By Kevin Williams
Wow, first, as an aside I really struggled with the "dos and don'ts"....is it "do's and don'ts" or "dos and donts"....all of it looks funny and I am glad I am not the only one that thinks so, style manuals can't even agree. See here.
AMISH ETIQUETTE - With nice weather here and a full spring and summer before us in the USA, I thought it might be a good thing to go over some basic Amish etiquette when visiting Amish Country. Most of this stuff should be pretty basic, but you'd be surprised how often it is not.
EXPLORE! When visiting Amish communities, don't just follow the tourism brochures, instead go off the main roads. If you see a little gravel road angling off into the countryside, follow it. If you want to experience Amish culture, you'll get your best chance getting off the beaten path where you'll see colorful laundry on the line, Amish schoolhouses, sawmills, and buggies going about their business. And this is transitions into our next "do"
VISIT HOME-BASED BUSINESSES: If you see a handwritten sign advertising eggs for sales or fresh tomatoes or homegrown sweet corn, by all means, don't be shy, stop by! This is capitalism and it's most basic level. An Amish person has eggs to sell, you need some eggs, so go close the deal. You'll be helping an Amish family and you'll get some awesome eggs and you might strike up a conversation and make a new friend in the process. And you'll get to see an Amish homestead, this is the single best way, in my opinion, to experience Amish Country.
BRING CASH: If you plan to visit an Amish bakery or bulk food store or roadside produce stand, try to make sure you have good, old-fashioned cold hard cash with you. The vast majority of Amish don't take credit cards. While most take checks, it can take forever for them to deposit them. Just bring cash and that'll make things easier on everyone.
DRESS RESPECTFULLY: This is a tricky one. I've found that how you dress doesn't matter to many Amish, but some groups - perhaps about one-third - do care. And it's not always who you'd think. Sometimes the most conservative Amish don't really care, but the more progressive, evangelical ones do. I generally don't wear shorts to Amish Country. For me, I'll wear khakis or jeans. No flip-flops. Modesty is appreciated by many Amish and I've seen signs in Amish businesses saying just that. I doubt if you wear flip flops and a tank top that you'll be tossed out of an Amish establishment, but why not just make everyone comfortable and strive for some modesty?
PHOTOGRAPH RESPECTFULLY: Times have changed. Most Amish are aware that you have a camera in your phone and that the expectation of privacy has changed. Still, be courteous. Use basic Amish etiquette. Assume that any Amish person you see does not want to be photographed and go from there. Photographing buggies, barns, and laundry are generally fine. If you want to photograph an Amish person out plowing is field and you are from a distance and can't capture the person's face, most Amish people are fine with that.
SHOOT THE BREEZE: The Amish are a very transactional culture. Time truly is money. Don't go into an Amish furniture store or harness shop or quilt depot and start shooting the breeze, asking a bunch of questions, or just generally nagging. If you are going to make a purchase, then fine, visit accordingly and with respect to the merchant's time. But if you aren't going to buy anything, don't buttonhole the proprietor for an hour telling them about your kids, your gout, or anything else. Let them get back to work.
PHOTOGRAPH DISRESPECTFULLY: If you are shooting a photo of someone plowing their field at a distance, that's fine, but don't stop an Amish couple who are on their way to put groceries in their buggy and ask them to pose. Not cool. And this happens more often than you'd think.
TURN YOUR HEADLINES ON BRIGHT AT NIGHT: The high beams spook the horses and blind the drivers, so just use regular beam.
DON'T LOITER AT SCHOOLS OR APPROACH CHILDREN - Amish children can be adorable and their schools charming and quaint. But would you want a stranger approaching your kids and asking to take photos or just talking to them? No. So, if you want to talk to an Amish person, talk to the adults and if you want photos of an Amish school, wait until it is out for the day. Don't pull into the drive of a school filled with students and start shooting photos.
BE RUDE - Seems so basic, but just be polite. Golden rule. Don't go traipsing through an Amish person's flowerbeds or peer into their windows or crash their church services. Be polite.