We love visitors to our 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 along with the answers to a few questions visitors often ask.
The People of NOLA
We have a reputation as party animals and heavy drinkers, but that’s not exactly true. We do like to pass a good time, but we have careers, mortgages, families, children, and we’re not much different from anybody anywhere else. The temptation to imbibe is everywhere. Always, if you’ve had a tad bit too much, please don't drive. Please use uber or call a cab.
New Orleans is pronounced New Or-lins by the locals, not New Aw-lins or New Or-leens. After being severely misrepresented in movies and television, people are often surprised at the way we actually sound. When the Mississippi River became a working river, and the longshoremen came down from New York to work on the river, their accents evolved into something that sounds like Brooklyn on the Mississippi Delta or what locals refer to as a “Yat” accent.
What is Carnival/Mardi Gras?
With both Pagan and Christian roots, Mardi Gras is the last day to party before beginning the Catholic Lenten season. The Carnival season begins on January 6, the Twelfth Night after Christmas; the Catholic feast of the Epiphany. The festivities end at midnight on Fat Tuesday. Mardi Gras is always the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The carnival season can be long or short. This year, it falls on February 28.
What are the origins of Mardi Gras?
Mardi Gras originated in medieval Europe. It was established in New Orleans in 1718 by Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville.
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.
The name for carnival organizations.
Beads, cups, doubloons, and trinkets tossed from the floats.
A metal or wooden coin with the krewe’s logo on one side and the parade’s theme on the other.
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. Parades are viewed on St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street from either the street side or the neutral ground side.
Am I going to get murdered?
Probably not. Yes, New Orleans does have a high murder rate, but most homicides remain confined to certain areas of the city. To be on the safe side, when wandering the French Quarter or city streets, stay on populated main streets. Don’t be the first to wander down an isolated side street and always avoid dark alleys.
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 it’s necessary to do that because if we buried them six feet under, they would wash up after the next hard rain. Cemeteries can be dangerous so if you want to visit them, 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 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.
Show me your tits
No, just don’t. This may happen on the balconies on Bourbon Street. The quarter is adult oriented where you will find risque costumes and flashing for beads during Mardi Gras. While the Vieux Carre has its share of debauchery, outside of the French Quarter, Mardi Gras is a family event. The parades are family oriented, and it would be inappropriate, and illegal, to expose body parts along the parade routes where there are families and children.
Can I go to a Carnival Ball?
Not unless you know one of the Krewe members. Carnival Balls are formal events, and admission is by invitation only.
Should I wear a mask?
It’s cool to wear a mask on Mardi Gras Day. Float riders are required to wear masks at all times, but Fat Tuesday is the only day masking is allowed by the general public from dawn to dusk.
What are the colors of Mardi Gras?
The colors of Mardi Gras are purple (justice), green (faith), and gold (power).
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 to accounts of mysterious vampire-related murders in 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 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 always lure you back.
We look forward to seeing you again on your next trip.