America's Amish communities live a
lifestyle that has changed little since the 18th century; but in other
respects, they are showing other Americans the way forward into the
► See below
for vocabulary explanations
roadsign is, to say the least, unexpected ; driving through a
prosperous rural part of North America, the last thing you expect to
see beside the highway is a yellow diamond roadsign with a horse and buggy
in the middle! Watch out for horses and buggies on the road? What is
this? Do they exercise racehorses here, or what?
You keep an eye open for horses; for two
miles you see nothing, then all of a sudden, look! Coming towards you
on the other side of the road, two black horse-drawn buggies! As they
go by, your surprise turns to disbelief; what's going on? Are they
making a movie about eighteenth century America? The men and the women
in the buggy look like they jumped out of a novel by Fennimore Cooper.
Then, another mile and things
get even stranger; beside a neat-looking farm-house, there is a whole
line of buggies. In the door of the house, half a dozen men in black
coats, and with long beards, are talking while some women dressed in a
curiously ancient fashion are sitting on a bench. Is this 2015 or 1715
You drive on, wondering what has
happened to this part of the United States of America? Have you driven
and without realizing it, gone back 300 years,
or is it the people you've just seen who're stuck in a time warp?
A quick enquiry at the nearest gas
station gives you the answer; you are in Amish country, and the men and
women you have just seen are Amish, part of a strange religious group
that settled in America in the 18th century, and much of whose
lifestyle has changed little since then.
If you had seen the movie "Witness", you
would have already known something about the Amish, how their community
is strictly religious and self-contained, how Amish people do without
the essentials of modern-day life such as electricity and cars, and how
they do not mix with people outside of their own community. It is
virtually unheard of for anyone to become an Amish, who was not born an
Amish. This is about all that most Americans know about Amish people,
unless, that is, they actually live near them and come across them in
daily life. So who are they?
In brief, the
Amish are members of an
ultra-protestant religious movement that first came to America from the
upper Rhine valley over three hundred years ago, and have kept their
traditions and lifestyles. They are very law-abiding
and their community is one in which crime is
almost, though not entirely, inexistent; Amish families live strict
lives, following the same code of morals as their ancestors.
In a sense, they are indeed stuck in a time warp.
Yet the most remarkable things to note
about the Amish are not their quaint lifestyles and their home-made
clothes, but the expansion of their community, its
social cohesion, and their recent adoption of "green" technology,
including wind-power and solar energy. Although they work the land
using traditional horse-drawn machines, and use no chemical
fertilizers, their agriculture is - interestingly - among the most
productive in North America !
While white America is, on the whole, a
population that is stable in numbers, the Amish community is growing
faster than virtually any other community in the USA. In the 40 years
from 1950 to 1990, the number of Amish in Lancaster County,
Pennsylvania, the original and still the largest Amish community in the
USA, grew by exactly 400%, all by natural growth, not through the influx
of immigrants. The Amish do not keep statistics, but it is fairly safe
to assume that the total Amish population of the United States in the
year 1900 was no more than a couple of thousand; today the Old Order
Amish, those who have kept up the strictest traditions of their
religion and society, number over 100,000, spread in communities across
the eastern US and Ontario. The total number of Amish living in the
United States in 2011 was estimated at over 260,000.
Amish, who reject
modern medicine and all forms of birth control, have some of the
biggest families in America, with an average of over six children per
family. Few abandon their community.
Amish teenagers tend to be as normally
rebellious as any other American teens, until they are baptized
Until this happens, they are not obliged to conform to the strict Amish
codes of dress, hairstyle and behavior, and many make the most of this
liberty; before baptism, Amish teenagers behave much like other
American teens; up to 30% of older unbaptized Amish teens own
cars, and 40% have drivers licences! Amish teens also enjoy baseball,
dancing and even alcohol! Amish baptism
takes place between the ages of 16 and 21, sometimes even later.
youth working at the family sawmill
The fact that only about 18% of young Amish abandon the austere way
of life of their ancestors is not the only reason why the community is
growing so fast. Other factors include increasing
and higher standards of living.
As for machines and
modernity, Amish families do not live a primitive life; while they
reject the use of mains
the home, they accept the
use of kerosene and efficient wood-burning stoves
of light and heat and comfort in their homes; and they are certainly
of touch with
technology. It was estimated that
in 2007, 80% of homes in some Amish
communities were using wind or solar power ! In this respect, far from
being stuck in the past, they can be considered as one of the most
advanced communities in the world !
As for leisure, it is not one of their major
they do not have televisions or radios, they have other social
activities; yet Amish leaders actually fear that the
development of a cult
of leisure could rapidly destroy their society.
Contrary to popular belief, the Amish
are not cut off from the rest of America; like any farmers, they need
markets for their products and suppliers
for their goods; some work for non-Amish employers. Many have non-Amish
neighbors. They know what is going on in the rest of the United States,
and like many other Americans, they are alarmed by many modern
This too explains why most young Amish opt
to carry on with the hard-working and strict way of life of their
community. Though Amish life is hard in many ways, it is free of most
of the pressures and problems of the rest of American society. As long
as this lifestyle is not forced into radical change, many of
those who have been brought up in it will continue to see it as
an attractive option.
is pronounced "ar-mish" -
small carriage - time-warp: something not in the correct
age - do
not have - law-abiding:
the law - influx: arrival - baptism: Christian ceremony of
initiation - life-expectancy:
age that people live - purpose: reason - mains electricity: electricity from the public
system - stove: enclosed fire - out of touch: not in contact - cult: tradition - supplier: a source, person who supplies
- opt: choose
Technology and the Amish:
Television, radios, telephones in the home, home computers, 110 volt
electricity (the standard voltage in North America).
Communal telephones, diesel generators, electric woodworking and
metalworking equipment, electric fences, solar power, wind power
Horses are the
motive power in Amish farms
note how the children are not wearing shoes
Replace all the
prepositions in this extract from the article.
The roadsign is, to say the least, unexpected; driving ________ a
prosperous rural part ________ North America, the last thing you expect
________ see ________ the highway is a yellow diamond
roadsign ________ a horse and buggy ________ the middle!
Watch ________ ________ horses and buggies ________ the road? What is
this? Do they exercise racehorses here, or what?
You keep an eye open ________ horses;
________ two miles you see nothing, then all ________ a
sudden, look! Coming ________ you ________ the other side ________ the
road, two black horse-drawn buggies! As they go ________ , your
surprise turns ________ disbelief; what's going ________ ? Are they
making a movie ________ eighteenth century America? The men and the
women ________ the buggy look like they jumped ________ ________ a
novel ________ Fennimore Cooper. Then, another mile and things get even
stranger; ________ a neat-looking farm-house, there is a whole line
________ buggies. ________ the door ________ the house, half a dozen
men ________ black coats, and ________ long beards, are
talking while some women dressed ________ a curiously ancient fashion
are sitting ________ a bench. Is this 2015 or 1715 ?
You drive ________ , wondering what has
happened ________ this part ________ the United States of America? Have
you driven ________ a time-warp, and ________ realizing it, gone back
200 years, or is it the people you've just seen who're stuck ________ a
Using information from
article, imagine an interview with Johan, an 18 year-old Amish youth.
The interview should cover the subjects of fashion, leisure,
technology, America, and traditions. It should include questions
starting: What ? Why? How often?
Do you? Have you? Do you think? Why?, plus as many
more questions as you want.
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