Being Amish is a whole lot more than riding a horse and buggy, and it's definitely not anything like the drug-fueled Rumpsringa parties TV has to lead us to believe actually happen. The Amish are renowned for their unique traditions, from their desire to live a simple life without the complications of modern technology to their unmistakable dress code.
But to outsiders, they seem like a mysterious community that we don't fully understand. Thanks to that, a lot of rumors swirl about what it's really like to be Amish. This lifestyle is greatly misunderstood and there is a lot more than meets the eye. Here are some things you didn't know about being Amish.
The Amish Have Their Own Language
Amish people may be able to speak English, but they actually have their own language. This language is known as Amish, Low German, or Pennsylvania Dutch, which is not at all like the Dutch spoken in the Netherlands. The language is actually rooted in Deutch or German.
It was spoken by early German-speaking settlers who first immigrated to Pennsylvania. This language wasn't only spoken by a handful of settlers; it was widely popular throughout Pennsylvania. Almost half the population spoke Pennsylvania Dutch at one point in time, though today, you'd be hard-pressed to find a non-Amish person who can.
Substance Scandals Do Happen In the Amish Community
Just because most Amish people don’t partake in controlled substances, doesn't mean all of them avoid it. In 1999, two Amish men were arrested and convicted, allegedly going to deliver class A controlled substances. Class A substances are some of the most addicting.
The two men ended up buying and selling $100,000 worth of controlled substances between 1992 and 1998. What's the most messed up is that these two men were selling the substances mostly to Amish youths. Both of the men ended up being sentenced for their part in the Amish drug ring.
There Are Actually Amish Gangs
Apparently, there are actually Amish gangs who do some pretty serious crime. In 2011, a bunch of Amish men were arrested in Ohio. Their crime? They'd break into the homes of members of their rival Amish gang and shave off their beards while they were sleeping.
The men believed the gang didn't properly follow the Amish scripture and losing your beard is one of the highest forms of degradation within the community. The leader of this gang was ironically named Samuel Mullet. Though he didn't have a mullet, he did have a pretty epic beard.
The Amish Do Not Reject All Technology
Though the Amish widely tend to their crops using handmade tools, they don't reject all modern technology. It really depends on how strict the specific Amish affiliation is (and there are about 40 throughout the whole country). Contrary to popular belief, Amish people thoughtfully use new technology. They deeply consider which technologies will add to their lives and only start using the ones that do.
For example, one Amish man in Lancaster admitted he checks his voicemail four times a day and has a propane-powered forklift he uses in his shop. He uses refrigeration to store milk. Other Amish subgroups use almost no modern technology. The Amish population widely accepts the use of electricity but rejects the power grid that allows it to be brought into American homes.
This Is a Typical Amish Date
Amish dating is pretty similar to regular dating, just a whole lot more supervised and wholesome. A young man will typically meet his future spouse at a youth group function like Sunday singing. He'll drive her home in his buggy (which he may have outfitted with electronic speakers that are only allowed during Rumspringa). The couple will exchange letters and see each other on weekends.
They'll date for about a year before the man asks the woman to get married. He must first seek her parents' approval. If the woman says yes, the couple lets the deacon know. He announces their intent to marry to the rest of the church, and wedding preparations begin. Rumspringa is over. This typically happens between the ages of 18 and 22.
Amish Women Wear Their Wedding Dress Once a Week for the Rest of Their Lives
An Amish wedding dress is a whole lot different from a typical wedding dress. Women must always focus on "plainness," even on the day of their wedding. There's definitely no blingy, form-fitting, lacy numbers here.
A woman is required to sew her own dress, and this dress doesn't even get to be white. A woman's wedding dress always blue, and they don't just wear it once. After a woman gets married, she wears this dress every single Sunday for the rest of her life. That certainly cuts down on waste!
If You Don't Say Sorry, You Get Shunned
People mess up. That's just part of being human, and the Amish are no different. Because the community is so religious, transgressions are a big deal. If you break one of the Amish's rules, you receive a Meidung order. This means you have to apologize sincerely or you're kicked out of the community.
