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Useful Notes / Amish

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We've been spending most our lives
living in an Amish paradise
I churn butter once or twice
living in an Amish paradise

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.note  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 a small community in Indiana speaks Alemannic Swiss German instead, though communities in North America will speak English as well as that is needed for talking to "The English" (their catch-all term for outsiders, regardless of ethnicity). 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 what would become the United States at the invite of William Penn, and to this day Pennsylvania is the center of their culture, although there are also large populations in Ohio and Indiana. By now, there are almost no Amish in Europe. While there are Amish communities in Canada and a small few in Latin America, over 98% of them live in the US.

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 instead of holding services in a Church building, they rotate between 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:

  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: There are many jokes about Amish electricians not existing, but in truth, they actually do exist, they simply won’t install electric wiring in their own buildings if they can do without it.
  • 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.
  • Christian Fiction: Novels about the Amish, especially romances, are common in Christian fiction. However, the Amish rarely write fiction about themselves and these novels are mostly written by non-Amish, evangelical Christians. As such, they often get various cultural and theological details wrong.
  • Christianity is Catholic: An Amish variant. When you see the Amish in media, they will almost always be Old Order Amish rather than any of the other sects. There is variability. Some have rules allowing flower-print dresses, others prohibit that decadence.
  • 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 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: Rumspringanote  is the rite of passage into adulthood. In it, Amish youth are given the choice to be baptized (the Amish, like other Anabaptists, don’t practice infant baptism), which about evenly-split Amish youth until a few decades ago, but which now over 90% accept. The popular idea that it gives Amish youth free rein to disregard their community’s norms is not correct, although some young people do rebel. It is also supposed to be a time for socializing with other Amish youth and starting to date a person of the opposite sex, and thus their parents would rather they not be rulebreakers.
  • Ludd Was Right: Zigzagged. Almost all media portrayals of the Amish portray them as completely shunning anything more advanced than a pulley. Despite media portrayals, it's not unusual to see Amish using cell phones for business purposes or riding in (but not owning or driving) motor vehicles, and motorized tractors and other farm equipment are quite common. The Amish are not opposed to technology purely for its own sake. Their philosophy stresses self-reliance; so any technology that relies too heavily upon the outside world (i.e., electrical appliances that depend upon the municipal power grid) are not acceptable. In a similar vein, they do not pay into, or accept payments from, the Social Security Administration.
  • Manly Facial Hair: One common (though not truly universal) practice among Amish men is not shaving, with the belief being that men were created by God to grow beards, and that shaving them off would be a sin, especially after marriage. The Bergholz Clan became infamous in 2011 where — after being widely condemned by the Amish community for their unusual and draconian standards — several members broke into the homes of former members or Amish critics to shave off their beards, which resulted in those involved being charged with federal hate crimes.
  • The Missionary: Averted for the Old Order Amish. They frown on evangelism for fostering a Holier Than Thou attitude. New Order Amish do not have these reservations.
  • Rail Enthusiast: The Amish are huge fans of Amtrak for long-distance travel, as they don't drive and generally view flying as an unnecessary luxury (barring a medical emergency) and the epitome of "English" worldliness.
  • Romance Novel: Romance novels set in Amish communities are highly popular, especially among evangelical Christian women, as they take place in an exotic culture that is still Christian and American.
  • Schizo Tech: Each Amish community decides 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 or solar panels.
    • Even the strictest communities will go to modern hospitals when necessary and allow vital medical equipment into their homes, such as an oxygen tank or CPAP machine, since preserving a life is more important than following a rule. If it requires electricity, they'll find a way. In fact, they take a dim view of religious sects that would rather let people die of treatable illnesses than make full use of modern medicine, considering that the height of arrogance.
    • If they own a telephone, it'll be for practical rather than social reasons and are often set up in a way so that they can receive calls but not send them, or only to and from certain numbers (like 911), or they are placed in a location that doesn't make them convenient to use, like the basement or an outbuilding. The idea is that someone may be tempted to just call their friends and family all the time instead of visiting them, or waste time gossiping that could be used for other, more important tasks. Placing the phone in an inconvenient location and/or restricting its use removes that temptation.
    • Horse buggies are often equipped with electric lights and reflectors similar to modern automobiles for safety reasons. The focus is on their practicality rather than vanity.
    • Some larger Amish businesses may have a telephone, an internet-connected computer to keep track of inventory and orders, electric refrigeration for food, and possibly a credit card reader for customers, but these things would be kept in the actual business place, not in someone's home, and only used for business purposes.
    • In very recent years, some Amish groups have begun to embrace electric bicycles. They're much faster than horses and buggies, and can be charged completely off-grid via solar panels.