“I am not a tourist”. This is my main statement in the About section of this blog. I prefer to dig deep and really get to know a location. Look beyond the chain restaurants and gift shops that pop up in well traveled places. Travel to any natural wonder in America and next to it you’ll find mini golf and go carts and ice cream stands. It’s as if the beauty of the Grand Canyon is not enough. We need man-made forced fun to truly be entertained.
Yet no place is more bizarre to me in its relationship with tourism than Lancaster, PA…Amish Country.
This past weekend we went away with friends to Lancaster. A great little getaway during this never-ending winter. We stayed in a hotel with two pools and a hot tub because there’s nothing like being able to swim while the ground is covered with snow! We spent a lot of time just relaxing, watching the Olympics, and eating. Lots of eating! The rest of the time was spent driving around the countryside.
The country has a certain beauty to it there, especially in the winter. Vast open fields and rolling hills as far as the eye can see. The roads twist and turn at right angles following centuries old property lines. The white snow and steel gray of winter’s sky creates a monochrome bleakness that, rather than depresses, inspires.
Here, with all the openness, I can breathe.
It is not the farm fields that bring people here, though. Rather, it is the Amish. Not nature but a group of people. This is what strikes me as weird. People come to drive around and stare and point at a group of people who are very different from themselves. They are the tourist attraction!
Anywhere else, with any other group of people, this would be considered inappropriate and discriminatory, but not here. Not with the Amish.
And Lancaster has now become like any other tourist site in the country. Drive out of the farmland and you hit a main drag. A road filled with hotels and restaurants and mini golf and outlet malls. Gift shops abound. We went into a gift shop with a huge sign stating “Amish Stuff”. The shop was filled with stuff alright. Cat statues, dragons, tee shirts, totem poles, skulls, buoys, moose statues, and rugs with eagles and white tigers. Amish stuff?
But there is a reason all of this works, why it exists at all. It’s because the people group we all come to stare and marvel at is okay with it. More than okay; they want us to come. A huge part of the Amish economy in Lancaster County is tourism. Our drive through the countryside consisted of many stops. All at Amish owned stores and attractions. The “Amish grocery store”, the “Amish Walmart”, the quilt shop, a flea market, and a petting zoo. We bought lots of food with the word Amish in front of them. Butter, bacon, cheese, jelly, coffee, candy, honey, pies, even potato chips.
So, here it all works. A symbiotic relationship where everyone is happy. I still find it a bit bizarre, but it does make me stop and reconsider what tourism means.
I will still avoid the gift shops with giant pencils and velvet posters of wolves, but if people are fine with being part of the attraction why fight it.
Have you ever visited Amish Country or a place like that? What do you think about a people group being the main attraction?