The People of NOLA
We kind of have a bad 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. True we live in a fun city with a lot of bars and alcohol, but we know how to pace ourselves.
New Orleans is pronounced New Or-lins by the locals, not New Aw-lins or New Or-leens. Visitors expect us to have a thick accent mimicking the characters in “Gone With the Wind” but we don’t. Kevin Costner created a misconception of New Orleans dialect in the movie, “JFK.” We have been so misrepresented in movies and various areas of the media that 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, their accents evolved into something that sounds like Brooklyn-by-the-Mississippi-River, or what the locals refer to as a “Yat” accent.
It’s actually a greeting. You respond by simply saying, “where y’at?”
What is Carnival/Mardi Gras?
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’s a short one with Mardi Gras falling on February 9. With both pagan and Christian roots, Mardi Gras is the last day to party before beginning the solemn lenten season.
A pastry that contains a plastic doll called the “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.
Kings, queens, maids, and dukes that make up a krewe’s royalty.
Ball, Bal Masque or Tableau Ball
A themed ball for Krewe members and their guests where their royal court is presented.
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. 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 of the murders are drug related or victims of people they know. 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 do avoid dark alleys.
Is it safe to visit the cemeteries?
New Orleans cemeteries are tourist attractions. We bury our dead above ground because New Orleans was built on a swamp. If the dead were interred six feet under, we would meet them again on the street after the next hard rain. Most of us don’t want to do that, so they are interred in mausoleums. If you want to visit our unique cemeteries, 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, their Katrina experience, all about their family, their sex life, reading preferences, music preferences, 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. They are not flirting with you. It’s just the way we talk down here.
Show me your tits
No, 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 to expose body parts along the parade routes where there are families and children, and it could even get you arrested.
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 be masked 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?
The other 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 said before turning and walking away.
If I had been somebody who doesn’t know the scam 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. 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 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. Some people have even claimed to have had paranormal experiences on some of these tours. I’ve been in New Orleans for many years, but I have never encountered a vampire. As for ghosts, that’s a different story. I shot some photographs in a house that is said to be an active haunted house. I used a film camera as this was several years ago before digital. To my surprise, when the pictures were processed, orbs of light appeared in several of the photographs that I did not see through the lens. One of the photographs that I shot outside of the home looked nothing like the image I saw through the lens. Instead, it appeared to be a gateway to another dimension. Maybe it was the lighting or a reflection, or maybe not. I can’t say I believe in vampires, but I’m on the fence with ghosts. Take a tour and see for yourself.
What should I pack?
New Orleans winter weather is unpredictable, and it can be warm one day and cold the next. It’s a good idea to check the forecast to get an idea, but be prepared for all kinds of weather. Pack for all seasons from flip-flops, boots, shorts, jeans, a sweater and, to be on the safe side, a heavy coat.
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 local favorite 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 Obrien’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 draw you back. We look forward to seeing you again on your next trip.