The Juncture of Three Cultures

Ever since I’ve gotten to know Anna Miller, the young woman who lives with us, I’ve said that the difference between her Swartzentruber community and the Amish community where I came from is about as great as the difference between my community and the outside world. In fact, Anna’s group called anyone who is not Swartzentruber “sorta Amish.” When I see Anna dressed in the clothes of her community, I completely agree.

On Sunday, we had company for brunch to get people together who know Anna. She at some point went and changed into her Amish clothing to show them what she looks like in them. When I saw her “kopp” or head covering, I was inspired to get out the one I’ve had ever since I left my Amish community in 1980. Once I had it starched and ironed, Anna and I took turns pleating it. Then Anna tried it on, and I was amazed how different she looks in my kopp compared to hers. You can see for yourself. (Of course the clothes in the second photo isn’t quite fair… we don’t actually have a Geauga County dress that fits her.) But the way her face is framed makes her look so different in these photos.

Anna in Swartzentruber clothes


Anna in a Geauga Amish kopp

And just to see another contrast, below is a photo of Anna without a kopp with that beautiful head of hair she has. Maybe it’s just me, but she looks like three different people in these three photos.

Anna in “English” clothes

This makes me realize how, given our natural inclination, clothing is an outward expression of who we are. I tend to be pretty plain and I don’t pay much attention to the latest styles and fashions. I suppose I don’t want to conform to the arbitrary fashions of the modern world any more than I wanted to conform to Amish dress when I was still in that culture. My clothing shows how I’ve not completely left behind the plain thinking I grew up with, and I also haven’t fully embraced the “English” culture — at least not in terms of fashion. Perhaps this mirrors my constant search for how to bring together the two worlds in which I have lived.

Seeing Anna in clothing from the two worlds in which she’s lived is helpful in showing the cultural divide that she traversed — it is pretty amazing. And she did it. She is a courageous woman.

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7 thoughts on “The Juncture of Three Cultures”

  1. It may seem hard to believe for many, but I absolutely agree that there is more cultural difference between Swartzentruber Amish and Old Order Amish than the OO Amish to the outside world. It takes an enormous amount of courage to make such a transition as study of outside beliefs and culture is not possible until after you have made the change. May God direct your life in your endeavors as you seek him.

  2. Saloma,
    Last Saturday I spent the day visiting Amish friends in Angelica NY. As I sat and talked with my friend, his wife was pleating her kopp getting it ready for church the next day. Sure looked like a lot of work.

  3. I enjoyed the photos. I found the following comment interesting: “…the difference between her Swartzentruber community and the Amish community where I came from is about as great as the difference between my community and the outside world.” I understand the fact that going from one group of plain people to another involves a certain amount of culture shock, but I find it amazing that you would call it equal to that of joining the outside world. Granted, my experiences have only been with Mennonites and not Amish, but I have found that there is a particular mind set or worldview that is the same amongst all people of “plain” origins that is not fully understood by those who come from the outside world. I’m fascinated by your comment. It would definitely be interesting to hear about the differences in worldviews between the various Amish settlements. I live a little over an hour’s drive from the Amish in Berne, Indiana, and a former-Amish friend from Shipshewana once told me that the language differences were so great between the two groups that it was easier to just speak English with each other.

  4. I have a hard time seeing the difference in the first 2 because of the different backgrounds and the second one is closer up. She does look a bit younger in the 3rd picture.

  5. In the third photo Anna looks like a free young woman. In the first two she looks rather old. Is that the point?
    By the way, Saloma, your little girl picture on the front of your book is just so sweet and adorable.

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