Specifically, Ohio Amish country.
Now here in Central Ohio, especially when you get outside of Columbus, it's not uncommon to see Amish people out and about. And though their unique mode of dress and transport and of traveling strictly in groups of their own can make the Amish appear almost as strangers in a strange land, when you're in on their turf you're definitely the foreigner. In fact the Amish refer to non-Amish as "The English". So if we're the English that would make us foreigners, right? And in Amish country they don't like foreigners, as I found out a couple years ago when Tom and I spent a weekend in the town of Berlin in Holmes country, the heart of Ohio Amish country.
Not that the unfriendliness of the Amish to outsiders really matters. To them or to us. Because the population of Ohio loves Amish Country. Or at least half the population does. The female half. The weekend we were in Amish country the sidewalks of the main street were impassable with tourists and I'd say the tourist demographic was about 4 women to every man. And women don't flock to Berlin, Ohio because they love the Amish; it's because they love - nay, adore - the stuff the Amish make and sell to them. We are so hopelessly love-struck by hand-made Amish stuff that we don't care how the Amish treat us while they're selling us their stuff. And the Amish sure as shingles don't care whether we care how they treat us while they're selling us their stuff. So everybody's happy.
Everybody except me, that is. Because, as I learned on our trip, there's really only one reason to visit Berlin, and that's to buy Amish stuff; and, as fate would have it, I happen to have the unique genetic mutation of being the only woman in Ohio - maybe on the planet - who doesn't have the hots for Amish stuff. Subsequently I arrived in the town with no particular desire to acquire an Amish quilt, candle, table, rocker, bed, bonnet, basket, pie, bolt of fabric, jar of jam or wheel of cheese. Which meant I was in this town for the wrong reason. As soon as I got an eyeful of the main street lined with hand-made-Amish-stuff stores jammed with women this became exceedingly clear to me.
As well as to the Amish clerk in the first store I entered whose This-English-Isn't-Going-to-Buy-Anything-dar must have gone off as soon I walked through the door. The expression on her face as she stalked me through the store suggested that I was giving off the rankest compound of villainous smell that ever offended nostril. She didn't say, "Bye, have a nice day" when I left.
Which kind of turned me off to visiting any of the other shops full of Amish stuff I didn't want.
It turned out, however, that there was an Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center outside the town where we saw a very interesting and enjoyable pictorial presentation of Amish history painted on a 265-foot mural in the round accompanied by a 30-minte lecture by a very hospitable historian. There was only one other couple besides us at the lecture. I figured everybody else was back in town shopping.
Anyway, along with the lecture one could purchase a ticket for a bus tour of Amish country. As the other couple didn't opt for the tour Tom and I were the only ones on the bus, which was really more like a long van. Turned out it was meant to be a tour of the Amish crafts shops outside the town, which I thought was kind of funny.
When we said we didn't want to go shopping the driver offered to drive us around the countryside instead and show us some of the local farms. It turned out that the driver was an ex-Amish man who'd been born, raised, and even married in the Amish community and he was very willing to answer any questions we had about the Amish, which we had quite a few. So we learned a lot about the Amish from him. He said that the movie "The Witness" was a very realistic portrayal of the Amish - except for the part where the beautiful young Amish woman sleeps with Harrison Ford (no spoiler; even I knew that was going to happen from the first scene; Anyway, it was a really good movie and, according to our guide, a realistic one). The one question I really wanted to ask our guide was why he left the Amish community - he seemed well disposed towards the Amish - after all it was his job to bring people around to their stores - but I didn't want to overstep so I didn't.
At one point he drove past a leather shop and I recalled that Tom in fact needed a new belt, so I did ask our driver to stop there. Tom did buy two beautiful, sturdy belts perfectly sized for him by a sour-faced young Amish leather-craftsman who looked to be in his mid-twenties. As Tom handed the young man the money for the belts he made some little pleasantry to which the man responded with a sneer. But the guy did make great belts.
Our tour ended in the parking lot of - where else? - a little shopping mall back in town. What we really wanted to do at that point was eat lunch, but the two restaurants on the main street had lines snaking out the doors. Our accommodating driver then told us that we shouldn't go to those restaurants anyway, and gave us directions to Grandma's, the real Amish restaurant that the locals go to located a few miles outside the town.
To Be Continued...