Common Misconceptions About The Amish

Posted by Mose Shetler on


Here is a list of common misconceptions about the Amish I thought my readers might enjoy reading.

It is good for an outsider to understand the various sects of Amish because each sect does things a little bit different from the others. One can rarely make a blanket statement lumping all the Amish together. For example, “The Amish don’t allow their picture to be taken.” This is not true of all Amish sects so you can’t make a blanket statement about it. It would be more correct to say, “The Swartzentruber Amish and a few other sects of Amish frown upon having their pictures taken.” That would be a truer statement.

Common Misconceptions

    • Probably the biggest misconception of them all. This is not a time when parents turn their teenagers loose and “allow” them to go out into the world to drink, smoke, have sex, party all night and get a taste of the English world and then at some magical point the teenager/young adult has to choose if he/she wants to come back or not.
    • Rumshpringa is a term that means “running around” in Pennsylvania Dutch. In the English world terms like “hanging out” or “cruising” (back in the 80’s) are/were common terms used for what teenagers do when they get together. Rumshpringa simply means they are teenagers/young adults, dating, playing the field, doing whatever teenagers do. The English have made this term into something it is not. The majority of the Amish parents would never “allow” their teenagers/young adults to go experience another lifestyle so they can choose one or the other. Amish parents, for the most part, want their children to join the Amish church and be Amish. They are somewhat resigned to the fact that many of their teenagers/young adults will take some time to have some experiences in the English world before they join the church, but they are expected to join the church and be upstanding Amish people.
      • There are a few cases of Amish parents telling their teenager/young adult to not join the Amish church. In those cases, the mom or dad probably regrets having joined and is now living vicariously through their child(ren).
    Amish Don’t Pay Taxes
      • The Amish probably wish they didn’t have to pay taxes. They are Americans, living in America. They pay taxes. Most of them won’t draw social security or participate in what they call “government handouts.” I’ve noticed in the last few years that some of the Amish actually do draw social security, expressing, “Why not, it is our money, we paid it in while we worked so it isn’t really a handout.” As a whole, this is not typical of the Amish, but still the trend is opening up and in the next twenty years you will probably notice more and more Amish applying for and drawing their social security checks.
      • More Amish are sending their children to parochial schools and the kicker is, they pay their required income taxes just like everyone else does, support the public schools and end up paying for their parochial schools as well. The Amish aren’t bitter about this, they want to pay their way and do not begrudge the taxes they have to pay. They might not like it but they aren’t inclined to complain and cause a big stink about things they don’t like.
      • The Amish pay a horse and buggy tax here in Ohio. They have to disclose a head count of horses and buggies they own and pay so much per horse and buggy. This money goes to repair roads and even build roads. This makes up a lot of money for the state of Ohio and a lot of folks aren't aware of this added horse and buggy tax. 
      Amish and Technology
        • Cell phones. Can they or can’t they? It depends on the sect of Amish you belong to and if you own a business. Businessowners are allowed to have cell phones in many sects and districts of the Amish. The Old Order Amish seem to be taking it a step further and a lot of men and women now have cell phones and use them regularly. It is a matter of convenience. They like it. Some districts and sects still deny their members the right to have a cell phone, others look the other way and still others allow them.
        • Internet. If the Amish person has a cell phone it is likely they have a smartphone, but not always. Of course, if they have a smartphone they have internet but if not and they need to use the internet then they go to the library and use it there. It is a common thing to walk into a local library and see Amish people working at the computer.
      Animal abuse
        • This is another misconception that stirs up a lot of controversy and really there is almost nothing to it. The Amish are human beings and not perfect so just like you see cases of animal abuse in the news coming from the English world you might have a case or two of animal abuse in the Amish world. As a whole, the Amish do take care of their animals though and it isn’t fair to say that “all Amish abuse their animals when, in fact, the majority does not.
        • Horses are thin, underfed and overworked is a misconception. Their horses are “buggy horses” meaning they purchase horses that aren’t thick/heavy/big to begin with. Their horses are thinner, leaner and more muscular. In the land of health and wellness you would call these horses "fit." They can easily handle pulling a buggy up and down hills. 
          • There are some cases of abuse that we notice here locally. It is usually the youth of the Swartzentruber and Dan church sects of Amish who will overload the buggy with people and make the horse run up and down the road at a fast rate of speed. They've been videotaped and have been talked about but not sure if anyone is really doing anything about it. It seems to be sporadic, usually on the weekend and on a warm day. It is an act of rebellion that the community doesn't like but everyone hopes the horse gets to rest once it is back home. 
        • Dog kennels or “puppy mills” as some like to call them are a huge controversy at the moment. The trend is picking up, a great way to make extra income on the side. Why is the trend picking up? Because someone outside of Amish country is going to pet stores and buying puppies. Where there is a need, it will be filled by someone. The Amish have figured out this is a hot thing and have signed on, along with many other kennel owners who are not Amish.
          • In order to run a dog kennel and raise puppies to sell in the state of Ohio one must have kennel licenses. If you own more than five female dogs you have to get a kennel license. If you have a kennel license then you are also needing to get your kennel inspected on a routine basis. You have to comply with the rules. The Amish do this. Sure, sometimes a kennel owner misses something and the inspector calls them out. That owner has a certain amount of days to get his kennel in order or the inspector shuts them down. There isn’t much room for the Amish to abuse their dogs. If they comply with the state, they are good. If they don’t comply, they are shut down.

      I will discuss more topics such as vaccinations, beard cutting and insurance in my next article. If you have anything you are wondering about, please let me know and I will see if I can get you an answer. 

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