Most TV specials documenting people living in cloistered communities appeal to audiences by busting out the most shocking details of such people's private lives. (Indeed, the very title of TLC's upcoming Breaking Amish draws a connection from the experiences of their subjects with those of the miscreant leads of a well-known AMC series.) NatGeo's new series Amish: Out of Order is not especially sensationalistic in its treatment of a group of ex-Amish living in Columbia, Missouri, but it still did offer a few surprises to this English. Let's all learn together!
1. They might yearn less for cell phones than they do for bio classes.
Amish are educated today much as children were in the 19th century. They get a smattering of reading, writing, basic arithmetic, and enough German to read the Bible; science is not part of the curriculum. Past the equivalent of eighth grade, Amish go into what is essentially vocational training for whatever work they'll be doing the rest of their lives. So although the attention paid to Rumspringa gives the impression that the choice to leave the Amish tradition for good is motivated by hedonism and sloth, several of the young men profiled in the Out of Order pilot say they left their communities in order to pursue their education.
2. They have potty mouths.
Obviously, swearing is fun, and something we all enjoy doing once we're old enough not to risk getting our mouths washed out with soap for it. And though I would have expected ex-Amish still to be linguistically innocent as they were back home, it is not so. When Chris drives several hours back to his community to help facilitate the departure of a friend who ends up not going through with it, 16-year-old Chris has choice words for Michael. (They're bleeped, but I'm pretty sure those words are "chicken-ass motherfucker.") Is swearing the most important skill Amish need to learn in order to fit in with the English? Maybe. Related ...
3. "Worldly" is a bad word.
Since the Amish are meant to be focused on the next life, there's a prejudice against concerns or pursuits that won't outlast this one. Therefore, the sorts of things we English are into are dismissed by Amish as "worldly," which when you think about it is kind of a withering insult, and one I intend to add to my lexicon.
4. They might not necessarily maintain their pacifism.
At least, that's the case with Chris, 22, who's training to become a cage fighter.
5. Some of them have phones!
When Esther, 24, takes her English boyfriend back to visit the farm she grew up on, she shows him a narrow little building I assume is going to be an outhouse, but in fact contains a telephone! Evidently, in Esther's less restrictive community, phones are permitted, provided that they're not in the house, but are rather located at least 20 feet away in a separate structure. I had no idea the Amish prohibition against modern technology was ever so relaxed, though since this precedent has been set, I have a suggestion for one that the Amish might consider trying out next: orthodontia.
Tara Ariano could probably rock a bonnet. Or maybe a chin-strap beard.