“Dave” emailed me these comments and questions in regard to Amish humor.
I’m glad you posted this. Just Saturday evening, we had supper with a young Old Order family which we recently befriended. After supper, Elena washed the dishes while Amos and his children retired to the living room. We enjoyed light conversation with some simple humor. There were a couple of occasions where light sarcasm was used, but it was all in fun. Being a church night, I knew not to stay too long as they would have to leave the next morning by 7:45. So here’s the part that confused me a bit. As we said our goodbyes, there wasn’t any “English” affection as we parted. I am used to the host or hostess seeing the guests to the door and wishing them well. Instead we just kind of got up and left. At first I thought perhaps I may have acted inappropriately some time during the evening. Now that I have a better understanding of Amish affection, I’m assuming this is commonplace. (At least I’m hoping that is the case.)
PS: I’ve also noticed that introductions of others don’t seem to be practiced either. Perhaps it’s because I’m “English”.
Dave, first be rest assured that it is commonplace for Amish people not to see you out the door when you visit. Many of the things we consider “polite” in mainstream culture: introductions, hugging or kissing in greeting or saying good-bye, saying please, excuse me, and thank you, and saying please pass the… at the table are just not done in many Amish circles. In other words, politeness is just not something they value.
Most Amish are uncomfortable with calling people by anything other than their first names. They don’t usually like to address someone as “Mr.”, “Mrs.” (and forget Ms.), sir, or ma’am. There is one exception… when they write letters, they would write to “Mrs. David Furlong” instead of “Saloma Furlong.” Or if they were writing to both of us, it would be “Mr. and Mrs. David Furlong.” I figured out pretty soon after marrying David that my own identity would be lost if I went by Mrs. Furlong, so I actually still prefer being called Saloma, though for a different reason. (I doubt there are too many Amish women who want to be called by their first names out of equality for their sex.)
There are a few points in which I think the Amish take their lack of manners too far. They have been deferred to by English people for enough generations that they have gotten used to it. Many years after leaving the Amish, one of my sisters traveled by train with a group of Amish from Ohio to Missouri. She said it was very noticeable that people would treat the Amish differently than others… they would offer the Amish to go ahead of them in a waiting line, for example, and the Amish were all too happy to do so. In other words, many Amish have gotten used to special treatment.
The controversies about the Amish getting (or wanting) special treatment abound. There was the Kentucky dispute over triangles. There was the Missouri dispute over outhouses. There was the New York bussing issue. There was the smoke alarm issue in upstate New York. And of course they are exempt from paying social security taxes, compulsory education laws, and they want to be exempt from child labor laws. (Don’t get me started on these last two).
So, if you perceive that the Amish have bad manners: most likely you’ve not offended them, and they are not doing this to offend you, either. This is just not one of the things they were taught as children because the people in their culture place little-to-no value in having good manners. (For an example of this, please see the photo of the Amish girls lined along the fence in my last post. As Katie Troyer pointed out, they are blocking the view of the people behind them.)