When I visited Lancaster County in Pennsylvania for the first time, I thought I came to another world. There were the familiar views of people driving in their cars. Homes and shops were connected with landlines to the public power and telephone networks. And the people were wearing “normal” clothes, jeans, sweatshirts, suits or dresses.
There was nothing unusual. At least until I made a tour through the countryside. Every farm had one or more gray round corn silo, looking just like moon rockets. The people were driving around with horse coaches. Next to the houses there were clotheslines with laundry. And you could see no power or telephone lines. Farmers still were using horse-drawn plows.
Farm in Pennsylvania Dutch Country
Certainly I have been told in advance about what I would see, but couldn’t really believe it till I saw it with my own eyes. I was in the “Pennsylvania Dutch Country”, the region where the “Amish People” are living, successors of mainly german or swiss immigrants. The name “Dutch Country” does not come from the Dutch people from The Netherlands, but from “Deutsch” (German).
But by now I got used to this view. The women are wearing plain dark dresses which are covered with a cape and an apron. On their heads they wear a white prayer covering if they are married and a black one if they are single. Men and boys wear dark suits and black broad-brimmed hats. For warm weather the Amish men weare straw hats. They grow a beard when they’re married, but no mustaches.
These distinctive clothes express the humility of the Amish and the separation from the world outside of their community. Their clothing is not a costume; but is an expression of their faith.
The Amish People call themselves “plain people” and other not Amish are referred to as “The Englisch”. Besides the Amish there are two other groups, called the Mennonites and the Brethren. They all have common historical roots which go back several hundred years. They came to America because they’ve been persecuted in Europe because of their religious believe.
Despite all changes in the society and industrial and technological advances, the Amish people still are living like their forefathers. They are very devout and believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. Today there are over 25 different Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren church groups in Lancaster County, all holding to slightly different traditions and their own interpretations of the Bible.
Some groups are interpreting the Bible more strictly as others. The more traditional groups do not allow electric power, television or telephones. Others are following the rules, but have televisions or refrigerators and other electrical equipment, but produce their own electricity.
In order to run their businesses, or to call emergency services they have a shed in their front yard where a telephone is installed. This is possible, because the wire does not come into their house.
Older groups do not own or operate cars, believing that this would give easier access to worldly things. They are using horses and buggies instead and you will often see their buggies on the local roads.
Buggy in Pennsylvania Dutch Country
The Amish people practice a peaceful and plain lifestyle and lead a withdrawn life. This seems to be strange to other people and one can wonder how they can survive in this fast paced world. In fact, the population of the Amish people in Lancaster County has increased significantly in the past 50 years.
Their separation from the rest of the society helps to strengthen their community. The children go to one-room classes. Worships are not held in churches but in one of the member’s homes. Living in the community and socializing is a very important part of the Amish life.
As I already said, the Amish people are living a withdrawn life. They consider the attention they receive especially from tourists as disturbing. They believe that the taking of photographs where people are recognizable is making of “graven image”, which is forbidden by the Bible. As a visitor one should respect their privacy. But some of the Amish people do not follow these rules as strictly as others. Just ask if you can take pictures or not.