Cultural Idioms In New Orleans

Here are some words used in New Orleans, or Southern Louisiana anyway, that are not used the same way in any other city or state in the nation. If ever you visit, you might have to get used to hearing these and others.

1. Neutral Grounds  – Now in New Orleans, most of the streets outside the French Quarter and the Marigny, where the streets are too narrow for such, are divided.  In fact, I had always heard that boulevards are divided, streets and lanes are not.  But by Jove, I have seen streets in this city that were divided, and  “boulevards” that are not.  So that bit of knowledge is non-applicable here.

However, what is in the middle of a divided street. In most of the country, it is a median….but not in New Orleans…here it is a Neutral Ground…this dates, as I have learned from one of the wars that were fought here…I want to say the French and Indian War, where the French were on one side, and the English were on the other.  The middle was a sort of “safe zone”.  

And the word usage lives on.

2. Madri Gras – This might as well be a national holiday as far as New Orleans is concerned.  In fact, a radio joke that you might hear is “you know you are from New Orleans if you thought till high school that Madri Gras really WAS a national holiday”. Stores close, no mail is delivered, and normal life comes to a standstill.  In fact, during the two weeks of carnival-like celebrations, you will often find malls closed, with the possible exception of the movie theater…..and if you go in one, as I did this last year, you will find beads laying in the bathroom on the floor and the sink area….obvious signs that a parade crowd has made use of the facilities.

3. Groceries – what does one say when they go to the grocery store? Well, in most places one would say “I am going to buy groceries”…Not so in our fair city. Here you go to “make groceries”.  Why?  I have no idea, never have asked why…..only guess I can come up with is some sort of idea that the food in the supermarket doesn’t become “groceries” till you put it in your shopping cart.  (shrug)

4. Turning Left – it is not unusual at all to have your GPS working, and be given the instruction to “turn left on Elysian Fields”….while driving down Elysian Fields.  Why would that happen?  What happens when you get such instructions, normally, is you turn left into a turn-off, at which point, the GPS instructs you to turn left again.  What has happened here?

You have made a U-turn…..which is the main way of turning left in this city…more frequently than the standard elsewhere, which is “just turn left”. Why??  Well that heralds back to the divided streets with “neutral grounds” again.  You can’t drive over a neutral ground so you have to go to a spot created for the purpose of turning left.  That often means you have to go back up to a block to get where you are headed.

Because our citizens are so fond of U-turns (which are actually illegal in many places including Nashville where I moved from, imagine), they often pass laws making left-hand turns at intersections illegal; one really REALLY has to read the signs.

So for example, you can be on one street, want to turn left onto another….but a sign says left turns are illegal.  Soooo, you have to turn right, find a U-turn opportunity, and use it to get headed in the direction you want to go in.  It USUALLY doesn’t take you more than a block or two out of your way.  

5. and then there are directions – most people who are not directionally challenged like I am like to know whether they are going North, South, East, or West.  Here you get “uptown” “downtown” “riverside” or “lakeside”.  The last two being relative either the Mississippi or Lake Pontchartrain (which covers quite a few miles…there is a 24-mile bridge across it at one point).

The streets rarely go in any two directions for the entirety….as many of the streets curve sometimes always in a semi-circle.  Usually to “hug” the riverbank or conversely, accommodate other streets and allow both streets to continue. There is one location that one must made a right turn to stay on the “same” street, and there are likely others than I am not remembering as I type this.

The river part of the situation is illustrated that while I live on what is called the West Bank of the Mississippi….it is actually south of the city…..because of the bends in the river. 

I find that I am no more confused by the “riverside, lakeside, uptown, downtown” directionals than I was by the “north, south, east and west” ones…..(sigh) Either way, good old GPS is my salvation.


21 thoughts on “Cultural Idioms In New Orleans”

      1. YES….for some reason that is what I saw when I read your post.
        And that is what I think of when I think of New Orleans….with all the VooDoo shops and Botanicals.

