Over the last couple of years I found myself making many trips from the Bay Area of California to one of my favorite cities, New Orleans, Louisiana. There are plenty of resources that talk about all of the amazing things to experience in New Orleans (great music everywhere, delicious food, Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, French Quarter Fest, parades, museums, swamps, and pretty much non-stop fun), so I wanted to create tips for my California friends to adjust to the less-discussed differences.
Everybody says “hi”
Like many areas in the South, when passing a stranger in NOLA one says “hello”, “good morning”, or something else as a friendly salutation. This happens almost without fail, no matter how different two people might be. It’s lovely. When I return to California I often find myself wishing people a “good afternoon” as I pass them on the street, but I am more often met with the silent look of skepticism resulting from a stranger engaging in conversation.
You pin money to people on their birthday
You will no doubt encounter people wearing money pinned to their chest like a corsage. This is a birthday tradition, in which a friend will pin a one dollar bill to your lapel and while you are out celebrating, strangers will wish you a happy birthday and pin additional one dollar bills to you. I found an article Pinning Birthday Dollars that has some additional background on the tradition.
You wait for cars, they may not stop for you
People are friendly in NOLA, but pedestrian right of way isn’t so much of a thing. Every time I go to NOLA I make the mistake of almost stepping into traffic with the assumption that cars will stop to yield to a pedestrian, only to catch myself jumping back to the curb as the side mirror of a pickup truck nearly grazes me. When I return to California I end up with drivers looking annoyed at me that I’m standing on the side of the street for what seems like an eternity, waiting for the drivers to pass through so I can cross.
Drinks and the magic of the “go cup”
In California you are not allowed to leave an establishment with an open container of alcohol. This is only one of the many rules of the tightly-controlled alcohol laws in California, most of which don’t exist at all in NOLA. In a town where it is so amazing to walk around and experience so many events and culture, the “go cup” is a tremendous asset. Wherever you are, a restaurant, a bar, or probably even church, you can get your drink in a “go cup” and leave the establishment, freely walking around or even to the next establishment. No longer do you have to sit at a table waiting for your slow-drinking friend to finish their drink! And yes, this even works at the airport.
Many streets feel like off-roading
While the streets in the tourist-heavy areas like the French Quarter are generally fine, a lot of streets are an obstacle course of potholes requiring tactical decisions about trying to drive around them to building up enough speed to make the jump. You don’t see a lot of low-to-the-ground performance cars tooling around the neighborhood. When it rains, these potholes fill-up and become camouflaged with the wet street. If you’re on a bicycle, helmets are highly recommended and maybe clench your jaw to make sure your fillings don’t fall out.
Oh, it rains
If you’re from California you may think you know rain (unless you’re from Southern California). Trust me, you don’t know rain… NOLA regularly gets rain that would have Californians building arks and looking for two of every animal.
“What School” means “What High School“
If you’re over 25 years old in California and somebody asks you, “where did you go to school?”, you’re likely to reply with the college you attended. That’s not the case in NOLA (and as I understand it, Louisiana as a whole), where, even if you live to 112 years old and you are asked the question, “where did you go to school?” on your deathbed, you answer with the institution you attended from ages 14-18.
A lot of California is dry and flammable, so many counties outlaw fireworks altogether and those counties that do allow fireworks often limit them to the mildest range of “safe and sane”, leaving you with little more than a sparkler and snappers that make a popping noise. This is not the case in New Orleans, where you can purchase fireworks that are closer to anti-aircraft weaponry. Last time we visited, buying an arsenal of incendiary entertainment and going to the levy was the highlight of the trip for the kids.
Pro-tip, Lyft from the airport
Most of New Orleans allows Lyft and Uber, but the airport is a notable exception where Lyft is not allowed to pick-up. Cabs and Uber both have a ~$35 minimum fee for pickup from the airport. On a completely unrelated note, there is a Hilton across the street from the airport and a free shuttle that takes you to the Hilton, and Lyft does pick up from the Hilton. Those are just three completely unrelated statements – I’m not advocating going around the well-established airport taxi fees.
Laissez les bons temps rouler!
It’s hard not to have a good time in New Orleans and I hope my observations above help my fellow Californians get quickly acclimated to NOLA culture. If you have other suggestions I’d love to read them – please leave a comment!
And hey – if you decide to go to NOLA and need a great, family-friendly house, please check out House of Toxins NOLA on Airbnb!