Mar 11, 201410:30 AM
The Lighter Side
Exploring the humor and peculiarities of the Big Easy
On Kale-Gate and hipster transplants
A transplant's guide on how to — and how not to — do New Orleans justice.
Kale, which exists in New Orleans.
Do you remember that part in the movie Hook where Tinkerbell pulls Peter Pan back by the suspenders in front of Captain Hook after he agrees that he's not actually Peter Pan? It's one of my favorite movies of all time so I have it committed to memory, but she says, "You. Are. EMBARRASSING ME!"
This is how I feel sometimes when I read about New Orleans transplants.
Case in point: A New York Times article in which a transplanted actress says that you can't get kale in NOLA. As in the leafy green ... in The South where greens are an undisputed staple.
These are the moments when as a transplant myself, I close my eyes and say, "You. Are. EMBARRASSING ME."
And as one of my favorite New Orleans writers Jarvis DeBerry said, kale is everywhere. He called several grocery stores to confirm it. Everyone has kale! I dare say you could even find ready-made kale chips at Whole Foods right on Magazine Street. You can put kale juice in your daily enzyme-pick-me-up at Satsuma in Bywater. And I'm sure that in response to the article, at least a few restaurants with a sense of humor will feature a dish of kale as a special.
And the thing is, as a transplant, I've probably said some pretty embarrassing things too that fortunately didn't end up in a NYT article, but I did write a blog post last year about hipsters and some comments were very nice and others not so nice. I read every single one and I learned from all of them and I thank every person for their opinion — they gave me quite a bit to think about and perhaps also caused little cringy sensations to crawl up my neck while making me hide my eyes with my hands like I was watching a scary movie, but I digress.
I've been wanting to write a follow-up to the blog post for quite some time now but could never really work up the nerve. Because while I usually feel like I have a firm grasp on what it means to be a New Orleanian, I'm taught over and over again that I still have much to learn. Also, a lot of what I write is dripping with sarcasm or is meant to be tongue-in-cheek and I fear that I'm taken too literally sometimes. I can't help from using sarcasm even while talking about something serious — and the fear that I'm not conveying that properly has kind of messed with my writing lately, but you know? I've decided to give up self-doubt for Lent.
And so the kale situation gives me the perfect opportunity for further exploration of the subject and to write about the NOLA pestilence known as "hipster transplants," despised for running over New Orleans like a twee zombie horde on a level not unlike the orange-toothed nutria and disease-carrying foreign mosquitoes.
A tiny bit of back-story: I did not move to the Bywater from Ohio because it was hip, I moved there simply because my friend got a house and she wanted a roommate. And every day I feel like throwing my arms around her and kissing her because I've never been happier in a place. When I first got here I had no idea what Mid-City was, and the West Bank was in the Middle East as far as I was concerned. I was in culture shock. When I started dating my then New Orleans-born boyfriend and now husband, we both saw the other as vaguely exotic. Sure, we're from the same country, but sometimes Southern Louisiana can seem like a whole different world.
He would wonder how 30 degree weather had little to no effect on me and I marveled at his expert crawfish-peeling technique and how instead of saying "house," he said something a little closer to "hose." He would also choke back chuckles as I stumbled through the various regional pronunciations of words like "Calliope" or "Burgundy" ... but couldn't contain a full-out belly laugh as I pronounced "lagniappe" as LANG-A-PEE.
So naturally after having never heard of such a word as "lagniappe," I did what any embarrassed newbie would do and looked it up on Wikipedia along with other NOLA-isms because I love New Orleans and wanted to do her justice. I didn't want to be a clueless transplant who had no intention of learning all of my new city's intricacies.
So to my comrades in transplant-dom, here are a few ways in which you can learn to do her justice. Take heed.
Don't be ignorant.
It's cute to fumble when you first arrive. However, if you've been here for a few years and you haven't attempted to peel a crawfish, learn how to say "Chartres" correctly or still think that "neutral ground" is kind of like being Switzerland, then you're doing it wrong. And you're only exempt from that first thing if you're allergic to shellfish, I might add.
Don't be an ass.
Don't constantly begin sentences in conversations with "Well, in Seattle ... " This can be interchanged with other cities such as Portland, Boston, New York, Pittsburgh, etc.
What it says to some people is, "Things are actually better where I'm from, we're actually so much more refined than you people, but I've decided to slum it here for awhile in order to know myself and The Universe at a deeper level."
And this would be why the eyes of the locals you're talking to gets so big ... with the restraint they're using to not pull a muscle in their head from rolling them so hard.
And I totally admit to doing this on several occasions as the words "Well, in Ohio ..." have definitely come out of my mouth, but it's usually something like "Well, in Ohio we have a lot of corn fields, isn't that interesting?" or "in Ohio, we're actually worth more than other Americans because we decide every presidential election, so ha!"
I have actively tried to tone that down.
This is self-explanatory. I've come to find that New Orleanians love to be neighborly. They like to smile, hang out and ask how you're doing. To a cynical northerner, this might be misconstrued as condescension. Nope, people are just trying to be nice.
And I'd also like to speak for myself as well as my neighbors on my street when I say FOR THE LOVE OF BABY JESUS PICK UP AFTER YOUR DOG.
Accept what is.
In addition to talking about there being no kale, the actress in the New York Times article in question also said, “So many of the cool places here are really rundown. And not because a stylist designed them that way.”
That makes BJs or Vaughn's sound like an exhibit at the Audubon Zoo. A special section for hipsters from cosmopolitan cities looking to get a break from posh urban living in order to experience a little salt of Earth "authenticity".
Why not just take something how it is. Don't try to analyze it to death and be patronizing about it — and don't try to change it. Just let it be.
Some places in New Orleans might be a little "run down" but it's an aesthetic that is oddly comforting to many of its residents. It's kind of like wearing your old comfortable hoodie that's been washed a million times instead of a crisp new blouse that doesn't fit right in the chest area. I know what I'd rather wear quite honestly and that makes me decidedly un-cosmopolitan.
Also accept that there will be potholes the size of your bathtub, long grocery store lines, minimal chain restaurants, break tags, corrupt politicians, and scary things on the local news. Which leads us to ...
This is not Cleveland.
Tennessee Williams famously said, "“America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.”
Don't expect Cleveland. (Our football team in New Orleans has actually won a Super Bowl ... zing!)
I asked my NOLA-born co-worker Tal what he thought of all the transplants and he said that he generally liked them but didn't appreciate when they tried to drastically change things or complain that things were different. He said, "If I go to New York, I ain't goin' for the gumbo, I'm goin' for the pizza ... know what I'm sayin'?
And hey, I'm guilty sometimes. I've wished for a Skyline Chili down the street after a night of questionable decisions at the corner bar. But I've come to the conclusion that no one needs to eat that shit regularly and living four states away from any "Cincinnati-style Chili" fast food restaurant is actually a huge blessing.
So seriously, just take the time to do these few things a little better and then perhaps transplants can jump ahead a few spots to "just barely more tolerable than termite swarms" on the Annoying Things in New Orleans Scale™.
Now, I'll be taking my leave to go make myself some kale chips because I love those things even though, as Dana Cowin pointed out on "Top Chef: New Orleans", that they are totally passe in the food world. I know this because I wrote the recap. Also? The episode happened in New Orleans. Kale. In New Orleans. Proof that kale happens in NOLA because it was on TV. So there.