        1. Now, it makes perfect sense that you would think that. Yes, we do, in fact, have VooDoo shops, and VooDoo practitioners in New Orleans. But guess what, apparently there is a tie in with Chicago on some of that, believe it or not.

          VooDoo is really African/West Indian (as in the West Indes) healing and spiritual practices like the religion of Santera. One of the VooDoo High Priestesses active right now in the city was trained in Chicago.

          1. Oh I believe that. My friend is a Santeria Priestess who moved to Jamaica for years where she learned so much. She bought a little house over there that she goes for vacation from time to time.
            She told us one time that there are groups around San Diego that you have to be weary of. Kind of like….they break off and get a little wild and out of hand. And Santeria seems to be everywhere. It’s pretty powerful stuff.

            Her shop is a Botanical and she supplies almost everything any belief system would need. And ingredients for spells 😮

            1. wow, corresponding with you is educational. 🙂 When i was still living in Nashville, I did research on the city of New Orleans, even read a book that was a read look at the actual Maria Laveav. She was the owner of slave herself and was something like 1/8 African-American. She was also an active Catholic along with being a user of Voodoo type practices and magicks. 🙂 I considered it fasinating.

              1. SO many of these new religions are mixtures of a few. It’s the way the world is turning. People are learning about other cultures belief systems and feel a pull this way or that way when they themselves have lost their own.
                I had to make a brew today I got from my friend.
                It’s a powerful potion so I did it outside…and I have to keep it out there she told me. Tomorrow I strain it and bottle it up and send it off to someone. They were little packages of herbs that I soak in water. And inside one of the packages a little fortune fell out. It said….”You will meet someone who will change your future” How strange is that?

                I feel all Earth Based spiritual beliefs are the same. My little Santeria Priestess friend and I share so many stories about the similarities our practices have. I love this little lady.
                She is German….born and raised here. She is so white….her skin is like porcelain. Blue eyes….and she does her blond hair in WILD styles all of the time. She is in her late 60’s early 70’s I think…..but looks so young.
                She was married to a African American and her children are BEAUTIFUL.
                Long curly blond hair…..dark skin and different color eyes. Her grandkids could be models they are gorgeous. These beautiful little dark skinned boys with long wild blond hair.
                She knows my whole family. She is really good friends with my older sister. My older sister is gifted and if she wants she can be a “healer” but the road is a challenging one. Which is why these 2 get along so well.
                Oh what we were talking about?
                I get off track easily.

                1. Well, lets see we were talking about New Orleans, which led to Voodoo, which lead to religions. 🙂

                  Of course Santera and Voodoo are not part of the “new religions” concept, they are quite old I believe. But there is a tendency to bring things together now. Even my pastor in the Presbyterian Church in Nashville, while advocating for Christianity as the core belief, was open to it “being informed by information from other faiths”. His take was that no one school of thought has all the Truth.

                  I am not actually going to any religious practice right now and haven’t for some years. I would be interesting in learning about what your rituals and beliefs consist of if you were to write about them at any point. I have always been interesting in philosophy and religions, once, when a teenage, checking a book out called something like “The 300 Christian Denominations in America” and while I don’t think i read them all, I dug though and found the most unusual, at least to me, ones and focused on reading about them.

                  i did tell you i was weird at one point or another didn’t I? 😛

                  1. Oh….I always seem to get along with the weirdos 😉 If we don’t live or follow the so called “norms” of society they see us as “weird” ….and I think us weird/odd ones are so much more interesting.

  1. Of course I was teasing with my first comment. I don’t know even know if you know where Diagon Alley is or what it is.
    Anyhow……. my little mind was blown reading about your town. I get it…..but I know myself….I EASILY get lost. And you are right…GPS IS OUR SALVATION.
    Getting lost years ago was pretty normal for me. One of the reasons I was always late to functions. But I learned not to panic because eventually I find a main road which will always lead me to any freeway. But in your town….I don’t think I would find my way out 😮
    I would love to visit your town and put aside a whole day just to explore these roadways.
    I was talking to my hairdresser about what you posted here and he gasped loudly and said he LOVES New Orleans.

