LAST NIGHT’S VIEW: Living with the Amish…

Following on from last year’s successful series, Channel 4’s Amish, World’s Squarest Teenagers – which followed a group of Amish teens as they sampled life in Britain – comes Living with the Amish, also on C4. Review of Living with the Amish And this time the tables are turned as we follow a group of ‘typical British teens’ as they spend six weeks living with different Amish families in the US.
Having met our six teens, the first episode kicked off as they went to stay with Jonathan and Marietta, a sweet Amish couple who hope to have five children eventually (but God hasn’t blessed them yet.)

Narrated by Jonathan – and for those who didn’t watch last year’s programmes – he explained the Amish live by sets of rules that ‘help us lead a simple Godly life.’ And there are rules for everything – from getting up at 5am ‘to make the most of the day’ and stopping work on the dot of 7pm for evening meal – to the clothes the Amish wear to dating (no sex before marriage), no electricity (although they did have a generator to run a washing machine…) and no cars (they use horses and carriages.)

Our teenagers therefore had to don the required hand-made clothes and hats for the boys, bonnets for the girls, remove all jewellery and make-up and of course hand in all their iPods, mobiles and other essential gadgets. Life with the Amish consists of no television, only home-cooked food, and a day full of regimented routine. Women are expected to take care of the house, gather food, sort the laundry, sew and bring up the children. Men till the land, farm, build the homes and bring in the firewood.

Charlotte, 18, explained she wanted to take part in the experience ‘because life seems so complicated at home.’ She confided to Marietta she worried what she looked like, even with make up. The episode also focused on James,17, who at the age of 14 had gone into foster care and now lives in a hostel. Then there was Siana, 19, an undergraduate, Hannah, 17, a Christian who was ‘questioning her faith’, George, 17, who is schooled at Eton and Jordan, 18, a student.

Quite apart from the fact that it is always interesting to see how other people live, the Amish way of life is fascinating for two main reasons. One, could any of us cope without the Internet, TV, our mobiles and so on? And then many of us surely dream at least sometimes of paring our busy lives down.

How wonderful the Amish way of life does appear. After all, everyone knows their place. If you’re a woman there is no complex decision to make about whether to return to work or not after having a baby. For a man, too, satisfying physical hard work is what you will be doing, no questions asked. No pressure to earn more money, do well in exams – and as one Amish woman explained, there is a huge sense of supportive community.

Happiness for an Amish woman is found in keeping the home clean and tidy, doing the laundry, the washing up, the housework. Charlotte, shown sunbathing in England as her mum painted her nails, confessed she had never washed up in her life but was grateful to Marietta for ‘teaching her.’ Meanwhile, she discovered she enjoyed hanging out the washing.

Most poignant was James – we saw him in England alone in his hostel bedsit – in Jonathan he found someone who was patient enough to teach him how to fish, listened to him and valued his input.

Only Siana, who was born in Sierra Leone and whose mum had come to the UK to give her a better chance in life, dug a little deeper. “it’s a bit too quiet, a bit too slow,” she observed as the teens embarked on a day’s fishing, “I don’t feel individual… I feel as if a chunk of me has disappeared. I think I’d go nuts if this was my life.”

Much as I adored the series last time – and perhaps it was because I remembered that so well and therefore how the Amish live isn’t new to me any more – but as the fishing scene went on a little, I found myself agreeing with her.

Watching Amish, World’s Most Square Teenagers I marvelled at how wonderfully simple their lives were – and idyllic. But this time I felt as if I’d seen it all before and much as I wanted to be inspired, I confess I was the tiniest bit bored.

Alison Smith-Squire

What did you think of Living with the Amish? I would love to know … why not leave your view below…


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