Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Amish and Compliments

Recently as I was browsing through a bookstore I picked up an Amish fiction book and flipped through it a little. Every page had Pennsylvania Dutch words sprinkled on it and somehow my eyes were always drawn to those first.

One phrase that jumped out at me was gut man.* Basic translation = good man. The reason this stood out to me so much was that no Amish person will ever call someone a gut man, because that is what they call God.

Reading that simple sentence where the main character had been saying that someone was a good man got me thinking of the difference between mainstream America and the Amish culture.

In main stream America it isn't unusual hearing someone make remarks like, "He's a good person." or even "I'm a good person." Compliments seem to flow freely, and sometimes I have to doubt their sincerity. Praise for accomplishments is the norm.

This all took time getting used to when we left the Amish. It was basically unheard of hearing someone describe a person as being good. Compliments weren't used freely. A woman could be well known through out the community for being an excellent cook or baker, but no one would tell her so in person. Someone else could be known to be the best when it comes to raising crops and farming to the extent that others watch when he mows hay and then mow theirs on the same day because he always managed to get his made without rain, but no one would tell him he is good at what he does. The best seamstress in the community could be busy with orders for bonnets and coverings because hers always turn out perfect. Women will talk about her talent only when she isn't present.

I remember the time when I still a little girl, and I painted something. It turned out better than I thought it would and I was very pleased. Mom and Daddy acknowledged it, but when I said something about how pretty I thought it was they reminded me of Proverbs 27:2 Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth;

My view on praise and compliments has changed since leaving the Amish. Right now I would say we're caught somewhere in the middle. We do way more than the Amish, but still less than a lot of other people.

* Pennsylvania Dutch lesson for the day. Gut man is pronounced like this ...... gut rhymes with boot. Man rhymes with fun. If you ever hear an Amish person say Gut Man., they will be talking about God.


  1. Thanks for that lesson today Mary Ann :) Blessings

  2. Jesus did say to call no man good ,but God! Mark 10:18

    Something to think about..indeed.

  3. We find ourselves in Lancaster several times throughout the year. I'm sure it's appropriate to thank an Amish person for their kindness. Is it best to say "thank you" and leave it at that? Would pointing out the kindness feel excessive to them? Your post got me thinking about that. Thanks!

  4. Linda, feel free to thank them for their kindness. Lancaster is used to tourism and I'm sure they don't expect the public to share their ways when it comes to compliments and praise. By now they're used to hearing those things often and won't think anything about it if you thank them for their kindness.

  5. More wise advice from the scriptures. I think main stream America is getting a little carried away in our compliments and praise. That's why Children get a gold star just for showing up at school ! And I detest a braggert.

  6. I admire the Amish greatly but I disagree with them on this point. If a compliment is honest and sincere then I don't see the harm in it. We can be positive without being prideful. We are put on this earth but once and I want to spend that time filling those I love full of genuine positive words about who they are and what they can accomplish for the Lord. God put us here to help each other...in order to do that we must reach out and speak into their lives :) I guess I would rather err on the side of lifting someone up too much than never speaking an encouraging word to them for fear it "might" instill pride. Seems that going to the extreme either way is where the problem would be...

  7. This is my first visit to your blog and it is quite delightful! I will visit again soon.

  8. We got to hear many Amish phrases today, in fact there are two of our wonderful neighbors helping out up at our new homestead as I type this. It's late and dark, but they won't leave until the job is done. We've had more fun working together. I mentioned that I'd rather they build our trusses than to buy poorly made factory trusses and one chuckled and said "I wouldn't be afraid to compare the two" but that has been as close to anything prideful I have ever heard from them. I can tell you that we have many more Amish friends than English friends and we truly enjoy their fellowship. I think it is that way because we are surrounded by so many of them and we don't get out past the communities that much. They are extremely wonderful neighbors, more helpful and kind than many people we have ever known. I am never hesitant to offer a compliment, they are human and appreciate encouragement too. I have to add that I would never consider joining the Amish community and I don't have on rose colored glasses when I see them, they have their issues same as everyone, however, the world could learn many valuable lessons from them.
    Blessings to all!

  9. Thank you for sharing this. Some of my ancestors were Pennsylvania Dutch (German) and it's interesting to learn more about them.

  10. I agree with Hannah.
    I see nothing wrong with giving praise and encouragement where it's due, nor do I think self-praise is wrong.
    Sometimes I do things I am proud of. I may have worked hard at it, learning along the way, so when it's complete, I am proud.
    I do also agree with the poster who talks of getting a gold star just for showing up. Seems difficult to have a middle ground there. Over-praise is useless. It reduces it to being meaningless.
    I like nothing more than being able to give praise and see the recipient light up.
    Surely making someone feel happy cannot be a bad thing?

  11. My gut reaction is to agree with Hannah, but I also think we English have gone a bit too far with never allowing our children to fail.

    Such a sticky widget. Great piece!

    Oops, I meant, "I acknowledge your slightly insightful blog entry."

  12. I remember hearing former neighbors (Amish) telling each other "it was good of you to bring this or to do that"...Now that you mention it, I never heard them say "you were good to do that". That explains why.

  13. Wait, so are you trying to say that my kids aren't the cutest in the whole world, like I've made everyone tell me?? I've got some thinking to do... HAHA Good post, finding that middle ground can be tough. Have a good Thursday ~

  14. I don't think it is necessary - or advisable -to over-praise a child. Ben is correct in that regard. But to give a child a "boost" when they do a good job helps them try harder to develop their God-given skills. To praise a drawing or a story may set a child on a path toward a career or an avovation that will serve them well.

    I do not ever remember my mother paying me a compliment when I was growing up. "Well, it's OK" was about as effusive as she ever got, and I was in my twenties when I suddenly discovered I was NOT the village idiot, but actually rather clever. (And no, I'm not bragging!)

  15. I think that many children in the American culture are rewarded with trophies and praise for non-accomplishments. Praise given at appropriate times encourage and motivate people to do their best.

    My grandmother believed that children should never receive praise or acknowledgement for accomplishments or behavior. She used to praise her grandchildren to other grandchildren. Unfortunately, I grew up thinking that she didn't like me and that I didn't measure up to all the other grandchildren. We could have had a much closer relationship had I known her philosophy as a child.

  16. The term "gut man" is used to speak of God or Jesus in everyday language. I heard it used very rarely, as our people tended to shy away from discussions about Jesus and what he said. Never was it used to refer to a fellow human being.

  17. reminds me of something about George Bush - he was mocked (in Boston at least, where I was living) for saying someone was "a good man" - to northerners, apparently, that's the equivalent of "a nice guy." I had to explain that in our native Texas, it's high praise - it means he's reliable, trustworthy, honest, and all that goes along with it. My friends up there quickly learned that "not bad!" from me was the equivalent of their high praise. But the friend from New York was disturbed by how friendly everyone was when she came to Texas - she kept wondering what their ulterior motive was and couldn't understand (poor thing) that people here are truly friendly. So it's all regional, I suppose...


Thank you so much for taking time to comment. I love hearing your thoughts.