Why Do So Many People Hate Lancaster? My Top Three Ideas

 

MennoMeme

Meme credit: @memesbymennos

I’ve been in Pennsylvania for a long time now. There was that month-and-a-half in Myerstown, a week in Philadelphia, a month in Lancaster City, and now another week in Philadelphia. This Friday I’ll bip back to Lancaster for the weekend before driving to Kansas.

There’s a large difference, I’ve noticed, between being in the middle of an Anabaptist culture and being on the edge of an Anabaptist culture.

I first noticed this in Florida. I didn’t think living a short distance from Pinecraft would be much different than living in Pinecraft, but it was. I always felt on the outskirts. I’d heard all these stories. “What happens in Pinecraft stays in Pinecraft!”

And then I’d go to a pie-baking contest or whatever, and look around trying to find someone doing something scandalous, but it was just a bunch of ordinary Anabaptists who liked pie.

Pennsylvania has been the same way. It turns out that living in Myerstown isn’t considered living in “Lancaster County,” and Lancaster City honestly isn’t really either. In much the same way that I never saw anything scandalous in Pinecraft, I never was able to see what was so terrible about Lancaster County.

I mean, I’ve heard so many people say they would never live in Lancaster County, and honestly I still don’t feel like I’ve exactly figured out why it has such a negative reputation.

However, I do have some ideas. These are the top three contenders.

Idea #1: The “Uncool Mennonite” Hypothesis

I feel like in a lot of Mennonite circles, embracing your heritage is considered “uncool.” It feels very on-trend right now (among Mennonites) to try to distance yourself from the “Mennonite” label, even if you are essentially still Mennonite.

Lancaster County, as the epicenter of Mennoniteness, is thus “uncool” simply because it’s so Mennonite.

(The irony of course is that in the secular world, being Mennonite is what makes you unique and interesting.)

Idea # 2: The “Unfriendly Mennonites” Hypothesis

This is a critique of Lancaster County that I’ve heard often. Personally, I never felt like anyone here snubbed me or was unfriendly to me. But I think I’ve figured out where this stereotype comes from.

To unpack this, though, I’m going to take a memory-lane trip back to Florida for a bit.

In Florida, I wrote that people were unfriendly to me. I received some backlash for this. First, because I insinuated that everyone was unfriendly, which wasn’t true. Some people were extremely kind. 

But the second reason for the backlash was something I’ve heard over and over again: In big Mennonite communities, you don’t just say “hi” to every Mennonite you see in the grocery store. There are just way too many.

And I get that. I really do. I promise I didn’t come to Pennsylvania thinking that every Mennonite would say “hi” to me. But my expectations in Florida were a little different. I thought that since everyone was on vacation, everyone would be strangers to everyone, and thus eager to make friends with the other Mennonites who happened to be on the beach. Clearly, I was wrong.

So after that little lesson, I was fine with not being acknowledged by, say, the random Mennonites who passed in and out of Starbucks as I sat writing.

But I still firmly stand by my statement that the Florida Mennonites were not as friendly as they should have been, and I’m basing this on the two times that I actually went to Pinecraft for an event. First it was a pie baking contest, and second it was a concert in the park. At both events, I sat or stood completely alone, and no one around me talked to me. When I tried to talk to them, they looked extremely uncomfortable.

Two people were friendly to me: A woman who was friends with my mom that I sought out and talked to, and a woman who knew who I was from my mom’s writings and sought me to talk to me. I’m sure that Florida contains more gems like them.

But the truth still stands. If someone is next to you at an event, standing alone, you should be friendly to them. This has nothing to do with the “I literally have no time to talk to every Mennonite in the grocery store” excuse. This isn’t a grocery store, and this isn’t an endless list of people. This is one lonely person.

Now as I said before, I really was not on the cusp of Lancaster County culture, so I can neither accuse nor acquit them of this charge. Personally, I only ever encountered friendliness here. But after hearing that Lancaster County is accused of unfriendliness, and experiencing Florida, I can’t help but wonder if the same thing happens here.

Idea #3: The “Clique-ish Mennonites” Hypothesis

The most unique phenomenon I’ve discovered in Lancaster County is that most people have a “group” that has nothing to do with what church they go to. It’s more about who is exactly like you. Like, if you’re a single school teacher in your upper-20s, you hang out with other single school teachers in their upper-20s.

It’s really fascinating, and I feel like I just barely understand it. However, my hypothesis is that if you have a group disconnected from a particular church, someone is going to feel left out.

If a group is based on a church, that provides natural boundaries. A lady who attends Riverside won’t be offended if she doesn’t get invited to the Brownsville ladies retreat. But if the group is just a group of single Mennonites in their upper 20s, there are still so many single Mennonites in their upper 20s in Lancaster County that you can’t possibly invite them all.

So some people feel left out.

Conversely, some people might have a group but wish they were part of an even cooler group, and, out of envy, dub the cooler group “clique-ish.”

Or maybe the cooler group is “clique-ish.”

This is, of course, just a hypothesis, as I still don’t remotely understand the social hierarchy of Lancaster County. I know that some people are cooler than other people, but I’m just not on the social pulse at all, and have no clue which ones are cool and what makes them cool.

Part of me wishes I could spend another month here, in…I don’t know, like Ephrata or something. Some place that’s much more central to the culture.

But no. It’s time for me to move on, it really is.

But please, if you have opinions on Lancaster County, let me know what you think of my hypotheses.

Note: I now have a Patreon, where you can get bonus blog posts by subscribing for $1 or more a month. My latest post is about the concept of “toxic masculinity.” Later this week I’ll be posting about how I think Mennonites set women up to eventually reject the head covering. 

