In the 2012-2013 fiscal year, the city of New Orleans welcomed over 9 million visitors. That is a lot of people in a town that doesn’t even rank in the top 50 largest cities in the United States. Events like the Super Bowl and Sugar Bowl were undoubtedly factors in the rise of tourism that year but let’s be honest…it’s because New Orleans is fun, cool, sexy and makes the people want to come back for seconds.
But there are a few things that the tour books forget to mention, the travel sites leave out and the locals love to bestow upon our city’s many visitors. Here are just a few, but the off-the-beaten-path activities are nearly endless. You just need to ask the right people…
1. The To- Go Cups
Years of working in the French Quarter has not lessened the happiness I feel reminding visitors that they can certainly take their drinks to go. It’s something that is intrinsically New Orleans and awesome any way you spin it. I mean there is nothing more fun than getting drunk in public, am I right?
2. The Rats
Once again, working in the French Quarter service industry for years has also made me privy to this dirty little secret. New Orleans has rats, but they don’t just hang in the sewers and garbage. No, they just kind of roll wherever they are, whether thats a 5-star restaurant or the swankiest of hotels. The city is right next to the river, ships come from all over the world bringing them and they must like the taste of beer or something because they don’t seem to be going anywhere. Check out comedian Hannibal Burress’s hilarious take on rats in the Quarter for more understanding.
3. The Kindness of Strangers
While the rest of the country may recognize New Orleans for some of the ridiculous crime waves that appear in the city intermittently, I know from personal experience that the people of New Orleans are some of the friendliest, most altruistic and welcoming populations of people. Maybe it’s because we’re so well-fed, we have nice, long summers, or maybe we just don’t want people to leave the city with a bad impression. New Orleans is our mother and while we may act up when she’s not looking, in front of company, we try to be on our best behavior.
4. The Smell Coming off Bourbon Street
You know those smells that you never forget, no matter how far removed you are? Bourbon Street is one of those smells. It’s a combination of horse piss, stale beer, cigarette smoke, street-cleaning solvent, years of layered vomit, desperation and degeneration. But that’s Bourbon and it’s one of those take-it-or-leave -it kind of things.
5. The Blending
New Orleans was once called the “jewel of South” and for good reason. It was a major port city that brought people into the country from all across the world. The consequence of that is the people and the culture of New Orleans became a microcosm of blending. But it’s not just peoples, it is different religions and income brackets. In any given block in the city, you’ll have a street of mansions next to projects, churches down the street from temples and mosques and if you look closely enough, we’re probably all related (please spare the southern inbreeding jokes). While the rest of Louisiana may be more homogeneous, New Orleans is a big old lovely mess.
6. The Traveler Community
As I stated earlier, New Orleans is a city full of visitors but some are not always necessarily “welcome.” In recent years there has been an influx of “travelers,” “gutterpunks,” “ooglies,” or “crusties” into the city. They are largely the able-bodied, drunk or drug-addicted, and possibly homeless standing on every corner of the French Quarter, interstate exit, busy intersection and other popular sites. With their thin dogs, guitars, and the signs telling of their misfortunes, they present a pitiful picture. Unfortunately, their favorite prey are compassionate tourists. While the truly homeless and mentally disabled continue to need real help and are often met with disgust, those with an open hand and sign think they are entitled to your money. Antigravity writer Jules Bentley wrote an article that outlines the general attitude of the locals toward these kids, and in turn their attitude toward us. Basically if you want to give, use your discretion and judgement.
7. The Idolatry of Drew Brees
I admit that I am guilty of this one. Once during a shift, I was working at the bar when I overheard a visitor remark “I don’t understand the obsession with Drew Brees, he’s not even that good of a player.” I must have given him a look of pure confusion because he tried retracting it. I warned him in jest he should watch where he says that stuff (turns out his dad is a University of Illinois graduate and Drew went to Purdue, jealous much?) but maybe I shouldn’t have been so visceral with my indignation. Considering the fact that we call him “Bressus” and regularly remark “all hail the Breesus” maybe we should consider toning down the obsession? It would be so much easier if Drew would just stop being such an amazing player, inspiring leader, nice man, humble teammate and an all-around dreamboat. But he won’t, so we won’t either.
8. The Rain
Whenever people come to visit and it begins raining, their little faces just break my heart. But as I said above,
this is a tropical climate, that means rain. Lots of it. All the time, any time. Sometimes it rains for a week straight. Sometimes, the first time it rains in a month will be on your wedding day. Sometimes it rains for hours on end, sometimes it is every 15 minutes on the hour of every hour. Just bring an umbrella and cover your beer.
9. The Humidity
I’m still not used to it. It’s not just hot, no no no, it’s like sitting bare-assed on the Equator, next to an opened oven, wearing a parka. New Orleans is surrounded by warm waters, located within the tropics and it rains so much here that humidity is just part of the landscape. Blame geography? The city? The Illuminati? Whatever you need to help you deal.
10. The Beautiful Architecture
While New Orleans was originally a French colony, the majority of beloved architecture can be traced to the time of Spanish reign. Take a streetcar ride down St. Charles or a walk through the Garden District and you’ll see the unique appearance of homes and buildings here. The adorable French Quarter cottages, the gigantic Uptown homes or redone Warehouse District lofts, they are all truly stunning and I often consider our architecture to be the ace in our backpocket when people try to denounce New Orleans as a drunken cultural wasteland.
11. The Violence
I couldn’t write this list without mentioning the violence in New Orleans. Some tourists may be aware but some are not and as such, they act in ways they wouldn’t at home causing them to act unconcerned with the danger of the city. Is it the tourists fault? No. Should they be warned and careful? 100%. New Orleans’ gun violence reached a dizzying climax this Memorial Day weekend with over 20 people being shot in the city. We’re 21st in murder rates for the whole world and the top in the world for imprisoned population. It’s my least favorite part of living in New Orleans. It’s senseless, it’s terrible, but it’s reality. For those visiting, prepare accordingly.
12. The Parades for Anything
I think I can say with confidence that everyone in the nation has heard of Mardi Gras at least once. But I don’t think they realize that New Orleans will throw a parade for everything and anything. And to those that say we can’t, watch us. If you don’t like an unannounced party, too bad, it’s coming for you.
13. The fact there’s no such thing as a “New Orleans” accent
I’ve had countless customers over the years ask me right off the bat, “Where are you from?” Now being a resident of the city for over 10 years and having a long family history in this town, I often respond that I am from New Orleans. Which is always met with “Really? You don’t have an accent.” I do, I just usually make a point to speak with inflection and proper annunciation but if a little twang sneaks in, I don’t mind. I don’t speak like a Cajun because I’m not a Cajun. There is no one accent, it’s all blended. And they’re all beautiful.
14. The fact it’s not still flooded
Seriously, it’s been almost 10 years, the water is gone, the scars remain, the city goes on. End of story.
15. The Way We’ll Eat Anything
Reptiles? Love it. Mud-dwelling bugs? Yes, please. Rodent? Sure, why not? Sausage with pig blood encased in intestines? Oh yeah. Necessity is the mother of invention so when the original settlers of New Orleans had to find food, they ate what they found. Food that we still eat and love today. For those who couldn’t figure out what I was referring to: alligator, crawfish, nutria, and boudin are some New Orleans favorites that should just be eaten without too many questions.
That’s just a few of the trade secrets I think that tourists should be ready for when they visit. It’s not all pretty, but it’s home for us and it’ll be home for anyone that is ready to take New Orleans as she comes. What other things do you think tourists should know? Tell us in our Comments Section!