By Shira Pinsker
If you ask most people, the only way to be considered a New Orleanian is to have gone to high school in the city. Well if that’s the case, then there’s no hope for the rest of us. Not the people who moved here 30 years ago and raised a family, attended Tulane and never left, or came to the city after Katrina. Personally, I consider all these groups New Orleanians because they have something I don’t: the knowledge of the city’s customs and culture that comes with time and experience.
For those of us who can count our months in the city by the fingers on our hands, I offer a way to cheat. On Tuesday, I’m teaching a class I’ve dubbed “Crescent City Crash Course: How to Fake Being a New Orleanian,” at Hey Café on Magazine Street. There, we’ll discuss where to go in the city, what to bring when you get there, sports, festivals, neighborhoods and what the jokes on all those t-shirts are about. And I’ll bring the only item on the school supply list—local beer.
I spend a lot of time considering what it means to be a New Orleanian. I came here after college to do a year-long fellowship and moved back to the city this past summer. When I lived here I made amazing friends that introduced me to the New Orleans lifestyle and visited at least once a year in my time away. I thought I understood the city, at least well enough to fit in when I returned. Yet, I often feel out of place because I don’t understand or anticipate the milieu.
New Orleans has its own language. Sure, there’s the verbal stuff, like correctly pronouncing Burgundy Street or referencing the lake or river when giving directions. But it’s the non-verbal stuff that trips me up: remembering a koozie when I go out, changing my D.C. cell phone number to a 504 area code, or checking the dates of Mardi Gras before RSVPing to a wedding in February.
Neglecting to adopt the dress code at events in the city continues to be a problem for me. When I attended White Linen Night in 2004, I was the only person on Julia Street wearing a khaki skirt and black top. Despite this mishap, this summer I ignored the suggestion to dress in 80s workout gear for the 610 Stomper Bar Crawl. Additionally, it didn’t even occur to me to find a sailor hat for a yacht/bounce music night at the Rusty Nail. In my experience, unless it’s Halloween, you look silly if you dress up. But over and over again in New Orleans I’m the silly one without a costume on.
“New Orleanians love to costume,” a friend recently commented, when I told her these stories. When I pointed out to her that she used costume as a verb, she giggled. “I guess I did. I didn’t even notice.”
Of course she didn’t. She went to high school here.