“The Amish are as varied as the flavors of ice cream,” someone once told me, and I believe it’s true. Some are very friendly to us “outsiders”, but some will avoid any contact, making you feel like you carry a contagion. I’ve received the right hand of fellowship and the cold shoulder. But to answer this often asked question, yes, the Amish do have English, sometimes called Yankee, Non-Amish friends. I’d like to share my story, and then give you some helpful ways to befriend an Amish person yourself.When I lived in Upstate NY, I was immediately drawn to the Amish and a friend of mine took me around and introduced me to a few families. They were friendly to her, but looked at me with suspicion. I was quite turned off at first; no one wants to be treated like one of the lepers in the movie, Ben Hur. And that’s how I felt for a while, and that the Amish were just plain stuck up.
But they had huge families and good advice on how to live off the land. So, I went back to an Amish woman my friend introduced me to, and asked for a recipe for granola. I told her I had four young children and needed cheap, healthy recipes. The woman started to beam; Amish women take great pride…oops….not a bad pride but a good one…in their culinary skills. So she gave me a few recipes. I wanted to learn to can and preserve, so she told me to go to Hershberger's Variety and ask Harry and Katie and further questions.So, I took my four little kids to visit Harry, and they loved the store, with the many coloring books, marbles, chalk, jacks, jump rope….I could go on. And Harry took a real shine to my kids. Actually, Harry and, Katie, his wife welcomed our soon to be weekly visits because Harry was a paraplegic. His story is told in Knit Together: An Amish Knitting Novel. It’s my first book, and it had to be about Harry. His buggy was hit as a young father and Amish built him a variety store so he’d have an income. He made quilts, saying “I can use my hands,” with a thankful heart. I became very close to this family, even being asked into the Amish co-op, by their sponsorship. (You can’t get in unless asked by an Amish person.)
Well, this relationship went on for a long while. I took Harry’s quilts to festivals and he even offered to teach my children German when they needed a second language, since they were homeschooled. But, we moved back home after fourteen years of being in New York. Back home to Western PA. And Harry and Katie’s bishop did not allow them to write to me. It was very upsetting, to say the least, since Amish are devoted writers.
But since there’s a settlement not far from my place in PA, I went off the beaten path in Smicksburg to meet some of the Amish. Going to their many stores where women sell baked goods to quilts, crafts, or have greenhouses, I found them extremely friendly. But, “Granny Weavers” (she’s a main character in Amish Knitting Circle and wishes to be anonymous) took me by surprise. Her warmth and openness was unique, and I loved her. (See post on “Inside Granny Weaver’s Quilt Shop) When I told her I was upset that Harry and Katie couldn’t write, she swatted at the air in disgust and said, “That’s ridiculous. I’ve had Englishers stay overnight in my house.” She went on to tell me she knew Harry and Katie through circle letters. And her granddaughter is married to one of Harry and Katie’s nephews. So she’s told me any news about my friends in New York over the past ten years. I’d tell her how my kids are doing and Harry and Katie I assume got word, through Granny.Back to this blog; taking a long trip down memory lane. Well, the more Amish I met in Smicksburg , like Lydia, (Katie Byler in Knit Together) it was like I was “in” since I was accepted as a trusted English friend by Harry and Katie and word got around. I can only compare it to being accepted into an Italian Club. If you’re born Italian, you’re in. If you’re recommended by an Italian and not Italian, you can still get in. So, the Amish in Smicksburg have opened up to me and befriended me because of a solid trusting relationship with Harry and Katie.
As you can see, there are different “orders” of Amish. The ones in New York are Troyer Amish, and not as friendly to outsiders, even though they have non-Amish friends. There are some groups like the Swartzentruber Amish, who my Amish friends feel are just “plain strange”. They’re as standoffish as they come. I wouldn’t get along with them either, since they don’t even plant flowers or keep their houses looking nice since it shows “vanity”. They also ignore PA health laws, letting their outhouses flow freely into PA State Lands or even sources of public drinking water.If you want to meet an Amish person, and possibly be their friend, here’s what I suggest. Erik Wesner was here on the blog, (see former posts) and I became more familiar with his website www.amishamerica.com He has a state-by-state list of Amish settlements that he keeps updated. Here’s the link. http://amishamerica.com/amish-state-guide/. You’ll be surprised how many states the Amish live in now. Go to one of the settlements and don’t go toa tourist store, but travel the back roads. You’ll see many signs to all kinds of craft stores, bakeries etc. Be a customer and give them your business. Visit a few times, maybe ask for a recipe at first since this is non-threatening. Then ask if they’d like to be pen pals or if they know of someone who would. The Amish love to write letters and have English pen pals. If you live close by, offer to drive them to Wal-Mart. Oh, how they love Wal-Mart. They also need rides to doctor’s appointments and are always so thankful.
If you have an Amish friend and can add to this post, please feel free. And if you become a trusted English friend by reading this post, I’d love to hear your story, and possibly post it. Please contact me through my main website at www.karenannavogel.com