New Orleans is full of characters, but I think what makes us different is that we are all characters of some sort, all part of the weirdness and eccentricities that make up the fabric of this crazy city.
OK. We don’t think we’re crazy but when you look out into the world beyond us we can see that we are, well, different. Very different, strangely different, inconceivably different. What else can explain the food, the music, the Mardi Gras, the celebration of alcoholic beverages raised to a supreme art here in our many bars and joints.
The Stereotypical New Orleanian is What Makes Us Famous
This article from Where Y’at magazine written by a recent transplant seems to hit the nail on the head in describing our strange and what to others could be called wicked ways.
She points out the use of the word “for” rather than “at” as a telling example of our relationship to time.
We usually don’t say we have to be somewhere ‘at’ 7 o’clock we say ‘for’ 7 o’clock.
Now to me that means the same thing but that’s because I am pretty anal about being somewhere on time. I think it’s a matter of respect for the other person or just following through on what I committed to. And I know not everyone feels the same so I just make allowances for that.
Anyway, there is the sense that we have a Latin relationship to time because we have been so influenced by a Mediterranean culture that is so prominent here. So that is neither here nor there.
I remember when a friend and her daughter moved to the city a few years ago where the daughter did her senior year at a local high school. She very quickly started to adopt many New Orleaninisms much to the horror of her parent. I thought it was funny to hear her frantically trying to correct her daughter’s usage of the word “for” for “at.” It was not until then that I realized that there was anything strange about the use of the word “for.” We think nothing of it, but to a foreigner, that is someone from another state, they think it strange.
Anyway as quoted in the Where Y’at in the article from writer Suzannah Powell:
I have to mention the vocabulary that accompanies timing in the Big Easy. In no other place that I have lived or visited have people used the preposition “for” to describe a time. I didn’t understand people in my first months here. What do you mean the game is for two? Two teams? Huh? Most of America (it is only humble fear that keeps me from saying “the rest of America”) says “I have work at nine. The meeting is at noon.” “At” is precise. There is only one minute in the day when 3:00pm is accurate. “For” is vague; “for” is flexible. If you have to be somewhere “for 7,” there is room for error. What can I say? Even prepositions are unique in this town.
The social life here, however late it may be running, seems to have its motivations in order. Live to enjoy; sure, we have our flaws, but let the neurotic workaholics have some other town. Maybe that’s a function of living in such an old place. It feels both invincible and on a constant precipice, having gone through so many transitions, so many storms of the political and literal variety. Why not kick back? The city will still be here. Why not kick back? We may lose everything tomorrow.
It’s funny how it takes an outsider to really get to the heart of the matter and show us who we are and how we think and how we operate. What other people might think is strange and frustrating to us just appears to be normal.
And New Orleans is really one of those weird towns that offers so much but that can be maddening to pin down or totally understand. It’s a confluence of cultures and event and attitudes that’s further churned up by living on the edge of the waters of the always moving, always tumbling Mississippi River.