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When a Yankee tries to learn to speak New Orleanese the first bump you will encounter is the use of "yall." It is ubiquitous, obligatory and its absence quickly identifies you as a non-local. Many, including me at first, don't realize yall has a possessive form. You could try to fit in by exuding Southern friendliness -- saying "Hi Yall" to strangers when you get on the St. Charles trolley for example -- but when you say "How's your day going?" it's all over.
Is there a contest to use as many yalls in a sentence as possible? For example, I once heard someone say to parkers, "Yall can't park yall's car there if yall think yall are going to." Key word: yall.
Which brings us to parking. Many say in the Big Easy (also called the Crescent City or the City That Care Forgot") anything goes, especially during Carnival. Yes and no. Certainly drinking and inebriation, risque' costumes, even semi-nudity and partying are de rigueur but that doesn't mean y ou can park on the neutral ground. What do you think -- there are no rules here?
Many a Yankee doesn't even know what a neutral ground is -- up North, it would be called a grassy parking medium -- much less how sacred it is in New Orleans. You never park on it. Nor do reveling, out of town visitors who have come for Mardi Gras always understand another rule: you can do anything you want until 11:55 PM on Fat Tuesday but at precisely midnight, the police will clear the streets, even roughly. Did you forget (or never even know!) that Carnival is a religious holiday and midnight begins Ash Wednesday"yall.
Yankees can master the names of Carnival krewes -- Rex, Endymion, Zulu, Bacchus, Comus -- and the meaning of the King Cake and Twelfth Night but it might take months to realize that "erl" means oil and "ersters" means oysters.
Of course, New Orleans loves conferring nicknames upon politicians from the Kingfish (former Louisiana governor Huey P. Long) to Mayor "Moon" Landrieu (father of former Senator Mary Landrieu and former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu) to Mayor Dutch Morial. But some Yankees with "offend-no one" sensibilities will balk at the blunt nicknames that individuals can be given. For example, if someone uses a wheelchair, their nickname might be -- any guesses? -- "wheelchair." If someone is fat, their nickname might be "fat"; if they have a limp, they might be "Gimp" and so on. Any physical characteristic from the state of someone's teeth or complexion to their height or the way they dress is fair game when it came to nicknames.
Yet, there is a paradoxical respect for proper names and physical landmarks. The same people who employ nicknames for politicians and individuals often pronounce all six syllables of "the Greater New Orleans Bridge" and correct anyone who mistakenly refers to Burgundy street, which borders the French Quarter, with the wine pronunciation rather than the New Orleans pronunciation which puts the accent on the middle syllable -- Bur GUN dy.
And speaking of French, in a region where counties are called "parishes," many a New Orleanian refers to the sidewalk as a banquette and the neighborhood church as the e'glise. I even heard the invention of the onomatopoeia-like term "Le moan ya" for pneumonia. (Also "collegeship" for and "scholarship." )
Yankees also have to learn new storekeeper etiquette -- not asking, for example, "How much is this T-shirt?" but rather, "How much this T-shirt is?" They also should learn the concept of "lagniappe" -- an extra bonus gift that a storekeeper might tuck into your bag after you bought something -- for which a thank you is expected.
As a Yankee, my lowest moment in confronting the language barrier came when I was working in a New Orleans office with other women. At lunch time, one of the women asked me if I wanted a bald egg. I turned this over and over in my head. Some kind of novel New Orleans recipe or delicacy? Like a roux? Something I need to learn if I wanted to be a true local?
Only after I left the office for the day, did I realize she was saying, "boiled egg."