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The New Wisdom




Lancaster

From Saturday, May 22 to Monday, May 24 Amy and I visited Lancaster County in Pennsylvania. I’ve been meaning to write about it for a while, but I just can never get around to it. For now I’ll just paste in something I wrote for a message board:

My girlfriend and I went to Lancaster County this weekend. Naturally, we saw Amish folk and we even had dinner with an Amish family.

One striking thing about the Amish family’s house was that at first glance (or even second and third glances) it’s almost indistinguishable from your average American home. On close inspection you may notice there’s no TV, radio, electric lighting, or that the refrigerator is powered by propane or that some small appliances are powered by compressed air. But you’ll also see Breyer’s yogurt cups, Head and Shoulders shampoo and other common toiletries (I used their bathroom), butter and ice cream and other things bought from a supermarket, etc. They had a gas stove (albeit powered by propane rather than natural gas) and running water (including hot water). The construction of the house was modern. In fact, the siding and porch railings may have been vinyl.

But, like I said, there’s still no electricity. They still use a horse and buggy of course. One of the sons of the house drove up in a Ford SUV and we asked about that. Apparently he decided not to be a member of the Amish church so he doesn’t abide by Amish rules. Which leads me to a cool part of the Amish culture (that from what I’ve gathered is not unique to this particular family): You can totally choose to not live the Amish life without being shunned or looked down upon by your family and community, provided you make this choice before being baptized and formally entering the faith (which you do when you’re an adult).

They’re not isolated at all. You’d think to preserve this way of life you’d have to cut off the outside world, but it’s not true. One of the sons who DID choose an Amish life has traveled quite a bit, visiting Bermuda, Chicago, Boston, Colorado and other places. When I pulled out my camera he recognized it was a digital camera versus a film one. We talked about how the increasing amount of preservatives Americans consume is making cadavers last longer, we talked about the expansion of real estate in the area, they asked if being a computer programmer was tedious work, etc.

As for jobs, they do farming, woodworking, construction and stuff like that. They can use electricity for work only (in fact, the guy said that they use computer-controlled wood cutters at the shop). Farmers don’t use tractors, so their plows and stuff are pulled by horses. They can also have cell phones for business use (they say they need them to compete with other contractors). At home, phones can be kept in a barn or other outlying building, but not inside the house. They can ride in cars and trucks, but they cannot drive them. They wear very simple clothing. No battery operated devices. Women don’t even have buttons; their clothes are held together with straight pins. They have turn signals and headlights on their buggies (they’re required to by law). There’s lot of horse poop on the side of the roads throughout the county.

They only get an 8th grade education and sometimes it shows up when you see gaps in their knowledge. They speak Pennsylvania Dutch to each other sometimes, and I picked that up and asked them about it. They asked if I spoke another language at home, so I told them I kinda knew Vietnamese. The mother thought Vietnamese and Spanish were the same. She must’ve thought I was Mexican or something. Not a lot of exposure to Asians I guess. Or education about the Vietnam War.

I think it’s cool that they’re fully aware of the “outside” world (which again is inaccurate because they interact with it quite a lot) and yet 90% of Amish offspring choose to stay Amish. And those who don’t stay Amish don’t have to suffer any disappointment for the most part.


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