If you aren’t from New Orleans, you probably think I just settled down to write today’s blog installment after spending my whole day yukking it up with my pals while speaking French. Guess what? I don’t know anybody in New Orleans who speaks French.
That isn’t entirely true. Frau Schmitt speaks a smattering of French. She’s German by birth. Her native tongue is Deutsch but she speaks more comprehensive and mellifluous English than her husband (me). Frau Schmitt’s French teacher was born and raised in Vietnam. I don’t know anyone who was born in New Orleans who speaks French. You won’t hear the French language spoken on the streets while you stroll around New Orleans. New Orleans is a francophile city, but it isn’t a francophone city.
Sorry to burst that illusion. Shall we continue in English, mes amis?
La Nouvelle-Orléans est magnifique. La Nouvelle-Orléans est charmante. Vous tomberez amoureux de cette belle ville. Vous tomberez amoureux de la Nouvelle-Orléans. La Nouvelle-Orléans est comme aucun autre endroit dans le monde. La Nouvelle-Orléans est spécial. J’aime la Nouvelle-Orléans. Vous aimerez aussi la Nouvelle-Orléans.
See what I just did there? That’s an example of the classic bait-and-switch technique some writers like to employ to keep their readers off balance. Did it work?
When you stay at La Belle Esplanade, we won’t pull a bait-and-switch on you. I don’t pretend to speak French. I speak English as my primary tongue and, when I don’t want Frau Schmitt to know what I’m saying, I’ve been known to switch to pig latin. Ew-nay Leans-oray s-iay eautiful-bay. Catch my drift?
New Orleans is beautiful.
If you stay in one of the hotels in the French Quarter, you’ll be thinking you’re getting the real New Orleans experience. New Orleans is all about the French Quarter, right? Everybody goes to Bourbon Street. Everybody goes to Cafe du Monde for beignets. Everyone in New Orleans is either a street musician or a bartender or a waitress. How many people do you know who came back from New Orleans and said, “We saw it all. We spent all of our time in the French Quarter.”
Don’t be that person. There is more to New Orleans than the French Quarter. We may not speak French in New Orleans, Louisiana has been a U.S. state since 1812, after all, but there is more to New Orleans than the French Quarter. If you hear somebody speaking French in the French Quarter in 2017, that’s somebody who just got here from the airport from Paris. That person is not a New Orleanian. I sound more like a native New Orleanian than somebody from France. I wasn’t born in New Orleans. I’ve only lived her for seven years. Frau Schmitt, too. We know a lot about New Orleans, though.
“I can’t wait to practice my French,” some of guests say as soon as they walk in the front door. Well, you’re gonna be practicing that French on yourself. Nobody’s gonna know what your saying beyond bonjour and merci. And even then they’re going to think you’re trying to being pretentious. Just be yourself. New Orleans is gonna love you no matter who you are. Everyone is welcome.
English is the lingua franca in New Orleans. It’s how we New Orleanians communicate with each other and its the language we use to conduct our business. Sorry to burst your illusion. Speak French all you want while you’re here. Just don’t expect anyone to understand what you’re trying to say.
We live in a very interesting city. People coming to visit New Orleans have a lot of preconceived notions. New Orleans is more, and it’s more wonderful than anything you’ve read about this wonderful city. Just show up with open eyes, open ears, and an open heart. It’ll help to keep your wallet open, too. New Orleans doesn’t cotton to cheapskates. New Orleans will love you on its own terms. We really do live in an amazing place. We live in New Orleans—-’nuff said.
À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade
…where every morning starts with a curated breakfast salon during which your hosts tell you about the real New Orleans. The real New Orleans is better than anything you’ve read in the guidebooks.
Saturday, February 11, 2017: We have the first two really big Mardi Gras parades rolling tonight. Both of them will cross Esplanade Avenue, our street. Mardi Gras Day is February 28 this year. The season is gearing up to get in full swing.