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Growing Pains: The city as ice breaker

photo-6"We dance when there is no music. We drink at funerals. We talk too much, and live too large and, frankly, we're suspicious of those who don't." --Chris Rose

We New Orleanians, whether a child born into her care or picked up by her along the way, are a lucky bunch. I need not explain the ways in which we few, proud, and loud are fortunate for having our mother of a city, because the reasons are both unique to each person and overwhelmingly numerous.

However, after catching up with a friend from NOLA today, at UVA (obviously over a meal), it occurred to both of us that we have one of the best and most reliable ice breakers in the world: being a New Orleanian.

When you meet someone new, a perfectly acceptable tool of small talk is to ask where he or she is from, at which point the person usually reciprocates the question. Bam. Ice broken, because 11 times out of 10, people jump on the New Orleans train.

They want to tell you about their trip there -- how they partied themselves into the ground, fell in love, or had a spiritual, musical experience. More than once I have had the privilege of being told by a new friend that he/she, “had the best weekend of [his/her] life,” visiting the place I get to call home.

Even if they haven’t been to New Orleans, people will tell you that visiting the city is on their bucket list or that they like the music or cuisine. They will ask you about her: danger, food, music, drinking. All of it. Never is there a shortage of questions or stories to be shared.

By virtue of calling this unique lady our home, we have it easy when meeting new folks. No matter the time, no matter the place, we can always strike up a conversation, knowing that in our back pocket we have the ultimate ice breaker. We can either share our culture and answer eager questions or listen to someone talk about their experience in our beloved city.

We can rest easy knowing that, regardless of who we talk to or where we talk to them, we can make a connection -- be it a common experience or a common interest -- thanks to our one-of-a-kind city.

For example:

Parisians are considerably friendlier when they find out you are from La Nouvelle Orléans; I would even mention that our taxi driver’s face lit up when he found out, compared to his indifferent grunt when he thought we were simply Americans.

Puerto Ricans get excited because we share a common Spanish twist in our histories. I met a lovely older lady in the town of Rincon who, years prior, had raised funds within the town to send aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Virginians will tell me about a friend who went to Tulane or visited on a crazy trip.

We are a lucky few who have the comfort of knowing that, no matter where we go, our home connects us. Not only to one another, but also to the rest of America and the rest of the world, on some personal, cultural, or historical level.

How many cities can do that?

Native New Orleanian Elizabeth Kukla is a student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. She writes about being a NOLA girl from afar in “Growing Pains,” a weekly column at NolaVie.