Amish Manners

“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.)

14 thoughts on “Amish Manners”

  1. I grew up with no good manners whatsoever and I didn’t even know I was being rude, that is not until I went to public school. Only many years later did I learn that manners were/are considered worldly among the Swartzentruber Amish. Anybody caught using good manners are marked as being a proud person. It is just their way of life.

    1. Dorothy Clearwaters

      My Amish friends won’t let their children accept candy until they say thank you first .They stick to it ,the little guy never got his candy .

    2. I live in TN and there are lots of Swartzentruber in ethridge TN. Is it normal for them to not be very friendly? They don’t seem to like tourists around much . Thought I was being rude by looking at Amish quilts.

      1. I visited there and they are unfriendly but a older swartzentruber Amish guy was talking to me but others just kept away. Lancaster Pennsylvania I hear have very friendly Amish and are old order Amish not Swartzentruber Amish

  2. For about 20 years I have been visiting Conewango NY and have experienced all the things that you point out above. I have many Amish friends, but the thing that I have a hard time with is that they never introduce you to someone that you do not know. Also I have a long beard (longer than many Amish men) and when I eat a meal in a Amish home, which happens often, I miss not being offered a napkin.

  3. I am sorry Tom, but they don’t know what a napkin is. Years ago a friend had a young Conewango NY type hired hand working for them. She asked him to buy some napkins when he goes into the store. He returned with something completely different that was also a napkin but not mend for table use.

  4. I was born and raised in Germany and find that
    German and American culture are worlds apart when it comes to communication.
    I feel that Americans are very “gushing” and very expressive in their feelings.Some of it nseems very superficial to me.People say things they don’t really mean (“call me ANYTIME …” but next time they see you they don’t even remember your name)and everyone assumes that you know that this is just talk – is this politeness?
    I’m in my forties and did not grow up with hugging and kissing as a form of greeting.As a Christian I find it immodest and sometimes we had a situation where my husband and I had to clarify that we don’t want that and why. Is that unpolite?
    Some of the things you described as Amish unpoliteness are cultural differences that have survived because adaptation would mean a violation of biblical principles.

    As for inconsiderate behaviour – there have been many articles in “Family Life” and “Young Companion” over the years,that were dealing with these issues, not only within but also outside the community. Learning to understand others is something we all have to do – including the girls who thoughtlessly blocked the view

    1. My grandpa is Bavarian and loved eating sourkrout, hot dogs and coffee and listening to German music, Germans are very hard working people and people think they are cold. But Germans are not cold but never express themselves like the French or Italians do. Germans love being neat. When they visit America it is so very different than Germany. Love having German or Bavarian heritage, want to visit Deutschland some day

  5. As a Swede I could relate to being considered impolite by English-speaking people. We do not use Sir or Maam or even Mr or Mrs so I prefer first names. We do not have please as a word so I often forget to use it but I always say thank you, because we do use that and it is perhaps more important since we do not use please.

    I wondered about the Amish if they have a similar idea to Swedes that the preferred politeness is to avoid a situation that might be uncomfortable to anyone? In Sweden people go out of their way to avoid making someone feel bad and to forsee situations when you need to use words like sorry or excuse me because using them is a failure in itself. A very polite person does not need to use such words and others do not need to use them towards that person. If I compare to the UK (I have never visited the US), they seem to think it is much more OK to come into a situation where you use such words as long as you indeed say them the situation itself is no problem.

    As a Swede, that seems rude…

  6. This subject reminds me of another difference between Amish communities themselves.

    In Oregon we ceased speaking our dialect as soon as a ‘non-speaker’ came along; we considered it rude to exclude anyone.

    In Virginia, the Amish young folks did the exact opposite. They spoke English among themselves but if a non-Amish person came along, they reverted to the dialect. I never got used to that.

    1. Dorothy Clearwaters

      I was with 3 Amish sisters having coffee ,they spoke Amish to each other .I didn’t say anything .This time .I know 2 of the ladies well.

  7. Here is what I learned at my first meal on an Amish dairy farm. I felt welcome and found that they accepted me as I am but there were a few nuggets of surprise. I’d say I am usually a manner-conscious person. Supper was at 11:30. I was incredibly excited to be invited. When I arrived, my friend put out her hand for a hand shake and I unsuccessfully hugged her. Any other greetings from that point were strictly handshakes. They wore socks in the house and as I tried to follow suit, they said I should remain comfortable in my shoes if I wished. I was definitely gushing but I meant every word; the children WERE beautiful (precious inside and out) and the food WAS amazing and their Amish ways are so impressive and smart to me. At the table I felt a little like the boisterous English woman (I’m first generation Italian) as the only people who talked were me and the man of the house. I realized that I had a comment for everything. There were a few comments from others when I talked to them directly. I took a genuine interest in each member and asked them about their lives and interests. The amount of food served in relation to the number of people at table was extremely modest, I was concerned. Did I say I was Italian? I took small very small amounts and no seconds. In the end it seems just right. How did she pull that off? A little burping went on but I hid my shock. In my world burps are concealed if possible and must be pardoned, which is silly but what I’m used to. I asked for and enjoyed a tour of their place. I hope they did not mind my offer to barter as I asked for a container of milk in trade for a basket of “fruits” from my home. In addition they sent me home with garden vegetables. I hope to go again and welcome any dialog here.

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