Photography by Karen M
So you're going to visit us in New Orleans soon. That's great! We are happy to have you, and we hope you will enjoy your stay with us in the Crescent City. We love visitors to our beautiful, historical three-hundred-year-old city, and we welcome you with open arms. To ensure your stay in the Big Easy is a fun, memorable, and safe one, here are a few things you should know.
The People of NOLA:
At the mention of New Orleans, most people think of Bourbon Street, alcohol, Mardi Gras, and debauchery. New Orleanians have something of a reputation as party animals and heavy drinkers, but that's not exactly true. Even though we do like to pass a good time, and most of the time our grocery carts do contain beer or wine; along with dodging hurricanes six months out of the year, we have careers, mortgages, families, children, and we plod along with day to day life just like everyone else.
Strangers will talk to you:
Natives are friendly. Don't be surprised if you find yourself in a bar or public place and a local strikes up a conversation. It's fine to talk to them. By the time it's over, you will know what part of the city they live in, their Katrina experience, all about their family, their pets, reading preferences, music preferences, and you may wind up making a new friend.
You don't have to call me darlin':
Ladies and gents, don't be offended if someone calls you darlin', sweetie, or honey. They are not flirting with you. It's just the way we talk down here.
Native Tongue - Talkin' that New Orleans talk:
New Orleans is pronounced New Or-lins by the locals, not New Aw-lins, Nawlins, or New Or-leens. Geographically located in the south, don't expect to hear any southern accents unless the individual relocated from somewhere else. New Orleans is a melting pot with French, Spanish, Canadian, Italian, German, Irish, African, and Native American influence. There are many different variations of New Orleans dialect depending on what part of town you grew up. When the Mississippi river became a working river and the longshoremen came down from New York and started interacting with the natives, their accents evolved into something that sounds like Brooklyn-on-the-southern-Mississippi-river, or what the locals refer to as a "Yat" accent.
Aside from our dialect, there are many words and phrases used here in New Orleans that are unheard of elsewhere. Here are a few you are sure to hear and their meanings:
That's a big one. The neutral ground is the terrain in the middle of a divided street known as a median everywhere else. There's a history behind that. In the old days, the French and the Spanish didn't get along, but they had to do business with one another. To solve that problem, they created a section in the middle of the street designated as the neutral ground where they managed to get along long enough to handle their business. It stuck because nobody uses the word median in New Orleans. It's always called the neutral ground. If you ask a local from which side of the street they are going to watch a parade, they will tell you either the street side or the neutral ground side.
It may be called a trolly everywhere else, but locals will look at you funny if you call it anything other than a streetcar here.
Every menu has po-boys on it. We even have po-boy restaurants. It's a sandwich consisting of meat or seafood between two slices of French bread.
Do you want that po-boy dressed?
If you order a po-boy, your server will ask you that. Dressed means you want it with mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomatoes.
French colonists from the Canadian region of Acadia. Many settled in the Louisiana territories and have had a strong influence on Louisiana culture.
Laissez Le Bon Temps Rouler (Lay-say le bon tom roo-lay):
A Cajun French phrase meaning: Let the good times roll.
It's a greeting. It means "how are you doing?" If somebody asks you where ya't, you respond by saying "all right, where ya't?"
A French word meaning something extra.
A fluffy square donut lightly fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Louisiana doesn't have counties. We have parishes.
Much, many, a lot.
Did you know?
New Orleans has its own compass:
Forget north, south, east, and west when you visit New Orleans. If you ask a local for directions, the only four points they will use are uptown, downtown, lake, and river.
Is it true it's legal to drink alcohol outdoors?
Yes, as long as it's in a plastic cup or container. No glass bottles or containers are allowed. If you leave a bar, you can take your beverage with you. Just pour it into a "go-cup" first. All bars and restaurants have them. You can walk all over with it. Just don't drive.
Can you buy alcoholic beverages on Sunday?
There are no restrictions on when alcohol can be purchased in New Orleans. You can purchase it twenty-four hours a day seven days a week from any bar, restaurant, grocery store, drug store, convenient store, or Wal Mart. (Yes, even Wal Mart sells alcohol)
Am I going to get murdered?
