May 13, 2010

Southern Comfort

Remember Easy Rider? Yeeaahh....

"Would y'all like some whiskey?" asked the tattooed, angel-faced cowgirl beside us as her boyfriend passed her a bottle of Jamieson's from their cooler.

We declined, and she took a genteel swig, dancing in place to the brassy blues music. 

I hadn't met many people from the American south before. There were the meat-and-potatoes marines stationed in South Korea. There were the Jimmy Buffet loving retirees on my flight to Jamaica. There were the catty sorority belles in a London hostel. All friendly people, yes, well-mannered through and through, but I've always had the impression that southerners, despite their politeness, were a happily insular flock. You know, the Don't Mess with Texas crowd. 

I shouldn't have judged so quickly. 

The minute we got out of Louis Armstrong Airport, people were chatting us up. Not just the PC weather chitchat you may get in Canada. Not the banal tourist tips. No, this was genuine, amiable banter. People weren't afraid to crack jokes ("Even muggers don't want Canadian money!") or tell it like it is ("You're here for the jazz fest? You know the French quarter fest was just was week, and it was free.") There didnt' seem to be a trace of shyness in the whole city.

When we got to our hotel late at night, after all nearby restaurants had shut, the clerk offered to drive us to a diner at the end of his shift. When I arrived 30 minutes early to a French Quarter walking tour, the guide sat chatting with me as we ate beignets, sharing tales of her southern upbringing. 

People were, if not insular, then certainly happy. And while most seemed pretty content to stay in New Orleans all their lives, they had the same open minds of all great travellers; the friendliness, the instinct to smile at the strangers you see. The people we met were proud of where they were from, yes, but that pride fed into hospitality, not insularity. Sure, a tourist economy will slap a phony smile onto any waitress or bellhop, but I didn't once feel like a walking cash register, as you often do in other tourist-heavy towns. Call me a sucker for a drawling accent, but all the bartenders and shopkeepers seemed pretty straight-up friendly to me.

I was told by many of these people that New Orleans is different from any other place. That the local pride and laissez les bon temps rouler attitude is something that makes the city unique. Perhaps that's true, but as an introduction to Southern hospitality, heck, it left me curious about the rest. the way, I wrote a roundup of the New Orleans Jazz Fest by numbers here.


  1. Ahh, New Orleans totally makes my bucket list. :)

  2. Ahhh it reminds me of that bluesy poem you had in teh QFR way back when :)