My husband and I stopped at a harness shop. He needed to purchase some equipment for his own driving horses back home. What better place to buy harnesses than at an Amish harness shop?
Our first stop was in Intercourse, a small store that I have been to many times in the past to buy halters, Ivermectin, and even a new saddle. On the door hung a sign: NO TOURISTS. NO PHOTOGRAPHS. It’s an old, weather beaten sign that hasn’t changed over the past years. But every time that I see it, I have to wonder how much “persecution” did they have to endure before they put up that sign?
I think about my chapter in Hills of Wheat when Sylvia is at the farmers market and the tourist couple asks her private questions and tries to take her photograph. The invasion of privacy must be so frustrating. These people want to be left alone, to live life in the plain way and to worship God as they believe is proper. Yet, there is a romanticism about the Amish that invites curiosity. In many ways, it is this curiosity that probably permits the Amish to continue to live this way. Without the tourists, would they be able to sustain themselves?
We are willing to buy quilts, furniture, sheds, and foods that are “Amish-made” simply because we imagine the love and peace that went into making those products. If we, the tourists…the Englischers…didn’t buy those goods, what would happen to the Amish?
It’s a Catch-22, I suppose.
Once inside the harness shop, it’s easy to see that the older Amish man behind the counter stares at us, quickly trying to assess whether we are legitimate customers or nosy tourists. There are young Amish men working in the back of the store, fixing bridles and working with leather. The Amish man positions himself between us and them, protectively. Clearly, he hasn’t made up his mind yet.
But a few quick questions from my husband and my own comment about having bought a western saddle there seems to change the mood. Suddenly, we are welcomed friends and the man cannot do enough to help us, even referring us to another harness shop, buried deep within the Amish country and backroads, where we will be able to find the specialty product that we need.
Is that what makes the difference? The fact that we are not nosy tourists that makes the Amish switch from guarded to welcoming? It’s an interesting lesson for us.
Point 3: If we want to really get to know the Amish, we have to behave as the individuals that we are and not intrude on their privacy.