Amish Joking

by Ervin Beck

The Amish jokes presented here by Ervin Beck represent folklore that has been passed on by oral tradition, that is, from person to person in informal settings, usually in small groups, by word of mouth. Most of these jokes had not been written down until they were transcribed from tape recordings for this essay. Some of the jokes can be documented as having been in circulation for hundreds of years. Before they were applied to Amish people, some of the items have circulated in other groups (who tell them about non-Amish ethnic groups) or as general moron jokes . The meanings of the jokes can be best understood in the context of their actual oral telling in intimate groups; but here they are analyzed in terms of the larger Mennonite culture that tends to perpetuate—and enjoy—such stereotyping of a rival cultural group. The jokes illustrate folklorists’ claims that the predominant folk narrative forms circulating in contemporary American culture are short joking stories and legends, i.e., stories believed to be true.

Comments for Amish Joking

  • Karl

    On July 17, 2009 Karl wrote:


    I really enjoyed reading this article. It made me think of a whole set of Amish jokes that I have heard in oral tradition (maybe I've heard more because I come from a family that jumped the fence, who knows?).

    I think maybe there's a subset of Amish jokes that takes the Amish out of their ordinary environment. Of the various "Amish gas station jokes" I remember includes one that is perhaps my favorite:

    "A vanload of Amish ladies were on their way to Florida. The van stopped at a gas station where the sign said 'clean restrooms,' so they did."

    Although this one is clearly a "Dumb Dutchman" joke, what was always really funny about it was that it has an element of the "Amish joke back." The English-run gas station obviously did not have truth in advertising. Had the restrooms really been clean, the Amish ladies would have understood that "clean" was a description, not a command.

    And here's one more Amish gas station joke, just for fun: "An Amish man walked into a gas station. He said, 'I came in to go out, where is it?'"

    And a true story (maybe a few errors in details): As a young woman, my mom was working at a seat cushion factory between Nappanee and Bremen. Mom was Conservative then, and another young woman she worked with was Amish. One of the English workers didn't understand how the Amish lived without electricity. The English woman wondered how they did without refrigerators, lights, etc. The response from the young Amish lady was always that they had a kerosene version. Then the English woman wondered if they had TVs. "Oh yeah," said the Amish woman, "we have kerosene ones." The English lady believed her.

    Thanks for some good laughs along with your insightful analysis of this folk tradition.

    Karl S

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  • Ann Hostetler

    On July 17, 2009 Ann Hostetler wrote:

    Karl, thanks for sharing more good Amish jokes and thoughtful commentary with our readers. I wrote this on my kerosene computer, in case you were wondering.

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  • Ervin Beck

    On July 17, 2009 Ervin Beck wrote:

    Another Amish kerosene story, Karl. True. When Garrison Keillor spoke at Goshen College, we took him to an Amish home near Nappanee for a hearty country lunch, which he relished. When the Amish host learned that our guest was a famous radio star, he said aloud, "I'll have to listen to the program on my kerosene radio." In one of his next radio programs, Keillor greeted all of the Amish who were "listening on their kerosene radios."

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