May 29, 201309:59 AM
Dispatches from a New Orleans Newcomer
Is New Orleans Southern Enough?
Before I actually moved to New Orleans, I came to the city for a long weekend for a few job interviews. At the first one, the interviewer asked me, "So what do you think of New Orleans so far?"
"I like it!" I said, even though I had been in the city for less than 24 hours. "I'm excited because this will be my first time living in the South."
The interviewer laughed and replied, "Oh this isn't the South."
What? I thought. I was confused.
One of the other interviewers seemed to sense my confusion. "New Orleans is different," she added. "We prefer to call it the northern capital of the Caribbean."
After I moved here, I always wondered what that meant. How was New Orleans not part of "The South?" As someone who had lived in New England and the Midwest for 24 years, New Orleans was the most Southern place I had ever experienced by both geography and lifestyle. There were lots of LSU alums, everyone said "y'all" and I actually heard the Civil War called "The War of Northern Aggression." New Orleans seemed extremely Southern and calling it anything besides Southern confused me.
But after my trip to Nashville, Tenn., this past Memorial Day weekend, I now understand what people mean when they say New Orleans isn't really the South. However, I'm still a little confused.
I went to Nashville for a girls' trip with my best friends from high school. We all live in different cities now and one just moved to Nashville, so we decided it would be a fun place to reunite. We had a wonderful weekend full of sitting on patios, lying by the pool and feeling very touristy at the Honky Tonk Central bar where musicians in cowboy boots sang popular country stand-bys while we drank Bud Light Lime and danced.
I quickly noticed that Nashville is the stereotypical Southern city I had imagined New Orleans would be like. Growing up in the North, I had only traveled to the South a few times, so most of my ideas of the whole region came from movies like "Sweet Home Alabama" and "The Help." I thought everyone in the South had thick Southern drawls, wore cowboy boots and ate a lot of grits.
I didn't find these stereotypes to be true in New Orleans, but I did find them in Nashville. There were lots of grits, lots of cowboy boots and lots of Southern drawls. The whole trip made me want to download country music and eat pecan pie. Everything just fit my imagined idea of what the South would be like.
But even though New Orleans is farther south geographically, I've noticed it doesn't fit my Southern stereotype. Of course you can find shrimp and grits, and you might see a few Confederate flags, but there are so many stronger nuances specific to New Orleans that overpower the Southern nature of the city. There's the jazz history, the Creole and Cajun food and the strong French and Spanish influences that remind me more of Europe than the South. Walking around the French Quarter reminds me of Île Saint-Louis in Paris, with its old buildings and adorable shops. There are tourists from all over, some speaking different languages.
But while I try to think of more reasons why New Orleans is particularly unique... I'm finding it hard to explain. I don't think I've been to enough Southern cities to truly understand. In the next few years I hope to visit more Southern cities such as Mobile, Ala., and Charleston, S.C., so I can explore this idea in more detail. Of course all cities are different, but from what I've seen so far, I really believe New Orleans is in a league of its own, like a wonderfully weird oasis in the middle of the South.
So I'm throwing this out to you guys, my fellow New Orleanians. Do you think New Orleans is a stereotypical Southern city? Why do you think it's so different? Any ideas on this would be very helpful because I'm still confused.