More than likely not. Just like any other city, New Orleans has its share of crime, but most visitors come and go without becoming a victim. I used to work in the tourist industry and dealt directly with many visitors to the city. I got asked that a lot and I would tell them to be on the safe side, when strolling through the French Quarter or city streets, be aware of your surroundings and stay on well-lit populated main streets. Stay where there are people. Don't wander down isolated side streets. It's always a good idea for gentlemen to carry their wallet in a front pocket or backpack. Ladies, watch your purses.
Tip from a local: The best indication to petty thieves that you are not from NOLA is wearing Mardi Gras beads when it isn't Mardi Gras. You can get them everywhere, and they are fun to wear, but locals only wear them during the carnival parade season.
Is it safe to visit the cemeteries?
New Orleans cemeteries are tourist attractions because we bury our dead above ground. There is a reason for that. The ground underneath New Orleans is swampland. If the dead were interred six feet under, they would wash up after the next hard rain. Most of us don't want to meet our loved ones once interred, so we bury them in mausoleums or above-ground tombs. If you plan to visit our cemeteries, I advise going with a tour group. There are numerous cemetery walking tours. Never venture into the cemeteries after dark alone. The ghosts won't jump out and harm you, but you never know when criminals might be lurking.
Is it worth it to go on a vampire tour?
Yes, absolutely. There are many legends of vampires in New Orleans. From Jacques St. Germain to the Casket Girls and the Ursuline Convent to accounts of mysterious vampire-related murders in and around the French Quarter, your vampire tour guide will keep you entertained with stories and show you the landmarks.
What about a paranormal tour?
Paranormal tours are a must. Your ghost tour guide will take you to haunted places. Some people have even claimed to have had paranormal experiences on some of these tours.
What New Orleans cuisine should we try?
We have some of the best restaurants in the world, and favorite local dishes such as red beans and rice, jambalaya, crayfish, po-boys, oysters on a half shell, and seafood gumbo are all a treat to the palate. For breakfast, be sure to treat yourself to a cafe au lait (New Orleans signature coffee made from coffee and chicory mixed with boiled milk) and beignets, preferably at Cafe du Monde.
Are there any New Orleans original cocktails we should try?
We're always happy at happy hour. If you're interested in having an original New Orleans cocktail at the places they were created, be sure to indulge in a Sazerac at the Carousel Bar, a Hurricane at Pat Obrien's, or a Pimm's Cup at the Napoleon House.
Show me your tits:
No! Don't! Never! Ever! This may happen on the balconies on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. The French Quarter is adult-oriented where you will find risque costumes and flashing for beads during the carnival season. While the Vieux Carre has its share of debauchery, outside of the French Quarter, Mardi Gras is a family event.
Bet I can tell you where you got dem shoes?
Don't fall for it. This is New Orleans biggest scam. The correct answer is: I got dem shoes on my feet, on the street, in New Orleans.
Here's my experience:
One day I was walking on Bourbon Street in my comfy walking boots. A young man approached me with a big smile and said, "I like dem shoes."
"Thank you," I replied and kept walking.
He started to follow me and said, "I'll bet you $20 I can tell you where you got dem shoes."
I looked at him, laughed, and said, "I'm a local. Go pull that on somebody who doesn't know what you're up to."
"Okay," he said. His smile turned into a frown before he turned and walked away.
If I had been somebody who didn't know the scam and entertained it, he would have harassed and intimidated me for that twenty dollars he bet me. If anybody approaches you and says anything about your shoes, unless you just want to make a donation, give them the correct answer or ignore them and walk away. It's a scam.
One of the many reasons to be intrigued by New Orleans is there is no other place like it in the world. Use good common sense. Have fun. Enjoy all that New Orleans has to offer. It has been said: New Orleans is a city with many faces, but only one soul. Its mystery and ambiance will seduce you, and once you surrender, it will never let go. By the time you get home, you will be planning your next trip. When you leave, a piece of it goes with you, and that will always draw you back.
We look forward to seeing you soon.
Laissez Le Bon Temps Rouler