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 connected to them include:
- 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.
- Big Brother Mentor: Mennonites are this to Amish. They act as emissaries to the outside world. For instance, Mennonite lawyers often handle Amish Estates. The relationship is analogous to that between "Sabbath goys" (gentile associates who handle work for Jews on the Sabbath) and Jews.
- Blue and Orange Morality: Mary Byler made headlines a few years ago when she revealed that she was regularly sexually assaulted by her brothers for years, but because she went to the police and had them arrested, she was the one cast out of the community for refusing to forgive them.
- Crowning Moment of Heartwarming: The aftermath of the tragic school shooting in 2006, in which the Amish impressed many with their forgiveness, and the outside community reached to out to the Amish in support.
- It should be noted that the Amish held no anger towards the family of the shooter. Several members of the community comforted the family of the shooter, 30 members of the community attended the funeral of the shooter, and the widow of the shooter was invited to attend the funeral of one of the victims.
- And yet of course some people publicly took the attitude that "this probably wouldn't have happened if the Amish weren't such freaks". Others took the attitude that the Amish shouldn't have forgiven the shooter (and his family) so easily. It was quickly pointed out that while forgiving does not undo the tragedy or right the wrong, but rather allows for progress.
- 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."
- Felony Misdemeanor: In 2011, a squabble between a rogue Amish order and more mainstream Amish led to members of the rogue order breaking into Amish homes... in order to cut their hair, which is a serious offense in Amish culture.
- Flanderization: They are often portrayed as being extremely technophobic luddites. While they do shun a lot of modern technology, they are willing to accept some on the basis of practicality. See Schizo Tech below for more details.
- Food Tropes: Amish food has a high reputation, as it tends to be the peak of what many people think of as "homestyle cooking."
- Germans Love David Hasselhoff: The Amish are much more popular and respected in America than they ever were in Europe.
- Good Old Ways: Obviously.
- Initiation Ceremony: The famous Rumspringam 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.
- Leave the Two Lovebirds Alone: According to Amish custom when young Amish are courting, everyone looks the other way to give them privacy, until the betrothal is announced by posting it on the bulletin board.
- Some Amish still practice "Bundling"; that is courting in bed between fiancées with two sleeping bags and full pajamas (or variations thereof) to preserve from temptation, and parents in the next room. Apparently, it is considered enough. Presumably, the idea of an Amish youngster thinking about taking advantage of the opportunity is rather like the idea of a Spartan running in battle.
- Morality Pet: Honestly, sometimes they seem to be the USA's Morality Pet.
- One time an Amishwoman was hit in the face by a flying beer bottle from a drunken driver. The public felt bad enough about that to finance her plastic surgery with private contributions.
- They weren't always a Morality Pet. They have had problems because of conscientious objection, and if there was war or simple chaos in the area, it was always hard on them (which is why they were never notable as frontier settlers). But they got along better than in Europe and they have become popular of late.
- This is so very true. Today, the Amish have about three times the chance of facing a home invasion style burglary, mostly due to the fact that they keep their money around the house, probably don't have a phone or gun, and as believers in nonviolence won't normally fight back. (If the idea of robbing an Amish home makes you feel ill, hold on to that feeling; it means you're still human.)
- Not So Different: A British documentary Living with the Amish portrayed a very sober young farmer who enjoyed talking to the British kids who were the subjects of the documentary... who had "tricked out" his horse and cart buggy with flashing lights, a Ferrari sign, and interior stereo system run on batteries. He happily admitted that he'd converted the buggy to catch the eye of his now-wife, after discussing how fast and stylish cars (in the "English" world) were excellent courtship tools with his British guests.
- Schizo Tech: 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 the outside world. 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.
- Many Amish are on good terms with their English neighbors and will often work through them for certain technologies that are approved by their local community. For instance, if they are in need of a phone or quick car ride to somewhere that isn't practical for a horse and buggy, they will go to their English neighbors and possibly (but not always) exchange something for the usage of their technology. Not all neighbors require an exchange, of course, but it's considered good manners in some communities.
- True Companions
- Turn the Other Cheek: A big part of Amish communities.