Life With a Host Family – An Excursion to Amish Country

Norman was also very fond of sports, in particular he favored playing tennis, which we soon realized downtown Nashville at the main tennis-center, where usually the famous Virginia Slims Tournament are held once a year. I felt rather proud playing on the center-court and was very surprised about Norman's excellent physical condition. He was in…

Norman was also very fond of sports, in particular he favored playing tennis, which we soon realized downtown Nashville at the main tennis-center, where usually the famous Virginia Slims Tournament are held once a year. I felt rather proud playing on the center-court and was very surprised about Norman's excellent physical condition. He was in real good shape and I had lots of problems to compete aptly.

What I liked most was to be taken to several meetings of the United Nations – a Greek / Roman building, which was located close to Vanderbilt. In fact Norman was an active member of its committee; therefore he invited me several times to some fairly interesting events, such as for example a lecture of the ambassador of the UN who actually discussed, about the political situation in Iran and Iraq. Another topical highlight was a presentation of a Russian speaker who summarized the bad conditions in his country.

Mostly I appreciated the fact that the speakers did not avoid to talk turkey when presenting their issues to the public.

Another field of subject he focused upon was going on excursions to the outskirts of Nashville. However, the most exciting trip still had to come. When my sister and her friend Marianne arrived in Nashville, we briefly met at the international coffee hour in McTyeire and spontaneously made up our mind to head for Lawrenceburg, a place south of Nashville.

This journey bought to excel everything what I had experienced so far: we were ready to drive to Amish country, an unknown and rigid world. The area around Lawrenceburg was characterized by remote farms and small market towns. The Amish, or also called Anabaptists completely cut themselves off from the “English” and live their plain life, molded by carefully observed principles imposed upon them 300 years ago by the founder, Jakob Ammann.

Approaching the Amish was and still is a delicate matter; we should not take pictures at all – according to the advice of Norman – in order not to deprive them of any of their culture, since they were used to live in their own world, being excluded from any modern influence as far as possible. The Amish reject the use of new technology, since it is not expressly mentioned in the Bible. In their homes you will search in vain for electrical appliances like washing machines and refrigerators, let alone radios, TV, and phones. There's no electricity at all – water is going to be pumped into the house via pin wheels and then heated by gas.

When we got even closer, we could already detect horse drawn or mule drawn carts by which the fields are tilled; the use of power machinery is not allowed either; only for the purpose of transport the Amish may utilize a traction engine.

You are probably familiar with the picture of Amish people driving one horse buggies, which look like an old-fashioned vehicle at first glance; now it is dominated by the gloomy black of the plain carriage. The passengers obviously trying to hide from outside views are also dressed in black. Simple dark clothing is generally stipulated: that of the men may have buttons that of the women only pleats. Orange and yellow colors are forbidden. Married men are wearing beards, which we have sighted a lot.

When we finally entered one of the villages, a few children and an old man came across us; they were just consumed with field work. Now the really funny thing happened. Marianne, who joined my sister, began to start chatting with them in her native dialect, which had her origin in Offenburg, a town close to Strasbourg, where she was born.

All of a sudden the fear of them was gone and they surrounded our VW van indulging in a lively conversation. The Amish basically speak “Pennsylvania Dutch”, a mixture of German dialects and English, which people from the Palatinate would probably best be able to understand. As a consequence, the ice was broken and we had even been invited to their home, where a woman – wearing small round glasses and a whitish head coverage to protect from the sun – friendly offered us self-made bread and cakes.

Having been lucky to move into this ancient world, we had been provided with invaluable facts, too: For example, the Amish have no homes of worship, ie they gather together in a farmhouse with men and women separated from each other; however, a hierarchical structure does not exist. Weddings are usually celebrated on a Tuesday or Thursday in November. Having lots of children is considered a blessing; the average amount of kids is about 8-10 per family. The Amish population has doubled within the last 20 years. Nowadays it is possible to encounter Amish groups in about 20 American states. Once you are born as Amish does not necessarily mean that you have to remain a member of the Amish. This is due to the fact that the children will not be baptized, ie they should decide on their own, if they like to maintain this way of life. However, once they have chosen to be Amish around the age of 18-20, they are automatically chained to the rules and regulations of the community, which is – together the family and the farm – one of the substantive values, whereas career, power , and money are looked upon as irrelevant aspects of life. In addition, the Amish practice non-aggression at all. They refuse to serve in the military and they reject to swear an oath.

Listening to the Amish, we felt so happy and satisfied, also recalling the famous movie “The Only Witness”, which was filmed in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. This movie depicts the clash of the Amish with the outside world. There is in fact not one Amish among the actors, of which Harrison Ford is the best-known, and not among the extras either.

Unfortunately, we had to call it a day late afternoon and leave this extraordinary site, being fully aware of the fact, that this visitation has been the event of the century. On our way back to Nashville, Norman and us lived recaptured our time forging already plans how to spend the last day with Gaby and Marianne.

For this purpose Norman and Mary gratefully arranged a common dinner at their house. Mary prepared an original southern dish and we had a great time together, pondering about American culture, politics, religion, and my personal development so far. Gaby and Marianne were somehow surprised by the spiritual religious procedure before starting to eat; this was mostly due to Mary's profession. Norman, on the other hand, denies such kinds of rituals and does not seem to be a friend of the church; he simply prefers to question most of it and likes to be very critical. I should not forget to mention his marked interest in German literature and poems, which he collected quite a bit up till now. That was rather impressive to us, since we were able to exchange many intercultural thoughts and ideas.

It is a real pity, that I could not get a hold of my host family, after I finished my studies at Vanderbilt, although I tried several times to touch base with them within the last 10 years.
Any the life with a host family associated to the most exciting and valuable experiences during my stay abroad. There is no use crying over spilled milk.

After I had successfully got accustomed to the American way of life now, my friend Rose, who worked for international affairs at Vanderbilt suggested me, to think about the concept of a host family for the next half a year. She firmly believed that I was perfectly tailor for this new experience and chose a couple, that had already proved to be excellent for this purpose. Those two gentle persons turned out to become sustainable companions through the summer season.