My Mardi Gras experience last week was frustrating, but this past weekend made up for it. My friend Amie came into town for the Super Bowl activities because she does public relations for the National Football League. She will actually be in New Orleans for a week, but before Amie started her busy NFL schedule, Chris and I wanted to show her the sights, sounds and smells of New Orleans.


On Friday we wandered around the French Quarter. On Saturday night, the three of us enjoyed poor boys at Mahony's then walked to St. Charles Avenue to watch the parades. We saw the end of Sparta then stayed for Pygmalion. We caught lots of beads and cups and the whole night was the Mardi Gras parade experience I had hoped for.


But this past weekend also made me think about some observations I have made about the dynamics of Mardi Gras and Carnival season. With my friend coming into town and the knowledge I've picked up from talking to locals, I've decided that there are two kinds of Mardi Gras: tourist Mardi Gras and local Mardi Gras. To explain my point, I have included a few differences that I've noticed many out-of-towners and tourists believe even though they're false. I'm calling these ideas my "Mardi Gras Mythbusters."


MYTH: You have to flash your chest to get beads.

Amie had never been to New Orleans before, so of course we had to show her the French Quarter. It was a perfect night and the Quarter looked great all dressed up for the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras. When we got to Bourbon Street, however, the beautiful atmosphere took on a different feel. There were people dropping beads from the balconies and we put up our hands and asked people to throw some down. Some people were nice and tossed us beads right away, but a few guys hesitated. One creepy guy then gestured for me to lift my shirt. “Ewww NO!” I said to myself, then I scurried away.


I had forgotten there's the belief that you have to flash people to get beads. You hear all about it in movies and on “COPS: Mardi Gras Edition.” Even my dad asked me, “Don't you have to flash people to get beads?” I quickly replied “No, I don't do that!” (Side note: Are there some daughters who actually tell their fathers that they flashed strangers for beads?) There's this myth out there that you have to flash people to get free loot at Mardi Gras, but after going to three parades already and taking a walk down Bourbon Street, I can tell you that's not necessary. There are lots of beads for everyone, you just have to know where to look. So keep your clothes on, girls.


MYTH: Mardi Gras is something for those 21 and older.

One thing I thought was interesting about watching the parades on Saturday night was how many families were there. Amie, Chris and I were sitting at the corner of St. Charles and Louisiana Avenue and it was such a nice atmosphere. There was plenty of space so the crowd didn't seem overwhelming. There were lots of families sitting with their kids, some kids were even in their pajamas. There was another kid with a toy trumpet who would pretend to blow it every time a band came by. The family scene was refreshing to see because the only aspects of Mardi Gras I had heard about before I moved here was the raunchiness and the drinking. As someone who actually lives in New Orleans now, I know there are aspects of raunchiness and there's a lot of drinking, but that's only one part of it. Mardi Gras is a special tradition that New Orleanians take seriously and they treasure it as an important part of the city's culture.


MYTH: Parades only happen in the French Quarter.

Uptown parades happen on St. Charles Avenue. I also learned after an unsuccessful trip to the Lakeside Shopping Center that parades in Metairie happen on Veterans Boulevard. While this past weekend was fun, I also learned that you should always check the parade schedule before you plan to run any errands in an area where there might be parades. I got stuck in a Metairie parking lot for a bit on Sunday because of a parade.


MYTH: Mardi Gras is all about the partying. 

I know I already said this a couple of paragraphs up, but I have definitely noticed that Carnival season is much, much more than a big party. I know I have yet to see what happens on actual Mardi Gras day in New Orleans, but from what I've seen so far, Carnival season is a time of year to spend with friends and carry on traditions. Yes, there is a lot of drinking and there are lots of parties, but there are also people who put a lot of time and money into the krewe's floats and other festivities.


New Orleans is a special place, and Mardi Gras is just another example of what makes the city so unique. Amie has already said she wants to move here; I think you made a good first impression, New Orleans.