John and I arrived in New Orleans for our quasi-sabbatical on March 25 so we’re approaching one month in our temporary hometown.
I’m already getting pangs about time running short. We have Easter weekend coming up, then two weekends of Jazz Fest, then we pack up for home a few days later.
So after we’ve crossed the halfway point in our stay, here are some random observations about NOLA:
Things in short supply: street signs and mailboxes, apparently wiped out by Katrina and never replaced?
Things in abundance: musicians and artists, rats and cockroaches, potholes
Phrases people use that I don’t think I can convincingly say:
- y’all, although I love it because it fills the “plural you” void in the English language
- making groceries, as opposed to going grocery shopping
- where y’at, which isn’t such an unusual question but there’s something about the pronunciation that sounds funny coming out of my northern mouth
Take a sweater: Weather has been lovely while we’ve been here, typically around 80 during the day and 60 at night. I almost always take a sweater with me when we go out, not because it cools off so much at night but because so many places we go are air conditioned like the refrigerator aisle when you’re makin’ groceries.
Really, people, it’s not so unbearable outside that you need that much cold air. Maybe they’re just getting ready for August?
Best tradition ever: the lagniappe. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a small gift given a customer by a merchant at the time of a purchase; broadly : something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure.”
It seems baked into the New Orleans way of doing business, far more so than any other place I’ve been. We recently got our second dozen oysters on the house when we hung out and chatted with the bartender at one bar, and John frequently wears the free shirt he scored when he complimented the fried chicken at one of his favorite joints in the Quarter.
It seems the rule is it’s not an advertised deal — this isn’t about the 2-for-1 drinks at happy hour — but instead it’s at the discretion of the person waiting on you.
I’m not just saying the lagniappe is excellent because I like a bargain. (I do.) But there’s something so endearing about feeling you’ve gotten more than you paid for, that you’re getting treated special. Isn’t that why Cheers was such a great bar, because everyone knows your name?
We picked up one excellent word — a word worth travelling to New Orleans to get; a nice limber, expressive, handy word — “lagniappe.” They pronounce it lanny-yap. It is Spanish — so they said. We discovered it at the head of a column of odds and ends in the Picayune, the first day; heard twenty people use it the second; inquired what it meant the third; adopted it and got facility in swinging it the fourth. It has a restricted meaning, but I think the people spread it out a little when they choose. It is the equivalent of the thirteenth roll in a “baker’s dozen.” It is something thrown in, gratis, for good measure. The custom originated in the Spanish quarter of the city. When a child or a servant buys something in a shop — or even the mayor or the governor, for aught I know — he finishes the operation by saying — “Give me something for lagniappe.” The shopman always responds; gives the child a bit of licorice-root, gives the servant a cheap cigar or a spool of thread, gives the governor — I don’t know what he gives the governor; support, likely. When you are invited to drink, and this does occur now and then in New Orleans — and you say, “What, again? — no, I’ve had enough;” the other party says, “But just this one time more — this is for lagniappe.” When the beau perceives that he is stacking his compliments a trifle too high, and sees by the young lady’s countenance that the edifice would have been better with the top compliment left off, he puts his “I beg pardon — no harm intended,” into the briefer form of “Oh, that’s for lagniappe.”