Few groups in America are as interesting as the Amish.
Many people still see them as a group of people terrified by modern society, but in fact their traditions are hundreds of years old, and rooted in their religious beliefs.
Here are 10 facts about the Amish you probably didn’t know as an “English” – that’s Amish for “outsider.”
1. Their buggies are pretty modern
Along with their rules about modern technology, the Amish are probably best-known for riding around in horse-drawn buggies. While these vehicles may look old-fashioned, most have modern additions.
Many states, counties, and towns with large Amish communities pass laws requiring headlights and turn signals on buggies. Some Amish drivers even install solar-powered dome lights inside their carts (more on that later).
2. They don’t trim their beards
Young Amish men will keep their faces clean-shaven until they’re married, when they’ll begin growing a beard. Because of the close association between men and beards in Amish culture, cutting one off is a serious offence. You can even be charged with a religious hate crime for chopping off an Amish man’s beard.
3. They’re strict about fashion
Amish rules about clothing promote modesty, and make the entire community resemble one another to emphasize equality under God’s eyes.
Men sport black suits, with no zippers or pockets, and use suspenders to hold up their pants. They’re usually seen in a straw or a felt hat, depending on the season.
Amish women wear plain dresses, sometimes with an apron on top. The fabric is always one solid color, and usually made from one material. Amish women also wear a bonnet, and in many communities the color of the bonnet has a meaning: black bonnets for single women, white for married women.
But the major difference between your wardrobe and an Amish woman is that most own just four dresses. “One for wash, one for wear, one for dress, and one for spare.”
4. Verne Troyer, AKA Mini-Me, was Amish
He’s also a good example of the health conditions that are common in Amish communities. Because they’re so isolated, the Amish have a very shallow gene pool, and it shows in their children’s health.
Despite being born with cartilage-hair hypoplasia, and only growing to 2’8″, Troyer says his family “never treated me any different than my other average sized siblings. I used to have to carry wood, feed the cows and pigs and farm animals.”
5. They break the rules as teens
At around age 16, every Amish teen enters a period of their life called “Rumspringa,” where they’re encouraged to experiment with the outside world. They break the Amish clothing rules, meet new friends, and party like regular teenagers.
But by the time they turn 21, they’re forced to make a choice: to be baptized into the Amish religion and confess their sins, or to leave the community behind.
6. They handle pregnancy a little differently
Amish women have to be pretty tough, because they handle pregnancy without our modern conveniences. There’s no ultrasounds or other helpful procedures, and most births are done at home, with the help of just a midwife.
Amish moms are also known for keeping up with chores and farm work during their pregnancy, and tend to have more kids than “English” moms, because the Amish don’t use birth control.
7. Their dolls are a little creepy
The Amish are known for their crafts, including intricate rugs, but they also have a famous tradition of making dolls with no faces.
The reason for the look is a religious ban against graven images, and also to show that we are all the same in God’s eyes. For the same reasons, the Amish don’t like to pose in pictures, and often ask tourists not to photograph their faces.
8. They use some technology
Despite what you may have heard, the Amish don’t have an outright ban on technology, and they aren’t afraid of the modern world. The reason for the ban on electricity and gadgets is to help the Amish live apart from the “English” society.
Many Amish communities have phone booths, the Amish accept rides in cars, and many use gas-powered generators to run fridges or water heaters. Some buggies even power their lights with solar panels. These exceptions are all allowed because they don’t use public utilities, which are associated with the outside world.
There’s even an Amish-approved computer, the Deskmate, which is a word processor and accounting tool that has no internet access.
9. Some Amish people age more slowly than regular folk
In the isolated Amish communities of Iowa, researchers have identified a genetic mutation that slows the aging process. The mutated gene, known as Serpinel, gives the Amish better metabolic health, a lower chance of developing diabetes, and prevents baldness. On average, Amish people with the gene live 10 years longer than those without it.
10. You can become Amish
Almost all members of the faith are born into it, but it is possible to become Amish. You would need to find work in and live with an Amish community for a year. You also need to worship with the Amish and study their church’s teachings. Then, the community can vote to let you join.
Supposedly, the process is so difficult for “English” folk that only a few dozen people have joined the faith. Oh, and you’ll also have to learn Pennsylvania Dutch, the dialect of German that most Amish people speak at home.