If you're shunned by Amish community, your life gets difficult and depressing. Amish family members won't eat at the same table as you, community members will no longer do business with you, and your family can't even ride in the same car as you. Church members also can't receive any gifts, money or help you may want to give them. They're forbidden from taking anything from you.
Rumspringa Has a Ton of Misconceptions
The media has painted Rumspringa as a period of heavy partying, drug use, and premarital relations among Amish youth groups. Sure, this happens sometimes, but it's hardly typical. We've all seen the TLC show Breaking Amish, where Amish youths move to the city during their Rumspringa to experiment with normal Western life (cue scandalous relationships and heavy drinking). This is really not typical.
During a typical Rumspringa, most Amish youth don't even leave their parents' house. They simply join an Amish youth group and start to socialize with the world around them on the weekends. Most Amish adolescents use this period to find a spouse because they already know they want to join the church. The key principal is that the Amish culture relies on free choice. A teen must venture out to choose if they want permanently join the church.
A Get Out of Jail Free Card
Teens make mistakes, and that's just the way it is. Banishment is a huge threat to a teen who may mess up on their first time out of the Amish community. The truth is that Amish parents want their children to want to join the church, so they actually give them a "get out of jail free card."
This means that any Amish teen who breaks the rules during Rumspringa – which is pretty much the point – has a very lenient punishment. Though most kids don't, some do, and Amish parents welcome them back with open arms.
The Amish Don't Learn Beyond an Eighth Grade Education
Amish people do not have the same focus on education as the rest of America. There is no high school and no college unless an Amish person permanently leaves their community, gets their GED, and goes away to school. Instead, Amish people focus on trades like carpentry and masonry that they'll have for their entire lives.
Amish children go to school in a one-room schoolhouse. The kids are almost always taught by someone who has only an eighth-grade education. Schooling stops after eighth grade and men start training in their future career. Women do the same but learn about housework, home-making, and knitting. The roles are very gendered.
The Youngest Son Inherits Everything from the Father, Not the Oldest
In most cultures, the oldest son is responsible for doling out inheritance. Amish people don't really feel like the oldest sons are the ones who need taking care of in the event of a parent's death. This is part of the reason why land and property is passed down to the youngest son.
Fathers aren't ready to retire when their oldest sons reach adulthood. These sons go on to learn trades, but the youngest brother may not be as prepared at the time of his father's passing. Amish children, you better not pick on your younger brother because he's getting it all!
Amish Couples Scandalously Spend the Night Together Before Marriage
It's widely thought that Amish marriages are arranged and couples aren't intimate before they exchange vows. This is partially true, depending on how you define intimacy. Couples must never have intercourse before marriage, but they can spend the night together in bed in some Amish districts.
The only catch? Couples must be fully clothed. Bed courtship or "bundling" goes as follows: the boy asks the girl if he can take her home, and she consents. They go home, immediately go upstairs, get into bed fully clothed and are expected to talk all night without touching. Beds sometimes have what is called a "bundling" divider and separates the two sides so neither party accidentally touches.
Beards Clue You In On a Young Amish Man's Status
Ever wonder about the status of an Amish man? Their beard tells you a whole lot – even more than a wedding band (if they were allowed to wear one). Amish men start growing their beard as soon as they get married. The longer the beard, the longer they've been married. Amish men aren't allowed to have mustaches, though, so those must be shaven.
On the flipside, Amish women have super long hair because they're not allowed to get a trim. Both men and women run the risk of being shunned by their community if they decide to cut their hair or beards.
Women Are Buried in Their Wedding Dress and Apron
Lots of brides feel an attachment to their wedding dress, but for Amish women, that attachment is a little different. Women in the Amish community are expected to make their own wedding dress. Of course, it must be modest and not overly self-expressive. But Amish wives don't just wear their wedding dress on their wedding day.
After their wedding, women wear their wedding dress to church each Sunday. When a woman passes away, she is typically buried wearing her wedding dress and an apron.
The Dress Code Exemplifies Amish Values
One of the defining physical traits of Amish people is their wardrobe. It's not just because the simple, uniformed look is easy to manage. Amish people dress in a way that promotes a few key values of their culture – humility and modesty. The dress code is strictly enforced to prevent vanity and foster a focus on inward, less tangible qualities.
