The Amish are a unique people, almost as well-described as a monastic order as a denomination. They are often featured in fiction because their seemingly idyllic lifestyle attracts Wish Fulfillment. The Amish are a Christian denomination, originally a subsect of the Mennonites who were in turn a subsect of the Anabaptists (or "re-baptizers," because they re-baptized adult converts who had been baptized as infants in the Catholic church or in very early Protestant churches that still practiced infant baptism; children born into the Amish tradition then and now are not baptized as infants, but only after age 16 or more when they make their own profession of faith). The name "Amish" refers to Jakab Ammann their founder. The original Amish were ethnic Germans and to this day they mostly speak a variety of Rhenish/Palatinate West Central German as their first language, though most know English as well as that is needed for talking to "Fancy Englishchers" (other Americans, also occasionally referred to as "Yankees" — a slightly more disparaging term). (Also, a small community in Indiana speaks Allemanic Swiss German rather than West Central German.) They call themselves "Plain Folk" because of the studied plainness of their lifestyle. The Amish left Germany in the 18th century when Europe was not really a good place for a small and pacifistic sect to live. They settled in the USA at the invite of William Penn, and Pennsylvania is sort of their headquarters, although there are also large populations in Ohio and Indiana, and in fact Ohio has the highest population of Old Order Amish. By now, there are almost no Amish in Europe. Amish beliefs emphasize nonviolence, humility, and community. Their famous deliberate archaism reflects that. New innovations are suspiciously examined as to whether they would harm this and though their criteria for deciding can seem opaque to outsiders, they tend to have explanations that make sense to them. Church organization is minimal and in fact instead of holding services in a Church building they rotate the houses of congregants. Amish are usually thought of as farmers. But they are also known for their fine crafts, which sell at gift shops. In recent times, their image has been made famous and slightly commercialized, and cookbooks, antiques, and other Macguffins connected to their culture sell well. See Space Amish for where writers take an Amish-like community and transplant it to a more fantastic environment.
Tropes Commonly Associated with the Amish in Fiction:
- Arcadia: That is their image.
- Beauty Equals Goodness: At least the faces of Amish women on the covers of romance novels seem to indicate it.
- Fate Worse Than Death: The ultimate punishment among Amish is "Shunning" (silent treatment) by the whole village. For someone brought up in such a community-based culture, being cast out and ignored by said community can turn into this trope. The Values Dissonance, as well as possibilities for Moral Dissonance, involved in the shunning process often gets a lot of attention in fiction and public consciousness, to the point that shunning tends to be the next thing an outsider knows about the Amish after "they don't use electricity."
- Initiation Ceremony: The famous Rumspringa which is widely believed to be a time in which Amish youth can experiment with living in the outside world and then make an informed choice about whether or not to be baptized. However, although some young people do rebel, it is really only supposed to be a time for socializing with other Amish youth and starting to date a person of the opposite sex.
- Ludd Was Right: Almost all media portrayals of the Amish portray them as completely shunning anything more advanced than a pully. Despite media portrayals, it's not unusual to see Amish using cell phones or riding in (but not owning or driving) motor vehicles, and motorized tractors and other farm equipment are quite common. Levels of Schizo Tech vary from community to community, with each deciding independently what is and isn't allowed. It should be noted that it's not necessarily the technology they shun, but rather the electricity from (and dependence on) the outside world, most Amish sects are fine with using batteries or producing electricity with in-house diesel generators. Most communities will allow Amish men and women to have important medical equipment in their house if it's needed, as a life is more important than a rule (if it needs electricity, they'll find a way). Other things like phones are often set up in a way so that they can receive calls, but not send them, or they are placed in a location that doesn't necessarily make them convenient to use. (The idea with the phones is that someone may be tempted to simply call their neighbour all the time instead of visiting them, placing the phone in an inconvenient location and/or restricting it to certain uses removes that). The focus is on their practicality, not their vanity.