We love visitors to our city, and we welcome you with open arms. To ensure your stay is a fun, memorable, and safe one, here are a few things you should know along with the answers to a few questions visitors often ask.
The People of NOLA
We may have a reputation as party animals and heavy drinkers, but that’s not exactly true. While we do like to pass a good time, we have careers, mortgages, families, children, and we’re not much different from anybody anywhere else.
Talkin' that New Orleans talk
New Orleans is pronounced New Or-lins by the locals, not New Aw-lins or New Or-leens. Geographically, New Orleans is located in the south, but, contrary to what you see in movies and television, we do not have southern accents. When the French, Spanish, Germans, Irish, Italians, Africans, etc. settled in New Orleans, their accents blended into what locals refer to as a “Yat” accent. There are many different variations of the "Yat" accent depending on what part of the city an individual is from.
Aside from our dialect, there are many words and phrases used here that are unheard of elsewhere. Here are a few you are sure to hear and their meanings:
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, so they created a section in the middle of the street designated as the neutral ground where they handled business. Apparently, it stuck because nobody uses the word median in New Orleans. It’s simply 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.
A sandwich consisting of meat or seafood between two slices of French bread.
Do you want that po-boy dressed?
Dressed means you want it with mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomatoes.
It's a greeting. It means "how are you doing?" You respond by saying "all right, where ya't?"
A French word meaning something extra you didn't pay for.
Going to the grocery store
Pass by my mama's house
Going to visit my mother
Going by my mama and 'em
Going to visit my mother and anyone else who may be at her house
A square fluffy donut lightly fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar
Louisiana doesn't have counties; we have parishes
Flat bottomed boat used for navigating the bayous
Laissez Le Bon Temps Rouler
Let the good times rule
New Orleans has its own compass
Forget the Compass 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.
What is Carnival/Mardi Gras?
Mardi Gras originated in medieval Europe. It was established in New Orleans in 1718 by Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville. With both Pagan and Christian roots, Mardi Gras begins on January 6, the Twelfth Night after Christmas with the festivities ending at midnight on Fat Tuesday; the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.
A pastry that resembles coffee cake that contains a plastic doll called a “king cake baby.” The person who gets the slice with the baby must buy the next king cake or host the next king cake party. King cake season begins on January 6 and ends on Fat Tuesday.
Am I going to get murdered?
Probably not. Just like any other city, New Orleans has its share of crime, but most visitors come and go without becoming a victim. To be on the safe side, when strolling through the French Quarter or city streets, stay on populated main streets. 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. Remember, there's always safety in numbers.
Is it safe to visit the cemeteries?
New Orleans cemeteries are tourist attractions. Our cemeteries are unique because our dead are interred above ground. New Orleans is built on a swamp, so if we buried the deceased six feet under, they would wash up after the next hard rain. Cemeteries can be dangerous so if you want to visit them, it's best to go with a tour group. There are numerous cemetery walking tours. Never venture into the cemeteries after dark alone.
Strangers will talk to you
Natives are friendly, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself sitting 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, what they do for a living, their sex life, their Katrina experience, their family, their pets, and you will probably part with 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. Chances are they are not flirting with you. It’s just the way we talk down here.
"Bet I can tell you where you got dem shoes?"
One day I was walking on Bourbon Street in my comfy walking boots. A young man approached me and said, “I like dem shoes.”
“Thank you,” I replied and kept walking.
He started to follow me and said, “Bet 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 shrugged before turning and walking away.
Folks, it’s a scam. If I had been somebody who didn’t know what he was up to and entertained it, he would have said, "you got dem shoes on your feet, on the street, in New Orleans." Then he would have harassed and intimidated me for twenty dollars or so for making that discovery. If anybody approaches you and says anything about your shoes, unless you just want to make a donation, ignore them and walk away. Yes. It’s a scam.
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 Carter Brothers to the Casket Girls and the Ursuline Convent, your tour guide will keep you entertained with stories and show you the landmarks.
What about a paranormal tour?
Paranormal tours are a must. Your paranormal tour guide will take you to haunted places. New Orleans is an old, haunted city. Some people have even claimed to have had paranormal experiences on some of these tours.
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.
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, 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.
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, be sure to indulge in a Hurricane at Pat O'Brien's or a Pimm’s Cup at the Napoleon House.
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. It’s 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 New Orleans, a piece of it goes with you, and that will bring you back.