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Generosity: One of the Seven Cardinal Virtues of New Orleans

Although I was born and raised in New Orleans, I have lived in different places in my life: Mobile, Los Angeles, Seville Spain and Seattle and the Portland, Oregon area. I’ve always found generous people. I consider myself pretty generous and, well, I tend to attract those kinds of people to me. It really it comes down to these are the kind of people I want to deal with. I mean life’s too short to want to deal with stingy people, n’est pas?

Generosity: One of the Seven Cardinal Virtues of New Orleans

A captain of a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade generously greets onlookers.

A captain of a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade generously greets onlookers.

I think the thing about generosity in New Orleans does not have to do with how much money someone gives to a charity or donations to people begging on the street. It has to do with something deeper. And that is New Orleanians want to draw people in; they want to include people. To put it really simply: New Orleanians like people.

Think about it. Mardi Gras and the entire Carnival season has to do with not only folks having a good time but with generosity, with people wanting to share with each other. Not only do they want to share with their friends and neighbors, but they spend oodles of money to put on a great festival for the whole world. That’s why Mardi Gras is considered to be the greatest free show on earth.

It’s a funny thing when foreigners come to town — and I’m including in that term foreigners as anyone who is not from New Orleans and that can mean someone from another state or even another city. It takes a while for them to adjust to our strange ways of being.  One “way” in particular is this: we like to greet each other when we pass someone on the street and we also like to wave to people while driving a car.

I live in an uptown neighborhood close to the universities so we have a lot of students that walk up and down the street. I say hello or good morning to every one of them. Sometimes they respond with a hello, and they seemed genuinely surprised that someone they don’t know from Adam would greet them so openly.

Sometimes they might grunt back a hello and you’re lucky if you can get them to actually make eye contact. It must be kind of sad where they come from, with people passing each other on the street not acknowledging the other’s existence. Kind of makes for a suspicious lot.

We like to share our culture, our history and our heritage and that can shown in the many festivals that we have here, and we seem to have more and more each year. Not a month goes by without a festival or two somewhere in the city.

Do we have rude people here? Of course we do but those people are in the minority. When you think about it you can’t have a city well known for being easy going with people who are tight-lipped and stingy. Great service, friendliness and first-rate hospitality are our number one qualities, I think; wanting to serve others and be good citizens and contribute to the world is our hallmark.

So when someone says hello to you on the street, they are just trying to be friendly and it takes no effort to say hello back. And it’s OK to smile at the waiter and the shop keeper and engage in a conversation with them. It will make you feel better. And it’s really a lot of fun too.

Being generous to me has to do with a generous spirit and a willingness to live in gratitude for what you have in life. I mean, c’mon, we live in New Orleans and most of us are grateful everyday for being part of this amazing, exciting, artfull, graceful and sometimes wild way of life.


Generosity is the second cardinal virtue of New Orleans. Read the first installment in this series about Community.

The Seven Cardinal Virtues of New Orleans was developed by Ray Cannata, the Man Who Ate New Orleans.

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