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The past five weeks in my life have really had an impact on me. In such a short period of time, I have become more aware of the different cultures that exist around the world today. We tend to think that our way of life is the only way there is, or at least the only right way. It is really very ignorant to think that everyone believes and behaves the same way. People should stop being so self-centered and take notice and interest in cultural diversity. There are numerous different cultures in our country alone. One in particular is the Amish culture, which I would like to familiarize you with.
The Amish culture consists of many unique beliefs that makes their ways unlike that of any other culture. They lead a life of simplicity and yet have very harsh ways of doing things. The Amish is perhaps the most diverse culture in the entire United States. The Amish of Pennsylvania and Ohio greatly differ with the rest of American society.
“Although the Amish look like they stepped out of the rural nineteenth century, in fact they do change,” (Amish Cultures). Their lives move more slowly than ours, but they definitely are not stuck anywhere. They move on slowly but surely. Instead of accepting new technology like the rest of American society, they choose to examine change carefully before they approve of it. If the new idea or gadget does not succeed in keeping their lives simple and their families together, they will most likely reject it. Family is among the most important values the Amish stress. They don’t like to let anything break their family ties. The fact that they have lived this way for hundreds of years and not allowed the “modern” world to deter them from their pursuit of their service to God, is truly unbelievable.
As mentioned earlier, the Amish do not like anything technologized in fear that it will break the family up. In actuality, they are completely right. If you take a look at an Amish family and compare it to an average American family, you would see major differences. The average American family would be very divided. You’d find the children and parents watching T.V., accessing computers, surfing the internet, playing video games, etc. In the Amish family, everyone would gather together to eat, work, and play. The Amish keep their materials basic. This way they are certain no technological advance can pull them apart. “Old order groups all drive horses and buggies rather than cars, do not have electricity in their homes. Bottled gas is used to operate water heaters, modern stoves and refrigerators. Gas-pressured lanterns and lamps are used to light homes, barns, and shops,” (The Amish People 14).
The Amish place very large emphasis on humanity, family, community, and separation with the rest of the world. They place value on simplicity and self-denial, whereas, typical Americans cherish comfort, convenience and leisure. Most Americans speak one to two languages fluently. Among the most popular are English and Spanish. On the other hand, “most Amish are trilingual. They speak a dialect of German called Pennsylvania Dutch at home; they use High German at their worship services; and they learn English at school,” (Amish Culture).
On average, an Amish family numbers 8 as opposed to the rest of American cultures which numbers 3. Their homes are large with several rooms opening into one large room where they hold church. The houses are furnished very simply with benches on which the families sit to eat their meals. The floors are bare and the windows are covered with plain colored cloth.
Amish children attend private, one-room schoolhouses which are either taught by the parents or a young, unmarried Christian woman. However, in most American cultures, teachers of any sex and marital status are hired for the job. Amish children usually attend school until eighth grade, whereas, most other cultures continue on through high school and sometimes even college. Also, Amish school systems are operated solely by the parents. Every family pitches in and helps paint, repair and maintain their local school. Though Amish communities hold very close ties with their schools, much emphasis isn’t really placed on scholastic education because it is thought that what children really need to know is taught at home: domestic skills, farming responsibilities, and certainly the religious teachings. Although school isn’t a major part of Amish life, they still are more dedicated to it than average Americans. After a snowstorm, when most private and public schools are closed down, the Amish schoolhouses remain open. “They just adapt to the weather by using sleighs for transportation,” (Amish Life).
The Amish people are extremely hard workers. They wake up at the crack of dawn and work through the entire day. Their labor is hard and tedious, but yet, the work gets done. “Children usually work on their parent’s farm until they marry and go off to create a farm of their own” (Amish). Even the youngest of their children are assigned chores to do around the farm. They work long and hard and complain little. In most other cultures, children complain over the littlest tasks. In a society such as ours where whining has become an art form, the Amish just keep on going. It is truly ironic that Amish children do much more work then any others and yet, they don’t voice a single complaint.
Amish clothing styles may be the most distinct feature about their culture. While most cultures sport trendy, modern fashions, the Amish hide their body in simple, drab clothing. “The Amish feel these unique clothes encourage humility and separation from the world,” (Living in Pennsylvania). Their clothing is not a costume, but instead, an expression of faith. Amish men wear dark colored high vests over homemade shirts. Then, collarless coats with hook and eye fasteners drape over them. Their hair is cut in what is known as a “Dutch Bob.” Young men shave their beards until marriage. A nice full beard symbolizes manhood and maturity. For formal events, men and boys wear dark-colored suits, straight-cut coats without lapels, broad fall trousers, suspenders, solid-colored shirts, black socks and shoes, and black or straw broad-brimmed hats. Their shirts fasten with conventional buttons, but their suit coats and vests fasten with hooks and eyes.