12 responses to “Why Do So Many People Hate Lancaster? My Top Three Ideas

  1. I LOVE the photo! I am heading out on a taxi run, taking 3 couples, an Aunt and my wife to see the Ark in Kentucky. I hope to read this blog later, that has a catchy title!

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  2. I grew up about 2 hrs from Lancaster and while I don’t know others reasons for not “liking” Lancaster I can give mine. Your one reason is completely backwards for me. As a youth I didn’t avoid Lancaster because is wasn’t cool but because it was. That was where all the cutting edge stylish people lived and you weren’t at all sure that they would accept the little country bumpkin that you happened to be. I think all of us outsiders are quite frankly intimidated.
    Another reason for me is it’s just too many people. Every time I go there I feel claustrophobic. I have never personally lived in Lancaster but I know people who have, and if you have your people you can enjoy living there. On the other hand if you dont have family or community you fit into, it can be lonely despite all the people.
    I think people in smaller communities tend to be more friendly because they are forced to. You must be friendly with the people around you or have no friends.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Emily Sara Smucker

      “I didn’t avoid Lancaster because is wasn’t cool but because it was.” So fascinating!!

      Liked by 2 people

    • “As a youth I didn’t avoid Lancaster because is wasn’t cool but because it was. That was where all the cutting edge stylish people lived and you weren’t at all sure that they would accept the little country bumpkin that you happened to be. I think all of us outsiders are quite frankly intimidated.”

      You nailed it, Alicia. I would totally agree!

      Like

    • Nailed it!

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  3. I’ve lived in Lancaster county for the past 16 years and a lot of your thoughts are correct. It’s a very hard place to move into and find your place, because everyone else has their place and they have no need of you. If you don’t have relatives here, or aren’t married to someone that has family here, it’s gonna be a lonely road. Add to that, not being part of a mainstream Mennonite or Amish church, and you’re def a nobody! You are correct in that our lives do not revolve around our church and church people like smaller communities do. People here might think and say they have a close-knit church but in reality, nobody here has a clue what a truly close church is like. Small communities out in the middle of nowhere have few others to associate with besides their church people, the kids all go to the same school, a lot of the men work at a few large businesses owned by someone from church. In Lancaster county, our kids go to whatever school is closest, we work anywhere we choose, we make friends and form groups based on common interests not because we happen to go to the same church. Church is where we go Sunday morning and that’s when we see those people, and though it goes a bit beyond that, it’s not by any means a primary source of…well….anything. Having said all that, I still love living here and i will probably live here the rest of my days. I do my thing and let everyone else do theirs. My family who all lives in other states, all have bad things to say about Lancaster county and vow they’ll never ever move here. It’s certainly not for everyone.

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  4. I may be waaaay off on this, but my perception is that there is a lot of hierarchy stuff that can go down in Lancaster. Not to mention that it is a little bit of one big echo chamber or as my dad said, “it’s a Mennonite biosphere.” Obviously this is a vast stereotype, but they can sometimes be unaware of the world around them, very caught up in their own Mennonitism. They can tend to focus on financial success, church clout, whatever is cool at the moment, and whether your yard is dandelion free. And if you don’t check the right boxes, you won’t be worth their attention. They have a reputation of being traditionally Mennonite thinkers (even the less conservative ones), cliquish and cocky, wealthy, and very concerned with social status. This is just the impression I gathered from conversations about Lancaster county. I think that it is unfair to Lancaster people, because all the ones I know are not this way. But nevertheless, the stereotype continues.

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  5. I’ve visited Lancaster, but have never lived there. I thought people didn’t like it because there was so many flavors of Mennonites and a lot of competition, which causes a lot scrutiny, if you live there.

    Also, I’ve lived and worked in Sarasota for 4 winters and the friendliness can really be affected by what month you went. December and January is Indiana Amish, February is PA Amish, etc.

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  6. Marian Zimmerman

    there was an article in our local Lebanon Daily News a year ago,
    “Jackson township is one of the safest places to live because of all the amish and mennonites living there” the report came from our State Police Dept. { that’s Myerstown area)
    and how was the cabin?

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  7. I lived in Lancaster county for awhile. There’s some truth to your blog. Lol! I think the heavier populated areas tend to be a little more cliqueish because the people there grew up around each other and know each other and “outsiders” who move in have less common ground with those who’ve lived there are all their lives. Frankly speaking, because there’s so many people there it’s less easy to integrate into the group. One has enough friends that it’s harder to include more, perhaps because of time restraints. In the other state I lived in, plain people were rare. I was born in Lancaster county, moved back as an adult and lived there a few years before moving on. My personal opinion? The shopping is great. The traffic congestion is horrible. I’m glad I live elsewhere. But I love visiting my friends that live there. There’s no end of things to do.

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  8. Thelma Martin

    I lived in Lancaster County the first eleven years of my life, and it’s a wonderful place to return to visit relatives. Here in the Midwest, folks are more laid-back. You can expect a friendly wave from any driver on the highway, from a State Trooper to a coroner. My opinion is, be friendly to everybody. Even if they initially gape at you, most people will warm up to friendliness in any part of the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. When I visited Lancaster Co in my youth the reason I said I don’t like it was #3 ! Then when my children were youth and Lancaster youth came to visit they would come home fussing about the ‘lancastairans ‘ Because they felt like they came with there noses turned up ..there were cultural differences . Like our youth were used to smaller closer knit community as well as youth groups.They came with more traditional dress but with snobbish rich kid mentality. I’m sure there were exceptions to the rule on both ends .

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