A few nights ago I was having trouble getting to sleep, so I turned on the TV and watched a rerun of "Las Vegas" in hopes that it would bore me to sleep. Now, on any other night this might work, but for this episode, the cast just so happened to be taking a field trip to New Orleans. As I continued to watch I got more and more wound up at how they chose to portray our beloved city; whoever wrote the script had surely never been to New Orleans, but instead found creative inspiration from a Wikipedia entry.
The show itself was on a few years ago and it starred James Caan and Josh Duhamel as casino security CSI-type guys. The show wasn't that great, but TNT replays it late at night sometimes. Anyways, I was caught up with a club scene, where everyone was dancing as you would to electronic or dance music, but they were playing zydeco music. It was very bizarre. I mean, I've been to plenty of dance clubs around here but I've never grooved on the dance floor to zydeco music. Am I missing something?
The other thing that caught my attention was a line from the show where one of the "local" girls talked about Mardi Gras masks. She said, "In Las Vegas you have 'What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,' but in New Orleans we say, 'What happens behind the mask stays behind the mask.'"
Yeah. I have never heard anyone in New Orleans say that. Ever.
And this is a problem I've noticed whenever I'm watching a TV show or a movie that is trying to convey a New Orleans feel. Sometimes they get it right, but usually these kinds of things tend to be cringe-inducing.
So I'd like to clear up some of the misconceptions that "very special New Orleans episodes" spread across the nation year after year.
People in New Orleans walk around wearing Mardi Gras or Carnival masks.
The only time anyone would wear those masks would be during Carnival season and these days you're usually only masked if you're riding in a parade. Mardi Gras costumes tend to be more modern these days, with people coming up with their own like you would for Halloween. Many costumes are current-event-themed or satirical, though you do run into people who are kickin' it old school.
All we eat in New Orleans for dinner is Gumbo.
If you're watching a movie set in New Orleans, you better believe they're serving up gumbo (unless it's a Monday, then it's red beans and rice). And it's true, we love our gumbo, but it's not all we eat. Most of the gumbo I eat is made for special occasions like someone's birthday or my mother-in-law's very special Christmas Gumbo. And I have to say that most of the gumbo you find in the "tourist traps" are pretty sub-par with the best gumbos being off the beaten path and in surprising places, like my husband's favorite which is at a gas station by the airport.
Our crawfish boils resemble anything that looks like this.
The linked article is for a "hip" New York restaurant called "The Boil" that "brings the bayou to the Big Apple." They call crawfish "crayfish" in the review and describe handing out plastic bibs and blue disposable gloves so that the patrons don't have to actually touch anything or make a mess. I'm pretty sure that if any of the New Orleanians I knew actually went there, they'd probably either double over in hysterical laughter the whole time or just stare in horror at the $13/lb "crayfish."
The only way to get Mardi Gras beads is to flash someone on a balcony.
Don't let anyone fool you into thinking this is the way to get Mardi Gras beads. Whenever someone comes for a visit and sees our collection of Mardi Gras beads hanging on our porch they usually say something like, "Are those REAL Mardi Gras beads? Wink wink." He or she is implying that the only way to authentically procure cheap plastic beads made in China is by flashing drunk frat boys who rented a room above Bourbon Street for their buddy's bachelor party. Oh, hell no.
A word of advice to anyone with breasts vacationing in New Orleans: You do not need to flash anyone to get Mardi Gras beads. Don't let these guys talk you into showing anything you don't honestly and expressly want to show. During the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras Day and at any parade in New Orleans, including St. Patrick's Day parades and/or Mid-Summer Mardi Gras, you will have the ample opportunity to score a veritable treasure-trove of beads. And in fact, this is the "real" way to get Mardi Gras beads, by having someone on a float almost give you a concussion by aiming at your head and fast-pitching a bag of beads in your general direction. Anyone gearing up for Mardi Gras needs to practice their catching and/or ducking skills. But I digress.
We hang out on Bourbon Street when we go out.
I have friends who flat out refuse to even go near Bourbon Street, let alone drink the "Big Ass Beers." Nay, the people who go to Bourbon are tourists and the people who make their living off of tourists, like bartenders, street performers, strippers and pick-pockets. You might find some cool places closer to Esplanade, but locals don't generally hang out there. Though, sometimes it is fun for people-watching and grabbing a slice of pizza or a Lucky Dog.
Other misconceptions about New Orleans that Hollywood perpetuates may include (but are not limited to): All we eat is bread pudding or Bananas Foster for dessert; we have special crosswalks for alligators; everyone calls each other "chere"; we're all friends with vampires and pirates; the only New Orleans professions are "jazz musician" or "chef"; our brothers are all named "Bubba"; we play zydeco music at our raging dance parties; we all hop a "streetcar named Desire" to go to work in the morning; and we all drink Bloody Marys for breakfast on the weekends.
Well … that last one might be true. Wink wink.