The people you meet on the plane

You sometimes meet interesting people flying across the Atlantic, and this trip has to just about take the cake for it. On the way from Minneapolis to Amsterdam yesterday morning, my flight was carrying a group of Amish bound for Zurich.

Now, the Amish are perhaps another institution Americans are more familiar with then Europeans. They are not very large in number, but they have enough media presence that most people know who they are. The Amish are a Protestant religious group who, beyond just ordinary adherence to their faith, also live moderately segragated lives from the American mainstream. They speak a southern German dialect commonly but inaccurately called “Pennsylvania Dutch.” They wear a particular style of clothing, the men tend to wear long beards but not mustaches, and the women dress very conservatively and wear small bonnets, as commanded by Paul in the New Testament. They also don’t drive cars and restrict their access to quite a few other modern conveniences.

The Amish are widely seen as more isolated from the world than they really are, and their society is a great deal less idyllic than it is made out to be. Since I’m ethnically Mennonite (a related but more mainstream faith) and spent my college years in a heavily Amish area, I have a bit more experience with them than the average American and I can assure you that the Amish are good deal more connected to the world than they are made out to be. Quite a few leave their communities and join more mainstram life. There are drug problems, and I gather domesitic violence and child abuse are not rare. They are not subsistence farmers; they sell their crops for cash, put the money in banks and buy food at grocery stores. Apparently, roller blades are very fashionable in Amish communities right now, and I remember seeing a lot of horses and buggies at Taco Bell on Sunday afternoon.

Anyway, why would they be travelling to Zurich, and what does this have to do with Europe?
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