Yes, unlike regular American culture who plasters scantily clad models across magazine covers, Amish people value inner beauty and kindness. Women aren't allowed to wear bright colors, patterns or jewelry and most of their clothes are handmade.
The Amish Believe in Baptism, But It Doesn't Happen to Babies
Though it may seem like Amish culture is a far cry from your everyday Christianity, it's actually not that far off. The Amish are actually a Christian sub-sect called Anabaptist. This means that they believe in baptism, but they don't baptize babies the same way a typical Christian church does.
If you want to become part of the church, you must be old enough to independently state your faith. This usually occurs between the ages of 16 and 24, with most Amish people taking a brief leave of exploration (and mild electronics use) to see what the world has to offer, which ends with marriage. This is called Rumspringa.
Amish Have Youth Groups But They Don't Involve Controlled Substances or Alcohol
The Amish Youth groups adolescents join during Rumspringa are a heck of a lot more tame than most of us typically imagine. These groups serve a number of functions including helping the adolescent enter into a more formalized social world where he can interact with his peers in a new setting and develop new relationships (as in dating).
These groups vary and typically meet on the weekends. Some are slower, ultra-wholesome and adult-supervised. Others have social parties. Most youth groups meet wherever church service took place for planned, wholesome activities like group singing and volleyball.
An Amish Wedding Is Simple
An Amish bride will have none of that stereotypical ridiculously expensive wedding stuff. There's no dress worth thousands of dollars and no lavish honeymoon. In fact, most Amish women sew their own dress (which certainly cuts down on costs). The honeymoon isn't usually a tropical vacation. Most Amish people visit relatives and collect gifts.
When an Amish person decides to get married, they must marry another member of the church. No wedding rings are exchanged (jewelry is forbidden) and they must hand deliver their invitations. To be honest, this minimalist approach really focuses on the couple's bond rather than the act of having a wedding.
Amish People Do Not Believe Baptism Is a Ticket to Heaven
Most Amish people get baptized around the ages of 18 and 22 when they've found a future spouse. In many sects of Christianity, this is a ticket to heaven, as long as you apologize for your sins before you get there.
That's not the case in Amish culture. You have to do good deeds to go to heaven, so Amish people practice "Gottes Wille" (or God's Will). They behave well every day and do good deeds. This is the key to a prosperous life, and maybe there's something to it. Shouldn't we all help others every day?
The Amish Strive to Keep Order
One of the most basic things about being Amish is the intense focus on keeping order. The Ordnung, meaning order, is basically an Amish handbook that's separate from the bible. It lists all the rules of conduct and breaking the rules has major consequences.
This is why it's important for people to follow the rules, for fear of being punished. Furthermore, if one person breaks the rules it usually means that someone else will, which is why the rules are strongly enforced.
The Amish Have a Low Risk of Cancer
Maybe there is something to the idea that processed manufactured foods cause cancer. Amish people actually have an extremely low risk of getting cancer because of the way they live. The Amish grow their own organic food. They don't drink or smoke, which greatly extends their lifespan.
The Amish even milk their own cows, butcher their own meat, and grow their own corn. Plus, these animals aren't subject to the same standards as much of the rest of the American meat industry. They raise their chickens and cows without the use of hormones and antibiotics.
They're Exempt From the Military
You could say the Amish are pacifists, but they prefer the term 'non-resistance' instead. Due to their belief in non-resistance, the Amish reject any form of physical violence. Because of this, they don't participate in the military and exempt from the draft.
Their beliefs also means they largely reject law enforcement since they view it as the use of force against another person. Members of the Amish community prefer to resolve conflicts through peaceful negotiation.
Amish Dolls Don't Have Faces for This Reason
If you've ever seen a traditional Amish doll, you may have noticed it was missing something important. The dolls are typically made without faces to emphasize that everyone is alike in the eyes of God.
A type of rag doll, traditional Amish dolls have been made for hundreds of years within the Amish community. Although the dolls are still made today, some antique Amish dolls sell for upwards of $1,000!
