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