Reflections on a Month in New Orleans by Phil Dutton

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I have always thought that ours is a friendly community. Folks from other places seem to think that we are, also. My wife and I recently returned from a four week stay in New Orleans. We have visited New Orleans many times and love the city, but we wanted to get a feel for what it is like to live there. No, we aren’t considering a permanent move. The summers are too long and too hot. Living anywhere that is six feet below sea level is rolling the dice these days. Besides, we love making our home on the Eastern Shore.

The NOLA trait that made the biggest impression upon me was the engaging friendliness of the people. It didn’t matter where we were in the city. We rented a house in the Bayou St. John neighborhood which is about halfway between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain. As we would meet people walking through the neighborhood, overwhelmingly we would be greeted with eye contact and a “Hello,” “How you doin’,” or “Good morning.” Everyone did it: Kids in their school uniforms walking home, older folks walking their dogs, people hustling off to work, street vendors, streetcar drivers. This happened in Mid-City, the CBD, the Garden District and Uptown. It even happened in the French Quarter which you might think would be jaded by all the obnoxious drunks from Bourbon Street. We were trying to take a selfie under the Felix’s Oyster House sign when a woman stopped and offered to take our photo. She asked us where we were from and I asked her back thinking she was a tourist, also. Cheerily, she said, “I’m from here. Just on my way to work.”

Is it just Southern Hospitality? I don’t think so. We have traveled all over the south. It is different in New Orleans. I have a theory that it comes from a sense of vulnerability as a result of Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans and its rich culture of music, food, history, architecture and tradition could have been permanently lost after Katrina. I think the people of New Orleans were determined to not let that happen. They love their unique culture and the ‘vibe’ you feel there that is different than any other American city. They came back and rebuilt, determined not to lose their place.

Tourism is the lifeblood of New Orleans. I think the residents know that their future depends upon the unique vibe that brings millions of people to her every year. (And yes, the locals refer to New Orleans as “Her.”) I think they are genuinely proud of their city and want all who visit there to understand her and love her as they do.

Maybe I was more friendly as a visitor in New Orleans and open to accepting greetings. I don’t know. It didn’t feel that way. Our wonderful community relies heavily upon tourism, also. I am going to make it a point to make eye contact and greet people with a genuine and grateful greeting.  Not just tourists, but everyone. I look forward to seeing you along the way.

Phil Dutton is the co-founder of Chester Gras and leads the musical band Philip Dutton and the Alligators

 

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Letters to Editor

  1. I’ve noticed this happening in good ‘ol C’town. I think if you engage, in a friendly manner, people will engage back. Let’s all spread the NOLA cheer.

  2. My alma mater, Bucknell, used to have this practice and we called it the “Hello” spirit. It still exists, somewhat, although is somewhat diminished after 50 years. I hope your nice article can generate this welcoming enthusiasm in our area.

  3. Stuart Cawley says

    I agree, Phil. New Orleans is the friendliest big US city I’ve been to. Even though it’s flocked w/ tourists (in some areas more than others, obviously), a fact you might expect could generate a level of annoyance or distance from its inhabitants, I found them uniformly willing to engage with you, and in a truly genuine manner. Regardless of whether they were currently on the job, attending to the business of daily life, or relaxing, it struck me how many of them were willing to a share a bit of their life with you in a wonderfully relaxed, laissez-faire, we’re-all-in-this-together kind of way. In a city replete with unique charms, this refreshing sense of humanity & interdependence stands out.

  4. Alexander says

    Philip:
    Thank you for sharing your encounter in NOLA. We concur with you that there is an openness that one seldom sees in other large cites.
    On the other hand, we have also been taken aback by the openness and friendly attitude of the people of Kent County. When we first were looking around in the hope to move here, we sensed that there were no strangers in this town. We were greeted with friendly hellos and a smattering of conversation. Having lived in Montgomery County with over a million people, we found that this place had a sense of community. The old phrase “how are you” that we toss without expecting a genuine response, now will spark a conversation that could be rendered into a literary document.
    Sometimes when we travel we see that we have it all right here.

  5. Clark Bjorke says

    People in New York City became much more open and friendly after 911, too. I was astounded at the busy hurried businessmen who would stop on the street and help me find my way around town, when I was there. I am sure that Katrina has done this for New Orleans as well. It would be good for us all to remember that we don’t need to suffer a disaster to find kindness in ourselves.

  6. Deirdre LaMotte says

    New Orleans is my favorite American city! I love wandering those streets soaking up that amazing culture and eating
    the most fantastic food! The people are such a delight, the music
    is what I have loved for so long ,and the vibe something we all
    should aspire to. It is truly a treasure of a community!

  7. Joe Lill says

    My paternal Grandfather was raised just outside of New Orleans and couldn’t speak English until he enlisted in the Marine Corps, having lived in a “Cajun” community with their own language. I can remember him talking about drinking coffee and eating beignets next to the Mississippi which must have been Cafe Du Monde. You have to love the food there, whether it’s a muffaletta from the Central Grocery or a full course meal at the Commander’s Palace. New Orleans, Charleston, Savannah, and Ybor City in Tampa are all great places to visit! Laissez les bon temps rouler!

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