The Amish Are Among the Fastest-Growing Populations in the World
The history of the Amish church dates back to the 1600s and begins in Switzerland. But by the 18th century, thousands of Amish immigrated to Pennsylvania due to religious wars, poverty, and religious persecution in Europe. As the Amish communities have settled and thrived through the U.S. over the last two centuries, their population continues to grow.
Today, there are more than 330,000 Amish citizens in the U.S alone — a number that increased by nearly 150 percent between 1992 and 2017!
Genetic Disorders Hit Amish Communities Hard
Although the Amish are less likely to develop cancer due to their "clean" living, they don't get off scot-free. The Amish communities are considered "genetically closed," which mean their populations have higher incidences of genetic disorders. Some genetic disorders are so rare that doctors have never seen them before outside of the Amish community.
These genetic problems are linked to what's known as the :founder effect" since more than 150,000 Amish living in the U.S. can trace their roots back to the same 100 or so German-Swiss settlers.
They Don't Play Musical Instruments
Church songs are big in Amish communities, but you won't find anyone playing musical instruments. While singing is accepted, the Amish do not play musical instruments since doing so would be considered a means of self-expression.
According to the Amish, self-expression garners feelings of superiority, which is against their beliefs. Many popular church songs in the Amish communities have no musical notes!
Engagements Are Kept a Secret
Can you imagine getting engaged only to have to keep a secret from the world? This is reality for Amish men and women who must keep their engagement under wraps aside from telling their immediate family members.
Once the wedding is just about four weeks away, then the engagement can officially announced in a Sunday church service by the community bishop. This is known as "publishing" the engagement. After the announcement, the happy could must personally hand delivery each wedding invite!
Honeymoons Aren't Really a Thing
We already mentioned that the Amish don't exactly throw over-the-top weddings and honeymoons — but how newlyweds actually celebrate their honeymoon may surprise you. After the bride and groom tie the knot, they don't celebrate by going on a honeymoon. Instead, their 'honeymoon' involves spending time with their family members on the weekends. Sure, this doesn't necessarily sound bad, but it's not exactly what we would consider a honeymoon.
The newlyweds also take this time to pick up their wedding gifts as guests don't bring them to the ceremony or ship them by mail.
The Amish Don't Oppose Modern Medicine
While some people in the Amish community strictly use holistic medicine, not everyone is opposed to the use of modern medicine. Many in the Amish community welcome the use of modern medicine since the Bible doesn't explicitly forbid it.
This certainly isn't the case for everyone though and tends to vary on a family-by-family basis. Things also get tricky because the Amish don't have medical insurance. This means they must rely on various funding efforts to cover their medical expenses.
It’s Okay To Take Pictures Of Them
One of the biggest misconceptions about Amish culture is that taking pictures is frowned upon. If you walk through an Amish community you see signs everywhere that read, “No photos please.” Just because the signs exist, however, doesn’t mean pictures are forbidding.
It is up to an Amish person whether or not they refuse to have their picture taken. If you try to give them a copy of the picture, though, every single one will reject it. They don’t keep any pictures of themselves in their home but allowing you to have one as a souvenir is acceptable.
Why the Amish Don't Drive Cars
The Amish community typically conjures images of men and women riding in a horse and buggy. This isn't wrong since the Amish cannot drive cars. The church prohibits its members from owning or driving a car unless it is being used for select social and business functions.
Cars are essentially demonized in the Amish community because vehicles are consider too worldly as well as a threat to the Amish. While they may not be able to own or drive a car, this doesn't stop them from riding in them. The Amish accept rides and even hire drivers to transport them.
It’s A Patriarchy
There are a lot of differences between Amish culture and modern American culture. One of the most stunning is that Amish communities are still strict patriarchies with clearly defined gender roles. The rules they believe the Bible tells them are the rules they follow.
In Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, some outside communities hand out brochures to young Amish women. These brochures, if taken, will give these young women instructions on how to get help and find their own way in the world.
How They Keep Their Food Cold
You can't just throw something in the fridge when you're Amish. To keep their food cold, they actually use something called an "ice house".
One side of the white heat-reflective structure holds the ice they've collected over the winter and acts like a "freezer", while the other side holds the food like a fridge would. The whole thing is super-insulated to keep the cold air in.
