We drove down to Amish country one weekend last summer to get some bargains at the flea market and, secretly, also to play amateur Margaret Mead . The true allure of the excursion, of course, was not potential bargains or homespun quality items, but to observe these people who lived in a culture within our culture, a societal island.
It was a sweltering hot day, and we didn't stay at the market long. On the way out town, we stopped at a local ice cream shop for relief. All the employees of the shop were pretty Amish girls in pink dresses and white bonnets, and all of them were named "Laura".
There was an item on the menu that had an unfamiliar name, and my father asked the Laura who was waiting on us what it was.
"It's, like, kind of like a shake," our Laura answered.
If my little knowledge of Amish life is correct, Laura has never seen Clueless nor watched MTV, yet here she was, using the popular and useless vernacular favored by her peers across the nation who wear butterfly barrettes and shoes with lights on them.
Had just my fellow gawkers, the tourists and travelers, managed to infect the Amish with their "like" or was Laura a faux Amish for our benefit, like a character in a theme park? I half expected to turn and see the sweat on the face of one of the old men make his glued-on beard slip off.
But children across America play freeze tag and Marco Polo, though they've never read the rules from any book. A poor boy in an inner city breaks the band on his watch and decides, on a whim, to wear it around his neck on a shoestring. Within a few weeks, affluent children in a suburb on the other side of the country pile off a clean yellow schoolbus. Their watches bounce on shoestrings around their neck as they run toward class.
And the Amish say "like." Ask them why, and they won't know.