Things That Make You Weird Anywhere but NOLA

The Crescent City has, for most of its existence, been known as a special place, one filled with magic both light and dark, revelry, and an unquenchable thirst for life in all of its forms and colors. But if you live here -- hell, if you just visit New Orleans -- you'll notice very quickly that this place is on the crazy side of quirky. Yeah, NOLA is weird. And while cities elsewhere have to campaign to "Keep Austin Weird" or "Keep Portland Weird," there's no danger of the Big Easy’s innate weirdness going away anytime soon. But what makes our bizarreness so intrinsic to New Orleans? What do we do here that would be considered crazypants-loonytown anywhere else? We’re glad you asked.

Saying hello to everyone

Particularly people you don't know, and always with eye contact and a smile. In other places, particularly ones north of the Mason-Dixon, and very specifically large cities on the East Coast, greeting strangers is met with suspicion... even scorn. Say hello, and people in those places will likely think you’re not just weird, but possibly also dangerous. But in NOLA, we have precisely the opposite reaction: the person who keeps to themselves and doesn't talk to anybody is the one who gives us pause.

Replying in intimately personal detail when asked how you're doing

People elsewhere don't start talking about their children's woes at school, a detailed itinerary of their latest vacation, or an upcoming medical procedure when a friendly neighbor (or even stranger) offhandedly asks "How you doin'?" or, more appropriately to NOLA, "Where y'at?"

jazz funeral

Dancing at funerals

The jazz funeral and its accompanying second line parade is a long-heralded and much beloved New Orleans tradition. We mourn, and then we dance. As far as we're concerned, that's the only appropriate way to celebrate the lives of our dearly departed. For that matter...

dancing in new orleans
Flickr/Darrell Miller

Dancing anywhere there's music

This applies doubly for live music, and triply for live, local music. New Orleanians find it unwaveringly bizarre, even unnatural, that people in other cities would pay good money to see a show with wonderfully danceable music, and then flat-out refuse to dance. Life's too short, folks. Lift those heels and cut a rug while the cutting's good.

Learning all about someone based on where they went to school

Nope, not college: high school. Where a person spent their years in secondary education says worlds about who they are in the social microcosm that is New Orleans. Whether it’s public, private, charter, magnet, parochial, Uptown, suburban, or even boarding school, your answer is tantamount to giving a native New Orleanian a government dossier on your life.

Po'Boy New Orleans
Flickr/Kevin O'Mara

Talking about your next meal while eating the current one

Yes, this happens in other places and cultures, but nowhere is this practice so prevalent as it is in the Crescent City. Being obsessed with cuisine -- from down home cookin’ to elegant fine dining -- is essentially a birthright here. The next meal, restaurant news, recipes, salacious local food world gossip, openings, closings... these are all viable and frequent mealtime topics.

Mixing your own cocktail sauce at the table

New Orleans restaurants know better than to serve a meager portion of underwhelming cocktail sauce with your seafood (especially raw oysters)... instead, you get to DIY with a selection of lemon wedges, hot sauce, horseradish, and Worcestershire. Everyone likes it a bit different -- Mom loves the lemons, Uncle Ernie digs Tabasco, but no horseradish -- so we prefer to do it ourselves.

Keeping shrimp boots available at all times

... even on a sunny summer day. Sure, it might be clear and bright now, but in just about three hours, the heavens are going to split open and dump a foot of rain on you for about an hour.

A distaste for cardinal directions

What the hell are north, south, east, and west? I’m sure you mean "Uptown, Downtown, Backatown, River-side, Lake-side," right?

jazz in New Orleans

Consider both natural disasters and infrastructure failures legitimate excuses to party

Hurricane parties (in non-evacuation situations, of course) are all too common every summer. Power outage? Flood warning? Tornados on the Northshore? Well then, that’s Beer o’clock! And we’re fairly certain that only in NOLA would a massive street collapse warrant its own holiday, as evidenced by the recent "Sinkhole de Mayo" celebration.

Finding glitter somewhere on your body every blessed day

It's the herpes of the costume world, and there are costume events most weeks in NOLA. That stuff gets everywhere, and is easily communicable. So you have to get used to the fact that just about every New Orleans resident will have a bit of glitter here or there at any given moment. It is a sign of a life well lived.

