Posted by: Rachel | August 15, 2011

A tale of two Cultures

I consider myself in a unique position of being close to two cultures that are very similar and also very different. I grew up in the Amish church and my husband’s parents are Wenger Mennonite, or formally known as Groffdale Conference.

A word to the wise: These are my observations, not necessarily how it is in every family, but what I have found in my seven plus years of observing the Wengers and 26 years of being/knowing the Amish.

What amazes me are the tiny differences. Things you just don’t think about from looking at them casually. I was reminded of one of these differences again on Friday night. Our neighborhood had gotten together for a mountain pie supper. Most of the neighbors are Wenger and the rest are some variation of Mennonites. But last fall a young Amish couple moved into the house down the road and this was the first time they were at one of the neighborhood get-togethers. After everyone was there we had a silent prayer and then people started to get their food. And here is one of the biggest differences: With the Amish the men would always, always go first to eat, even when it’s served cafeteria style. With the Wenger the men will eat first when it’s a sit-down formal meal where not everyone fits at the table at the same time, but when it’s cafeteria style it’s a mingling of people. Women with children, the hungriest men, older children, basically whoever wants to, will get food. There is no definitive order. And so I felt as if I should tell this young Amish woman that the same “rules” do not apply here, because I remember how strange it all seemed to me at first. Personally, I like the Wenger way better in this situation.

The next example is one that took me a long time to figure out. When Amish youth are in their rumspringa years they have close relationships between boys and girls. Not as in boyfriend/girlfriend but just friends.Not so with the Wenger.

To explain this I will tell a story my sister-in-law M (she’s Wenger) once said. Her and her  friends were going to a hockey game somewhere. They thought one of their boyfriends was going to be there but for some reason he wasn’t there. And so M was saying how there were Amish youth there and how there would be ONE girl talking to FIVE boys or sometimes ONE boy and LOTS of girls, and they were just AMAZED. Her and her friends couldn’t imagine doing that. Like how strange. And I thought to myself, ‘that’s not strange.’ And then M said how they wanted to go ask the boys they knew (Wenger boys) where this boyfriend was but none of them had the nerve to go ask them. And if I remember the story correctly her and her friends left without ever finding out where the boyfriend was because NO-ONE had the guts to approach a group of guys and ask them. And I thought to myself, “YOU are STRANGE, they are guys. Not strangers even. And they won’t bite. And jeepers creepers, it is not illegal or immoral to talk to a guy who is not your boyfriend.’ I’m sure you are just shocked to discover that I find the Amish way to be better in this situation. Crikeys, if I felt the way my sis-in-law and her friends did, I would have missed out on a lot of friendships in my life. I have two brothers and no sisters and so I always felt more comfortable bantering with guys than with women.

When I was growing up we ate applesauce with our cooked food, the meat and potatoes. But Earl’s family is typical of most Mennonites and they eat applesauce with their cake. Cake and applesauce. What a gross combination.

If I had to choose whether to get married Amish or Wenger, a Wenger wedding would win, no questions asked. Amish weddings are definitely special, but way too much work, too many people, too big, too long. I mean, it’s an all day affair lasting till nearly midnight. But have a Wenger wedding and the guests should all be gone soon after the evening meal. I got a headache from our short wedding, if I had gotten married Amish I would have had to end the festivities at 2 o’clock due to a migraine. But Wenger weddings, they are so relaxed. When Earl’s brother got married they actually spent some time sitting on the porch in the afternoon, just by themselves. This may not seem strange if you don’t know much about Amish weddings but an Amish bride and groom are never alone. The bride doesn’t even go to the bathroom by herself. They are constantly surrounded by people.

The first time I was at a Wenger wedding I thought it was actually very low-key, like, is this all there is? You mean we don’t stay til the wee hours of the night? And we don’t have to help prepare for two weeks ahead of time? Seriously when Earl’s sister got married the family didn’t all go help prepare the day before. I don’t know if anyone went to help. Amish weddings require dozens of people the day before to prepare for the shindig. The only reason I would ever want to have an Amish wedding is because they know when to serve the applesauce. Hint: it’s not with the cake.

A few months ago Earl’s brother and his family hired a driver to go to New York for the day to visit family. Nothing strange. Amish people do that too. But this was a Sunday. As an Amish child I was told it’s ok to get a driver to take you somewhere but NEVER on a Sunday unless it’s a BIG emergency. The only way that I know that Amish people regularly hire drivers on a Sunday is when they live in one county and their children go with the youth group in another county. Even then they are usually picked up on Saturdays and don’t go home till late, late, on Sunday evening.

My final example is one that is very real to my husband and me. Wenger people tend to move to other areas for cheaper farmland much more than Amish people do. My husband’s mother is one of fifteen children. Yes, I said FIFTEEN. Lord, bless dear Grandmother Mary’s soul. And so one would think that Earl must have lots of uncles and aunts and cousins and that they must have great roaring times when they all get together. But in reality, this rarely happens. Earl has ONE, yes, just ONE cousin in Lancaster County; there are 80 cousins total. ALL the rest live out of the county or out of the state. So one would think surely on his father’s side there would be several cousins in the area. I tell you, if one would think that, one would be wrong. NOT ONE cousin from his father’s side lives in Lancaster. So a man with 100+ cousins has only one that lives in the same county. Sad, isn’t it?

My mom has eight brothers and sisters. 34 cousins total, fifteen living outside Lancaster county. So on our maternal side of the family he has twice as many cousins as I do, yet I have 19 times more cousins living in the area. Crazy stuff, I tell you. On my dad’s side I have approximately 80 cousins and all but maybe a dozen live in the county.

The really sad thing is this is now my childrens’ story. Alaina, Rhiannon, and Delilah have 15 cousins. Only two live in Lancaster County. A few years ago there were more of the girl’s cousins here, but that cheap farmland kept calling and finally the parents moved away. As a child I loved when our extended families would get together. We had lots of fun with all the cousins. Big grand times with dozens of cousins.  I treasure those times and I wish I could give my girls memories like that.  Instead they will get to see their cousins once every few years, some twice a year (New York is closer than Wisconsin and Iowa.) and barely know them. They still know them fairly well because it hasn’t been too long since most of them moved, but this will change. And it makes me sad.

When we get married we are not just bringing two people together, but rather two families, and their extended families. Many times there are two different cultures, and even if the cultural background is the same, there are many different attitudes and ways of doing things that must suddenly co-exist and meld together. It’s a long road, it doesn’t happen overnight. Earl still tries to get the children to eat applesauce with their cake. But they are like their momma and eat it with meat and potatoes. I taught them well.



  1. Sounds like you would really like Horning Mennonite! Haha. Their weddings only last until like 2 in the afternoon and even if our extended family is scattered we still all got together twice a year (we could drive cars so that helps 😉 ) so I have lots of memories of 80± cousins getting together and having a blast! 😉

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