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Mardi Gras 101, from a New Orleans veteran

Kelly Sherlock

The Super Bowl feedback about our great city has been exactly what one would expect: We corner the market in terms of our food, music, and general party atmosphere. But it also finally leaked to the media that our real hospitality comes from our people.

We were said to have some of the country's friendliest locals. Admittedly, that could be confusing to the average American watching our climbing murder rate, old footage of looters from Katrina that will forever follow us, reality shows about swamp people (who for some reason get associated with the actual city of New Orleans), and drunk people showing their boobs in order to get plastic beads.

The reality is that, for the most part, we are a city filled with tight-knit families that extend well beyond simple genetics. We are a loyal group, whether it involves loyalty to a city that was once under water and could well be there again with each hurricane season, or loyalty to a football team that gave us nothing but heartache until “the Brees” blew in. No one loves talking about New Orleans more than a New Orleanian, giving tourists the inside scoop on local hot spots, little-known “holes in the walls,” the truth about Katrina, or any topic related to “ya mama and dem.”

I am hopeful that the good press will continue through Mardi Gras, with so many tourists coming to join the party. I do offer visitors this caution once again: When using the media as a source of reference, you might be misled in terms of what to expect. I’d like to squash a few stereotypes and put some local rules to the Mardi Gras season, so you can make the most of Lundi Gras and Mardi Gras and fit in with the locals.

1. Mardi Gras actually does not happen on Bourbon Street. It is true that many people party there after the parades, although most of the people on Bourbon are tourists, since most of the locals are on the balconies above. Regardless, the reality is that New Orleans has a lot to offer off of Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras has everything to offer nowhere near it.

2. DO not flash, especially for beads. This is definitely something that someone from out of town started and everyone who ever visited followed suit. Locals do not do this.

3. Do not show up five minutes before a parade and stand in front of the crowds of people who slept on the route the night before in order to conserve their spot – you will get your ass kicked and if you don’t, you should. Save your own spot or stand in the back.

4. Do not throw beads at the floats as they pass. The idea is for the riders to throw to us and because of that they are not expecting to have something throw at them. You will not look cool or funny, but you will look like an idiot who does not get out much.

5. Do not follow the float down the street, unless you know someone riding on that float. There will be another float right behind the one that just passed. Wait patiently and get out of the street. 

6. Do not fight a child for a pair of beads; actually, do not fight anyone. Beads cost nickels and dimes and are essentially worth nothing. 

7. Pace yourself with the drinking. On Mardi Gras, most people have been out on the route for hours before the parade even starts. In order to make it through the entire day, pace yourself. Do drink water and eat when you can.

8. Do not wear flip flops if you are planning to go to Bourbon Street (that is just a rule no matter when you are here) and, for God’s sake, do not walk around bare foot.

Now, for your survival kit – pack a backpack and include the following:

1. A roll of toilet paper

2. Antibacterial hand sanitizer

3. Aspirin or Excedrin Migraine – headaches are the worst

4. Crackers, a sandwich or some kind of snack if you are not packing a full lunch

5. A koozie in case you switch to beer

6. A few plastic cups in case you, or a friend, need to make a drink on the route

7. A bottle or two of water – stay hydrated

8. Depending on the weather, pack accordingly – a sweatshirt if it’s cooler weather – as the sun goes down, it will get colder; an umbrella if rain is predicted (it is). Pack for the entire day into the night … not just the day time.

9. Extra of whatever alcohol or beer you are drinking. Tip: if you do not want to drag a cooler around all day, wrap your beer can in foil and then put it in a zip lock bag with some ice. This will keep your beer cold if you do not want to drag an ice chest around all day. Also, to conserve space, put your alcohol in empty water bottles.

No matter what, when you come to New Orleans, you will have a blast and if you stick with some of the local traditions, it will be even better.

Head to Spanish Plaza for Lundi Gras today for an outdoor concert and to see Rex arrive and enjoy a huge crowd of locals and the beautiful city setting. Even in Metairie, parades are rolling, so if a more family atmosphere and smaller crowds are more your speed, that’s the place for you.

Take advantage of the locals – we love to make new friends. Enjoy everything Mardi Gras has to offer from us. And then and only then, you can head to Bourbon Street.

Read more from New Orleans writer and event planner Kelly Sherlock at her blog, where this article was originally published.