Pollution Is A Major Problem
One of the side effects of Amish culture being so reliant on farming is that pollution has become a major problem. In Lancaster County alone, there are 5,000 Amish owned farms. Any fertilizer and manure not used to grow crops are washed out to the Chesapeake Bay.
Even scarier, when confronted about the pollution problem from the EPA, the Amish community in the area ignored the information. With so much pollution around the area, a number of “dead zones,” where there isn’t enough oxygen to support life, have been created.
Sometimes Their Culture Clashes With The Outside World
Things aren't always seamless. In 2011, eight Kentucky Amish men were arrested for refusing to attach those "slow moving" triangles to the backs of their buggies and refused to pay the fines.
They considered the bright triangles "too modern".
Animals Are Not Seen As Equals
Sadly, the Amish are not known for being nice to animals. Everything from farm animals, horses for transportation, and domesticated pets are treated poorly. Buggy horses are usually underfed and underweight, while cows are left untended with swollen udders and dogs are seen as easily replaceable.
Perhaps the worst treatment of animals by the Amish are to dogs. Like chickens in crowded living conditions, puppies are raised in “puppy mills,” where they are kept in cramp and unlivable conditions. Twenty percent of all “puppy mills” in the United States are Amish owned.
Cutting Someone Else’s Hair Is A Hate Crime
You already know about Samuel Mullet and his hair cutting spree, but do you know why it was considered such a heinous crime? The Amish believe hair to sacred in sense. To cut one’s own hair is a crime, and to cut someone else’s hair is a hate crime.
Interestingly, young men are actually allowed to trim their facial hair until they get married, at which point they must let it grow proudly. Oh, and don’t think about growing your mustache out; they didn’t have mustaches in the Bible, so Amish males are not allowed to have them either.
The Amish Are Usually Uncomfortable Around Outsiders
The Amish believe in non-resistance but that doesn't mean they enjoy being around people outside of their communities. The majority of Amish individuals note feeling uncomfortable around non-Amish or "English" people.
Still, the Amish aim to be peaceful and maintain a meek disposition so they do their best to co-exist peacefully with the world outside of their community.
They Don't Seek to Convert Outsiders
The Amish don't seek to convert outsiders. Still, this doesn't stop people from joining the community even though they weren't born into it. In fact, there are many people who converted who have become well-respected members of the Amish community.
Joining the Amish community isn't exactly a walk in the park. To join, a would-be convert is placed with an Amish family for a set amount of time so they can participate in daily activities. This helps them adapt to the lifestyle and begin learning the Pennsylvania German dialect — another requirement.
Most Members Speak Three Languages
English and Pennsylvania German are not the only languages Amish people speak. Most members of communities speak at least three languages. These different languages also come with widely varied dialects!
The missing language above is “Swiss-Amish.” This version of the spoken word is found primarily in Indiana. Not surprisingly, this actually creates a language barrier when Pennsylvania Amish (of German descent) people meet Indiana Amish people (of Swiss descent).
They Don’t Consider Women To Be Oppressed
While there is a lot of talk about how Amish cultures oppress women, they don’t see it that way. By following the rules of the Bible, Amish communities believe their women to be held in extremely high regard. This despite their designation as second class citizens.
The Amish believe that by giving women so much responsibility to take care of the household, they are special within their culture. Therefore, the outside perception that they are oppressed is considered a cultural misconception.
They Dig Their Graves by Hand
When an Amish person dies, many simple arrangements must be made for the funeral. They are given hand-made caskets made of plain wood and the funeral is held at deceased’s home. Graves for the buried are also dug by hand.
The reason for digging these final resting places by hand is so technology cannot interfere with the process. Community members rally around the mourning family to help carry the burden and responsibility. The final service focuses on the Christian ideas of resurrection and the soul leaving the physical body.
The Amish Have A Few Money-Saving Tricks Up Their Sleeves
Most Americans save roughly 6% of their income, but Amish people set aside at least 20%! Just a few of their tricks are making their own clothes, buying secondhand, making all their own food, and buying in bulk.
Moreover, many Amish only have a few or just one credit card so they're not susceptible to getting into large amounts of debt.