Stereotypes. Who Are the Amish?

Well, there are plenty of answers floating around the world about who the Amish are, such as this USA Today article.

But most of us get our stereotypes about the Amish from sources other than national news articles. Sources like Amish novels, gossip, or tourist attractions.

Are the Amish the people with air-brushed faces on the covers of romance novels? Do they preach a religion of works and neglect salvation? Are the Amish best symbolized by apple pie and mashed potatoes and peanut butter spread?

It irritates me how people develop stereotypes, but I guess I’m no better. I was in Paris for something like half a day a decade and a half ago. Since then I’ve described it as a hot, rude, crowded place with bad food.

Why Did I Develop a Stereotype?

Well, the four of us friends shot under the English Channel via the Chunnel Train, and must have landed in Paris mid-day. We tried to ask train station staff where to go to get to the Eiffel Tower. The staff stared back at us, as if the English words hung in the air above them like the guillotine. Oooooh! Do not dare go to Paris and speak English! I see….pardon us for not speaking French.

We finally found a train to the Eiffel Tower on our own. I remember a mass of humanity part way up the tower and someone yelling “Pickpocket! Pickpocket!” After all the time we spent at the tower, mostly waiting in line, we stumbled to a cafe.

Now what place is better known for food than France? We were hungry and hot. I think I ordered something American like chicken fingers just because I didn’t want to risk anything. That turned out to be an excellent move. I have a photo of my friend Charlene staring back at a cold round of duck pate (liver) looking up at her from the center of a nearly barren plate.

So, all that rambling to say that I have a very bad impression of Paris. It’s hot, crowded, the people are rude, and the food is bad.

Is this true?

Hmmmm.

It might have been true of that one day in 2003, or some days since then. But it’s hardly a stand-alone truth.

Four Things Tom Kirkman Found About the Amish

That’s how we build stereotypes. We base our opinions on slices of our own experience. To us, that settles it. Paris is forever hot and rude. The Amish are forever uneducated and legalistic.

I loved writing the Kirkman book, titled From White House to Amish: A Story Inspired by the Life of Thomas E. Kirkman. Tom and Simon’s story totally catches you off guard. It blows up the idea that the Amish are ignorant and unspiritual. Sure, some of them might be, like people in any group. But it isn’t a stand-alone truth.

Here are some of the things that Tom found about the Amish.

  • An Amish man led Tom to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
  • The same Amish man changed Tom’s life by showing that it is possible to live out your beliefs.
  • Tom’s Amish and Mennonite contacts provided him with friendships for the rest of his life.
  • The Bible became a goldmine for Tom. His Bible is well-worn and well-marked.

None of these things were about Amish cooking or Amish romance novels or Amish witchcraft. After the pressures, politics, and hypocrisy of Washington, Tom found an authentic Christian Amish man living out his beliefs. This changed Tom’s life.

Tom’s Bible

Excerpt: From White House to Amish

This excerpt from the book cuts in where Tom is meeting with former president of General Motors, Ed Cole. The former president looks over Tom’s design, and then finds out that he is Amish.

Research note: both Tom and the other man who went with him have passed away, along with Ed Cole. I searched the archives of the Checkers Motor Corporation, but found nothing helpful. So I was on my own writing this scene.

“I still don’t understand how an Amish boy grows up and designs this,” Cole said. “I really mean no offense, and I don’t know much about the Amish. I read an article about them a few years ago. I thought they planted gardens and drove buggies.”

“Oh, we do,” Tom said. “But that’s not all we do.” He paused, trying to connect with Ed Cole as a fellow human being. “I didn’t grow up Amish. I’ve worked in the White House, and I’ve worked for the CIA. But the most memorable person I’ve ever met was Simon Gingerich, an Amish man who taught me what it means to be born again and have a relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s why I’m Amish now.”

Ed Cole’s mouth dropped slightly ajar. Tom always remembered him that way, sitting at the desk staring back at Tom, his J.B. West hair blending with the framed art on the wall behind him. Certificates and awards from General Motors littered the wall, along with several huge maps. All the power and prestige that a man could hope for, represented on that wall.

And yet, in Ed Cole’s expression, Tom sensed an odd emotion: envy. Ed Cole was envious of Tom’s peaceful, simple life. 

From White House to Amish: A Story Inspired by the Life of Thomas E. Kirkman. Coming October 2020

Got any stereotypes of your own?

It’s natural to have them. But every now and again it is useful to consider where we got them. And here’s a shocker. novels, tourist traps and gossip usually don’t give the full picture.

Listening to others does! This is one of the best ways to break our stereotypes. Listen to someone who likely can give you a different side of the story. If you missed the last two blog posts, check them out here: 11 Tips to Becoming a Good Listener and How I Made Mary Mad and Six Other Listening Mistakes.

I’m pumped: From White House to Amish releases in October!

Tom as a young man
A drawing of the Kirkman rotary engine

14 thoughts on “Stereotypes. Who Are the Amish?”

  1. I eagerly await the release of your book! Sounds dandy for an early Christmas.

    Oh, and the nougat I splurged on for dessert at that French Cafe was most delectable as I recall. Thankfully it was washing down crepes instead of pâté. The unpleasantness I recall was the sweltering heat as we waiting in queue to get into the tower (alongside the disdain for the non linguistic).

    1. Katrina Hoover Lee

      Thanks for that Rosanna. I was writing “from the hip” and thinking I should go verify what I’m saying! It’s good to hear that you have fewer bad memories of Paris.

  2. Ooohhh! I love sneak peaks! Can’t wait to read this book.

    I think the longer I live the more I become aware of sterotypes, maybe because I have more experiences to show the my first impressions were false. I love your reminders to listen more.
    Gina

    1. Katrina Hoover Lee

      That’s a good point Gina – I hope stereotypes control us less as we get older. It might depend in part on how much we allow ourselves to hear different perspectives!

  3. Finding oneself stereotyped inaccurately is unsettling……and hopefully an incentive to give others a chance before wedging them into a box they don’t belong in! Golden rule stuff, you know😏 I’m excited to read this book!

    1. Katrina Hoover Lee

      Thanks for your interest Gertrude – it is still in the editing stage and should be out in October. I will keep you updated!

  4. We spent much time in the 24 hours we were in Paris searching for and standing in line for bathrooms. Never had so many awkward bathroom moments in 24 hours anywhere else!

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