The Amish women dress simply with plain ankle length dresses, black stockings and flat shoes. In the cold months, they wear black wool shawls. Their heads are usually concealed by a covering or white prayer cap which is worn inside the home or during church sermons, and a black bonnet when outside. The girls dress like their mothers except they do not wear prayer caps until they have joined church. Old order Amish women and girls wear modest dresses made from
solid-colored fabric with long sleeves and a full skirt. These skirts are restricted to be no shorter than halfway between the knee and floor. These dresses are covered with a cape and apron and fastened with straight pins or snaps. They never cut their hair, but instead wear it in a bun on the back of the head. Amish women do not wear jewelry either.
Amish boys and girls begin their search for a spouse when they turn sixteen. It is considered quite rare that people reach the age of twenty unmarried. Unlike American’s traditional white, blue is a typical color chosen for wedding gowns by young Amish women. “An Amish bride’s wedding attire is always new. She usually makes her own dress and also those of her bridesmaids, known to the Amish as newehockers,” (Amish Cultures). The style of the dresses are very plain and are mid-calf length. They display no fancy trim or lace and never have a train.
When young members are married, they are often given a parcel of land by one father. This land is given so the couple can get a head start and make a living. An average Amish farm consists of approximately 80 acres. Ohio’s most popular crops grown are wheat, oats, clover, and corn. In Pennsylvania, a wider selection is raised including: corn, hay, wheat, tobacco, soybeans, barley, potatoes, and other vegetables. The corn, grain, and hay crops are usually used to feed the farm’s livestock. Tobacco, potatoes, grain, hay, and the remainder of vegetables are raised for marketing purposes. Farmers also grow various grasses for grazing. Most Amish farming is done
with horse drawn equipment with metal wheels. Until a few years ago, farming was the only way the Amish folk were able to make a living. This all changed simply because of the fact that soil was no longer plentiful. As a result, former farmers went off to enjoy woodworking, canning, watch repair, and getting employed at various manufacturing jobs.
The Amish women are good cooks, but only cook plain foods raised on their farms. They usually serve pork, beef, chicken, turkey, and garden vegetables as main meals. Among Amish favorites are “roast, (roast chicken with bread stuffing), mashed potatoes, gravy, creamed celery, coleslaw, applesauce, cherry pie, donuts, fruit salad, tapioca pudding and bread, butter and jelly…” (Amish Life).
Holidays observed by the Amish are very religious. During these holidays, the Amish practice family and religious values more than that of any other culture. The most stress is placed upon Thanksgiving, Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension Day, Pentecost, and Whit Monday (the day after Pentecost). “December 25 is a solemn celebration of Christ’s birth and “second Christmas” on December 26 is a time for visiting and family dinners,” (A Day Through Amish Eyes). On the other hand, the majority of American society lose sight of the religious meaning of holidays and instead, are hypnotized by the gifts they receive.
Another characteristic of the Amish culture is that they have a lot of predictable names. There are few names that are occupied by many. “The most common last names are Stoltzfus, King, Fisher, Beiler, and Lapp. The most common first names for males are: John, Amos, Samuel, Daniel, and David. The most common first names for females are: Mary, Rebecca, Sarah, Katie, and Annie,” (The Amish People).
Both Amish men and women wear white for burial. It is very ironic that the traditional wedding color in American society is white, but the Amish use white to symbolize death, and
marriage blue. Black and white are complete opposites, and yet, the Amish wear white at funerals and the rest of American culture wears black. “In death, as in life, the simplicity is evident. A plain wooden coffin is built. Often it is six-sided with a split lie – the upper part is hinged so it can be opened for viewing the body. It is very simple – no ornate carvings or fine fabrics. There are no eulogies. Respect for the deceased is expressed, but not praised. A hymn is spoken but not sung. There are no flowers.” (Amish Life).
As one can clearly see, the Amish have a way of life unlike any other culture in this area. It is a life that consists of simpler ways, with the technological exclusions; yet it is much more difficult than the average American lifestyle considering all of the hard work performed. The rest of America should possibly consider some of the Amish practices in order to bring family life back together as it once was.
“A Day through Amish Eyes.” Ask Jeeves. Online. America Online. 12 June 1999.
“Amish.” World Book Encyclopedia. 1988 ed.
“Amish Cultures.” Ask Jeeves. Online. America Online. 15 June 1999.
“Amish Life.” Yahoo. Online. America Online. 11 June 1999.
Harris, Joseph. The Amish People. New York: New York, 1992.
“Living in Pennsylvania.” Yahoo. Online. America Online. 12 June 1999.
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