Using your dog to sell Jell-O shots

Yes indeed, #jelloshotdog was a thing at Jazz Fest this past year... and this surprised exactly no one.

jello shots

And drinking Jell-O shots at a fun run

It's 9:30 in the morning on an autumnal Tuesday... a lovely time for a charity fundraising jog in the park. Why not kick things off with some liquid(ish) courage? Even local marathoners are known to start their 26.2 miles by shotgunning a beer. No, this is not common elsewhere.

Huge Ass Beers sign

Ordering your cocktail "to go"

In other (lesser) places, you're forced to stay in a bar or restaurant, even if you don’t like the place, in order to either finish or orphan your cocktail. This, to a New Orleanian, is sheer madness. Hence our beloved "go-cup" culture, a sacred bastion of NOLA life.

watermelon ritual, New Orleans

Participating in the cult-like ritual sacrifice of a watermelon

The watermelon sacrifice has been happening annually at Jazz Fest for about the last 17 years, and involves much chanting and dancing (inspired by the songs of fruit vendors in the French Market from years past). Don't ask what it means or why. Just go with it.

men in red dresses

Working out hard all winter and most of the summer in order to fit into that perfect little red dress...

... and you're a guy. Dudes wearing dresses isn't uncommon in urbane urban settings, but it's still not quite the norm. Unless you're in New Orleans, in which case, you'd better start taking care of those love handles, because the Red Dress Run is coming up faster than you think.

Feeling strangely uncomfortable in basements

They’re perfectly ordinary everywhere else, but the whole "your city exists below sea-level" thing means that true, below-ground basements simply aren't a thing here, so we mostly associate them with what we see in TV and in movies... so they all feel a little like Buffalo Bill’s torture dungeon in Silence of the Lambs. Just creepy, man.

po'boy New Orleans

Ordering any sandwich "dressed"

Try this anywhere else and you're likely to get salad dressing on your turkey sandwich. While Thousand Island is great on a Reuben, what we're really asking for is lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and mayo.

Using the word "fest" as both a noun and a verb

You are a "fester" if you "fest" at the Fest. During peak festival season, it's not uncommon to hear folks say things like, "Are you festing this weekend?" "Watch out for your your feet, festers, it's gonna be a mudder!" And the all too likely, "Ugh, this hangover might kill me. Fested too hard last weekend."

Refusing to pronounce pretty much any word in the English language as intended

Particularly street names.

Adding the letters "eaux" to any word ending in an "oh" sound

Would you like to add a dessert to your combeaux? And is that for here or to geaux?

Considering beer a typical breakfast drink

We have excellent coffee in New Orleans, and breakfast cocktails are something of a specialty ‘round these parts, but beer is never off the menu, especially on a fest weekend or during Carnival.


Swerving all over the road... while 100% sober

The pothole menace is real, my friends. These car and soul-devouring monsters abound in the Big Easy, and if you're not adroit at swiftly avoiding them, you're in for some costly repair and towing bills. The sign of a competent New Orleans driver is knowing how to serve efficiently to avoid them... the folks going arrow-straight right over those suckers? Clearly impaired or distracted; keep your distance.

Selling and/or drinking alcohol at children's events

Birthday parties, Little League games, school fundraisers, you name it, there's booze there. Everywhere else in the country, they sell cookies and lemonade... but in New Orleans, it's highballs, craft beer, and someone's uncle's infamous "jungle juice." Can you imagine what would happen if they sold beer at kids' sporting events in, say, Boston? You'd wind up having to call in the National Guard. But if you attend a child's birthday celebration here, parents will get downright irate if there isn't hooch readily available.

Casually referring to people, often complete strangers, as "baby"

No, they're not hitting on you. Everyone in New Orleans is "baby" or "dawlin'." Male or female, young or old, it doesn't matter.

Jaywalking with panache

In the words of one local, "New Orleanians have an innate talent for casual jaywalking with a certain flair. I can often tell whether someone is local or not by the way they jaywalk. Tourists are hesitant and nervous. New Orleanians strut."

610 stompers

Affirming that being a paunchy middle-aged man with a porn-stache is the perfect body-style to join one of the city’s most celebrated dancing troupes

Long-live the 610 Stompers, with their tight shorts, knee socks, and well-earned beer bellies. They even made it to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York! As they put it themselves: "Ordinary men... extraordinary moves."

marching band new orleans

You joined a band when you were growing up so people would think you're cool... and it was a school marching band

The band trumpet player might not get any play in other places, but in NOLA being in band puts you on the road to becoming part of our cherished musical heritage, and that makes you cool as hell here. For instance: there was a kid named Troy who started killing it on the horn when he was knee-high to a grasshopper, and he hasn't stopped since. You might have heard of him -- he goes by Trombone Shorty these days.

tuba playing New Orleans
Flickr/Phil Roeder

You play the tuba. And you carry it with you almost everywhere you go.

