Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Everyone thinks we’re weird

In my deviant behavior sociology class years ago, we spent a lot of time talking about social norms. What’s socially acceptable in one place is highly objectionable elsewhere. In New Orleans, we’ve got broad standards for normal behavior.

I remember a coworker in another city walking into my office several years ago announcing she thought me weird. First off, that’s kind of rude. Also – who was she to judge?! At the time, she was wearing her hair in a poofy, ponytail sticking straight up off the top of her head like a fountain. Consider the source.

In any case, I have one college friend who is a brigadier general and another who’s an EPA attorney and both said their colleagues regard them as eccentric. In fact, everyone who’s graduated from Tulane and left is considered “different” in their new environs. Maybe we were weird before we got here or perhaps the city changed us in fundamental ways.

We’re not so worried about the time here. So what if you are a few minutes late? Everybody arrives late. Or a specific dress code – you’re just demonstrating your individuality. Your lifestyle? Anything goes and it won’t affect your professional or social success either.

We aren’t easily offended because we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Any off-handed comments are generally considered benign. We’re quick to laugh first at ourselves.

We don’t think twice about donning a costume or wearing face paint. Dancing in the street is customary behavior. I remember once striking up a conversation with a shabby man on a Chicago street, which distressed my companion. As long as somebody’s not carrying a weapon, I’m usually interested in what street people have to say. It adds color.

After I moved out of New Orleans, I wondered where I developed the persistent habit of chatting with just about anyone. When I returned, I remembered. Everyone here does. Though there are wide distinctions of social class, they never preclude conversation.

Sunday, as I walked today from my car, parked on Elysian Fields, to a club on Frenchman Street for a free dance lesson, a woman unpacking the trunk of her car smiled and said hello. An elderly woman sitting in a wheelchair on the sidewalk gave me a nod. Two men, passing the time of day on Frenchman, gave me a high-five. Of course, I was wearing a pink and brown pork-pie hat and crawfish earrings, but that was just a hint I was ready for fun.

N.B. No part of this post was endorsed by the Tulane Alumni Association and the person pictured is not a former classmate.


  1. That is one of the reasons I love New Orleans so much - THE PEOPLE! We Canadians can be kind of reserved, but I absolutely love coming back to New Orleans again and again to talk with the people and just to listen to the lovely cadence of your speech. I am coming back in October and I can hardly wait!

  2. I took that class, too! The photo goes a long way as commentary on social norms in New Orleans. I also remember a lot of talk in that class about the bathrooms in Audubon Park!!!I don't live in New Orleans anymore, but I go back a lot. This is a shirt off your back kind of place; nicest people you'll ever meet. I look terrible in hats, but I may have to look into those crawfish earrings!