apologized to me saying something like “Sorry about her, she doesn’t represent all us Amish, she’s always a grouch. Please enjoy your visit”
I always felt it was a good recovery on the other lady’s part though.
Reminded me of an experience: I was taking a photo of a pony and cart tied to the hitch rail at a store when the late-middle-aged (I can say that; I fit the same mold) woman who owned the cart came up behind me and in a surprisingly angry tone of voice reminded me about not photographing the Amish.
I tried explaining I was only taking a photo of the cart; she asked me how I’d like it if she took a photo of my car — the mental image of an Amishwoman with a camera hit us both at the same time and we stood looking blankly at one another for a minute
before we both broke into laughter.
Never did get a shot of that cart …
Reply to city slicker - photographing Amish
The times we’ve been in Amish areas, we shoot from our car, or at a distance, and “zoom in” — and was also discreet with only showing the backs of the people. Most shots however, were of the beautiful farms and countryside! Have lots of shots of horse and buggies in relation to cars on the road — I thought it really neat, that around the Lancaster, PA area, there were “buggy lanes”! (Very different from Florida) 🙂
Yes, I understand and do try my best to be respectful of the Amish when wielding my camera (and have passed up many times what would have been a great photo!) even when shooting from the car.
At times I have approached Amish folks to tell them that though I do have my camera in hand, I intend to take landscapes, etc. and will not photograph them. I’ve had an Amishman ask to see the photos I’d taken, on the display of my digital camera. Was he checking up on me (kidding)?
The cart photo I was trying for when I encountered the woman did not include any people; it was just an interesting pony/cart against a perfectly composed background. And as I said, even if I didn’t get the picture, it all ended with laughter and good feelings on both sides. No harm, no foul!
Six Amish Myths - Reply to City Slicker
AGREE wholeheartedly! So many opportunities for great photos in Amish country! On the Amish man wanting to see your digital images — I bet he was more “curious” than checking what you had shot. 🙂 I think they might be just as “curious” about us, as we are of them, and am sure they have heard “myths” about us, as well.
That’s what makes the world go around — we are all different but yet the same!
I was at a gathering where there were quite a few Amish guys and we got to talking about deer and deer hunting.. they laughed and said they didnt have to worry about deer getting in their gardens or cash crops and I told them I wish they would come get the ones runinning up & down my street out… I told them I had video & pictures of them on my phone and thats all she wrote.. I had to show each one of them the videos and pictures of (multiple) deer running up & down my & neighboring streets.
I hit one of those devils last spring.. one less deer to complain about. 😉
I love this story! The laughter at the end is what is beautiful about it — it seems to me as if that “ending” sort of broke through all “labels” and ways of life and brought two women together simply as two human beings thinking of something humorous. Love it :)!
The ONLY Church
Our pastor preached a sermon recently on the fact that for many people the ONLY church they will ever know is meeting and interacting with a Christian person. He said that if you are having one of those cranky, irritable days and you snap at someone it is going to be real hard for them to be receptive to the idea that you, or any other Christians for that matter, are any different from non-Christians.
His bottom line was that if you turn someone off with your attitude and they know that you claim to be a Christian, they will be unlikely to ever be receptive to the Christian message. Kind of an old concept, but one worth revisiting from time to time because we all have “those days” from time to time.
I meant my reply “The ONLY Church” to be to SHOM’s “An Amish Myth …”
Got on the wrong reply link.
I love reading these in New Zealand we don’t really have any communities like this (that I know of). So all this is very interesting to me. I love reading the comments from people who were Amish or have family that are. I did read somewhere on the internet that within the Amish communities that dwarfism is higher than in non-Amish communities and it was saying because the gene pool is small. Does anyone know if there is more dwarfism among these communities? I look forward to reading more posts and hopefully someday make it to the States again to go and visit some of these areas.
A famous example - Amish dwarfism
I don’t know the answer to that, lisa, the dwarfism thing. But I did see a television program once that talked about the talented dwarf comedic actor Verne Troyer (Austin Powers “Mini Me”), his life as a dwarf and his direct family connection to the Amish, he is a Troyer after all, and that is a reasonably common name among the Amish. Troyer might have appeared as a friend of the Roloff Family on the TLC reality series “Little People Big World”, but I am sure that this series was not where I saw him talk about being extremely comfortable with his Old Order relatives. I am also fairly sure it wasn’t that roommate vs roommate reality show thing he was on
I’ve found that some people think all “plain” people are the same (Amish, Mennonite, Bretheren, Shaker, etc.). They believe all believe the same things (mostly wrong). For example, someone I’m related to thought the Amish met in “meeting houses” exclusively, or that they all practice “bundling”.
I’m pretty sure that today’s Muslims are misunderstood (I’ve sure heard a lot of various “myths” about them in recent years.)
It’s not always easy to find “just the facts” about any religion, as “customs” very well may vary from region to region, country to country, even among the same religion.
I agree that myths come about by people not knowing the facts. It’s easier to believe a myth than it is to look for the truth. I aslo agree that this isn’t just about the Amish, like Debbie said. It’s happens to all different groups, and unfortunately, is also what feeds prejudice. I also agree with Lattice that this is a two way street in that the Amish have myths about the Englisch, just like the Englisch do of them.
What are some Amish myths about the English?
That the English think divorce is okay and don’t have any problem with breaking the vows they made when married. That families do not sit down at the table to eat together. That pornography has stolen the minds of all. That most drink and smoke. They they are all caught up in a web of gadgets and technology and do not know how to function without it. That all families hold television as the guest of honor in their homes and desire to emulate the characters on the programs. That all children are raised by daycare providers. That churches do not teach obedience to God’s commandments. That all think it’s okay to dress the way SOME do. That all are consumed by sports and competition. That they don’t know their neighbors. That they don’t care to know their neighbors. That they don’t care much about their aged parents. That there is much deceit in their words. That women rule the homes and men are “dead beats.” That they are loud, self-promoting, attention-getting, and drowned in perfume/cologne.
The list goes on and on. Certainly you can see some truth in the afore mentioned. That’s where myths typically come from – a generalization based on a few (even an ever-increasing few).
Amish myths about English people
Interesting question, and nice response Lattice. I can see how constructing an English foil that embodies all these things might be useful…not that all or many Amish people would do it, but this is a laundry list of English foibles taken to their extreme and could be a useful warning picture to paint.
I wonder how many Amish parents do think or talk about the English in these terms. The Amish whom I am most familiar with tend to be the more mainstream folks who have more exposure to the English and tend to see the dominant culture as less of a threat, or at least not one to caricature.
Yes, Erik. That does make a big difference, when the Amish have a lot of “outsider” friends and exposure that demonstrate English come in varied ways. I am most often around conservative, cautious groups. They tend to more readily notice any evidence that supports those types of myths, magnify them, and use them as lessons to their children. They generally see me as an exception to the rule (a few are my closest friends and I would venture to say I theirs), but they definitely embrace the “rule.” They don’t seem to mind pointing out those examples in my presence and shake their heads at just how awful society is. Oh sure, I guess I’ve been a little offended a time or two 😉
My husband has been working with the Amish,and some of the stories he comes home with, has me wondering. Some of the men curse, and talk down on people. The young men, before joining the church, are the worst. He has one, who really likes to belittle him. I guess they are really no different than the rest of the world. The one thing that bothers me the most, is to have them speak German-Dutch to each other,in front of an English. This is just plain rude, and not “Christian” at all. They all do this, not just a few.
Amish is their CULTURE, Christianity is RELIGION. Unfortunately not all Amish are Christians, they are only Amish. A dear Christian Amish friend explained to me.