Last week I told you how I went on holiday to rural Indiana and the mind-boggling first impressions of the town of Warsaw with its Trump bumper stickers and school playground used as a somewhat heavy-handed anti-abortion protest.
But even though I can’t imagine something like that existing in the UK, it was not representative of the town, which was full of lovely, friendly people who loved our accents and made us welcome.
Though of course they might just have liked us because we were in the company of our unaborted child.
That one Catholic school did not represent the state, even if it made a helluva first impression. A very different impression of Indiana comes from its large Amish community. We went to visit Amish Acres, Historic Farm and Heritage Centre to see how these often-mocked people really live.
To be honest, I am one of the people who has mocked them (though affectionately). Back in the 90s on the BBC2 show, Fist of Fun, we did a sketch about a group who liked the Amish style, but disliked not being able to use more recent technology. So they set up their own branch whose cut off point was 1981 (arguing it was only after that date that really modern things began to be invented). It was obviously an excuse to do lots of mildly cheap bits of nostalgia comedy about Kerplunk and space hoppers, but it also made a good point about the arbitrary nature of deciding what counted as “modern” and what was “traditional”.
In reality the Amish do struggle with working out what is old and new and how to interact with the modern world. Bicycles used to be forbidden, but now they are allowed (because they are not that modern now?) and some Amish businesses require a phone, but they tend to locate them in an inconvenient place on the edge of their farm so they are difficult and troublesome to use.
What’s really fascinating is to to see a community existing in a country that likes to think of itself as a melting pot, who refuse to melt in. It’s like a foreign country within a foreign country. It makes you realise that rather than other people being strange, we’re all strange. We just accept our own way of life as normal, not realising how crazy we seem to outsiders. Let’s face of it, we all adhere to some past laws and traditions, even if those rules were written for people living in very different circumstances.
The Amish have stayed mostly true to their forebears against all the temptations of the modern world. They don’t have buttons (except occasionally) or moustaches because their ancestors in Germany were persecuted by men with big brass buttons and extravagant moustaches. It seems odd to blame the buttons and the moustaches, but then people seem to let moustaches take the blame for loads of stuff as I discussed in my stand up show “Hitler Moustache”.
The Amish don’t have insurance because they see that as a form of gambling and anything that happens is God’s will. Which to the rest of us seems crazy. But if something bad happens, the Amish come together and rebuild burned barns or earn money for medical procedures via bake sales. How the Amish must laugh at our lack of community.
Humans generally like a list of rules that they have to abide by, regardless of how the world has changed (Second Amendment anyone?). The Amish aren’t hurting anyone else with their decision to stick to rigid ancient laws. Which is a rarity.
I really enjoyed historian Kate Williams (@KateWilliamsme) “live” tweeting the events of the Great Fire of London. It really brought home the scale, the loss and how surprisingly long the fire burned. I started to question whether it might still be going. It would certainly explain why London traffic is so bad. I am going to bury my parmesan in my garden just in case. If you don’t get the reference, read Kate’s timeline!