When visiting Pennsylvania Dutch Country, the excitement of seeing horse-drawn buggies and real life Amish folk may quickly lead to a deeper curiosity about Amish and Mennonite cultures and their language. For instance, what does Pennsylvania Dutch mean?
Pennsylvania Dutch is a commonly used term to describe people and their culture, and is not a religion. Originally spelled Deutsche, which means German, Dutch refers to the language used by the initial settlers of Lancaster County who arrived in the early 1700s. Both the Amish and Mennonite are considered to be part of the Pennsylvania Dutch but interestingly, not all Pennsylvania Dutch are Amish or Mennonite.
The Mennonites were the first to arrive. In 1536, a Catholic priest from Holland named Menno Simmons started the Mennonites after he joined the Anabaptist movement. (Anabaptists believe in waiting for a person to be of adult age before they are baptized into the church.) Later on in 1693, a Mennonite preacher named Jakob Ammann, who had criticized Mennonites for drifting away from traditional standards, broke away from them and began the Amish who were a Protestant, antimodernist religious group. The Amish began to immigrate in the 1700s and thrived in their early settlements here in the United States.
Within both Amish and Mennonite cultures, there are different levels spanning from conservative to modern. The Amish religion however, remains very strict in its beliefs and will shun members who stray from following the Amish faith. Mennonites tend to be more flexible in their belief system and do not shun their members. Both cultures share similar historical backgrounds, while the Amish remain more conservative.
Most important to the Amish are God, family and work. The Amish follow the Ordnung, which is a list of rules that defines every aspect of Amish life. The Ordnung may vary within each Amish group, which explains why some Amish people can ride in cars and use electricity, while others cannot. In the book The Riddle of Amish Culture by Donald E. Kraybill, he writes, “the Amish blueprint for expected behavior, called the Ordnung, regulates private, public, and ceremonial life. Ordnung does not translate readily into English. Sometimes rendered as ordnance or discipline, the Ordnung is best thought of as an ordering of the whole way of life…a code of conduct, which the church maintains by tradition rather than by systematic or explicit rules. A member noted: the order is not written down. The people just know it, that’s all. Rather than a packet of rules to memorize, the Ordnung is the understood behavior by which the Amish are expected to live. In the same way that the rules of grammar are learned by children, so the Ordnung, the grammar of order, is learned by Amish youth. The Ordnung evolved gradually over the decades as the church sought to strike a delicate balance between tradition and change. Specific details of the Ordnung vary across church districts and settlements.”
While the Mennonites are also Anabaptists and share religious roots with the Amish, there are some differences. Mennonites mostly use churches, while Amish people hold worship services at different member’s homes, which rotates on a continuous basis. Mennonite children go to high school and even college, while Amish children go to school for only eight years.
The most noteworthy difference between Amish and Mennonite men is that Amish men will stop shaving once they get married. Women of both Amish and Mennonite cultures do not cut their hair and wear a head covering.
Today, the Amish live in more rural areas, dress plainly and avoid modern technology. Mennonites follow a similar lifestyle, yet some do have electricity in their homes and dress like regular members of the public. Both the Amish and Mennonites are pacifists by nature, however Mennonites are becoming more actively involved with social justice issues, while the Amish shy away from political activity.
Visitors who sincerely want to learn more about the Amish culture and wish to speak with them personally, may have luck with patronizing Amishowned businesses and speaking to the shopkeepers. Most Amish people enjoy talking to outsiders, as long as they feel comfortable and not made to feel like creatures on display.
In most Amish communities, shops and attractions are closed on Sundays. Visitors are encouraged to plan ahead and call first, to ensure a worthwhile trip. Enjoy your trip to Pennsylvania Dutch Country, and be sure to treat others as you wish to be treated. A statement from Discover Lancaster says it best, “While you talk and mingle with the Amish, please remember that they are not actors or spectacles, but ordinary people who choose a different way of life.”