The opportunities for a spontaneous second-line are many in the Big Easy. Best to have that tuba at the ready to lay down some deep bass and rhythm.

You make peace not with flowers or candy, but with po-boys

Indeed, there is a po-boy called "the peacemaker," usually containing fried shrimp and oysters, and sometimes bacon and cheese, always served on a long loaf of fresh French bread. Story goes (dating back to the late 1800s), bringing one of these home to your spouse after staying out drinking with the fellas was the best way to keep you out of the doghouse.

"Letting your car get a little dusty in the spring while the neighborhood peacock is in heat, so he doesn't confuse his reflection for competition and dent up your car."

-- NOLA resident in the Carrollton neighborhood, regarding the Pigeon Town Peacock known as “Mr. Pete."

new orleans masks

Refusing to rent or buy a home because there's not enough closet space... for your costume supplies

Costuming is a widely enjoyed part of life here. What begins as a modest costume box filled with wigs, masks, hats, and tutus can, if encouraged, require an entire walk-in closet of its own in due time. This, naturally, is considered impressive here... and not deranged. As it would be basically anywhere else.

Saints football

Loving a professional sports team so deeply that it causes diagnosable anxiety disorders requiring medication

"The Saints are down by 15 at the half against Atlanta? Time to break out the ‘black and gold Xanax.’" Yes, we realize that people in places that are not New Orleans love their sportsball teams. But there's something slightly unhinged about Saints fans... in all the best ways.

Creating Facebook fan pages for police horses

Yes. This exists. Totally normal for NOLA.

Attending your own wake

When your will stipulates that your funeral will include a jazz brunch catered by your favorite eatery, hot live jazz, plenty of cocktails and champagne, and, oh yeah, YOU, congrats: you have officially won New Orleans. Just ask the spirit of socialite Mickey Easterling, who did exactly that, and only a handful of people thought it was out of the ordinary. On the other side of town, there was the beloved musician "Uncle" Lionel Batiste, who "stood" at his own second line dressed in his brass band outfit, leaning against a faux lamp post while family and friends enjoyed beer and BBQ. Like you do.

Beer koozies for EVERYTHING

Cold beer is the perfect accessory for pretty much any event in this town. Problem is, during warmer months (which is most of them), that chilled brewski can turn to room temperature startlingly fast. Thus, beer koozies are a necessity, and they're given out widely and freely to commemorate everything from weddings to graduations, celebrating sports teams or schools, annual crawfish boils, company retreats, corporate branding, bachelor/bachelorette parties, holidays... they can even be used as business cards. No joke: there is a local DUI attorney whose business card is a koozie, bearing the slogan, "In a mess? Call Wes!"

st patrick's day cabbage in new orleans

Hypervigilance on St. Patrick's Day

People party on St. Pat’s almost everywhere in the USA these days, but NOLA is the only place where you need to have your wits firmly about you during the parade, lest you get conked in the noggin by an airborne cabbage, potato, carrot, or box of Irish Spring soap... among other typical throws during this holiday.

Drinking iced coffee year-round

It doesn't take a PhD to realize that the combination of heat, humidity, and coffee culture will inevitably lead to people drinking iced coffee. We love our iced java so much in this city, it doesn't even matter what the weather is like anymore. That one week when the roads ice up and you have to wrap your water pipes to keep them from freezing over? Perfectly normal to drink iced coffee.

Going to a restaurant specifically for a particular server

In many places, avid restaurant goers will follow a chef when he moves from one restaurant to another. In NOLA, we do that, too... but we also reserve that love and appreciation for local servers. Service is as important to the dining experience in New Orleans as the food itself, something never lost on locals and visitors alike.

Complimenting someone's character by saying that they "know what it means"

It's not code, it's a song lyric. And if you're a true New Orleanian, you'll understand.

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Scott Gold is a writer in New Orleans who went to St. Martin's Episcopal, baby, and has the beer koozie to prove it. Follow him on Twitter @scottgold.