    1. It is a really unique city. It is not a typical American city and so say a lot of people. It is much more cosmopolitan and some say European. It is also know as a party city. Although right now, it is not quite as active with Covid-19 being on the rise.

      1. To me it sounds like AMERICA. Where cultures come from everywhere and form a mixture of this and that.
        There is a show that is on Netflix I think you would like….Ill post it in a bit.

        1. Well, but a lot of the United States, especially the south where I come from is NOT like that. Very white, very “everybody is the same” ish. Sure Nashville has minorities but not as pronounced and my hometown was even less so.

          But in addition, New Orleans is still ruled by a lot of Napeleonic law that makes it unique. And certainly walking the streets with a cocktail in your hands in NOT something I have even seen done legally anywhere else.

          1. But “white” America is a part of our make up too. The thing is…all of those white people all come from somewhere and all of their culture seemed foreign to people here when they first arrived. It’s German baked goods….French cheese….Norwegian Glogg….Irish butter….Scottish Scotch….you name it, it originated in another country with rich culture. The sad thing is that many of those people don’t know their family history or their roots that make them who they are. And if they want to claim 100% American that means they have to claim all other immigrant cultures from all other countries that make up America. Because this country truly is a melting pot of everything.
            And if they don’t know that or see it….that is ignorance in one of its many purest forms. And we need to send them packing. Ha!
            And being American means our food and celebrations will always be changing because we welcome everyone. AND…..I appreciate all these foreign foods that are here because most of our Native American food can be bland 😉

            1. Good point. May I just say that my favorite kind of food is Chinese, and we certainly didn’t have a lot of that,….not the good stuff anyway, where I was raised around all those Scotch-Irish folk. But then I don’t remember any food that I would call Scottish either.

              I great up on “country cooking” and that was southern which means most fried or with my mother in charge boiled all the life out of it. Maybe part of my preference for more exotic type food is that I hated my mothers “down home” cooking.

              This comment is long enough or I would tell you a story bout some of her cooking. Maybe I will write a blog. 🙂

              1. YES….write a blog. Oh geez…I just remembered I was going to do a post for you about a show I was watching on Netflix. It isn’t the one I just posted….but I will get to it.
                I love Chinese food …REAL Chinese food and not Panda Express. Not saying Panda Express is fake. We have a family friend who has a Chinese Restaurant that came in 2cnd place for best Chinese food in San Diego on our city polls for years. They make this garlic chili chicken that will have you smelling like garlic for a few days once you eat it. But…its so good you really don’t care and are willing to avoid people for those few days. But the owner who we know tried to retire and closed down for a few years. He opened up again and being honest…the food isn’t as good this time around. I know he trains the chefs himself and it takes time to get it right…..but it’s been awhile.
                We had a local Scottish restaurant that had the best fish n chips. They made their own bread and you could go in for tea and a bread tray. They toasted the bread and served it with homemade butter and homemade jams. And they made the BEST shortbread cookies. They had lamb….salmon….shepherds pie…scotch egg….and of course whiskey was included in many of their sauces. It was the cutest place. The owner who was a handsome man was getting a divorce and because of that…he had to close his business for financial reasons. He even had his own beer made for the restaurant which other pubs sold. A sad story.

                1. I need to have some Scottish food sometime. That is likely the one thing that we don’t have much of here in New Orleans. There are some Irish Pubs…at least one. but that is different. I think there is a place that serves high tea, which is English or more generally British, but it is wildly expensive or seemed so the last time I checked.

                  When I say Chinese, I have no idea if it is “authetic”, but I like what I get. 🙂

Leave a Reply