Fat Tuesday and Looking Like a Tourist

My Cajun roots demand that, today of all days, I acknowledge the beautiful, gift-to-humanity, let-the-good-times-roll-and-all-that-jazz insanity that is Mardi Gras festivities in Louisiana.

There. It’s out of my system.

On that note, this past summer I spent roughly two months living in New Orleans, Louisiana, working in the promotions department of a publishing company based just outside of the city. Born and raised in Baton Rouge, New Orleans was never a place that was too far away. I would go for day trips fairly often, and there was of course much fun to be had in general. I never felt that I infringed upon the “tourist” category (thank God).

One of my most memorable moments during the summer occurred during the many, many minutes I spent avoiding death by insane drivers and sitting in traffic. Waiting for a light to change, I happened to glance over at the streetcar tracks. A rather large man wearing (I kid you not) a floral, Hawaiian-looking shirt, paused in the middle of the streetcar tracks to angle his iphone and carefully instagram a shot of beads hanging from a typically southern tree, like an oak with Spanish moss or something. I remember staring. I wanted to roll down my window and yell at him to stop looking like such an idiot—doesn’t he know that’s the most touristy thing to do ever? Taking pictures of the Mardi Gras beads still stuck in the trees?

To me, it was shameful.

And then I traveled across the ocean where I laugh giddily at snow and take pictures of the snow, forget taking pictures of my friends in the snow, it’s freaking snow. Yes, walking through the “city-centre” I will stop and take pictures of adorable little shops and cobblestone roads because we don’t have those where I’m from.

Which begs the question. What is it about the touristy image that cheeses us off so much? Because, unless you live in the same city/town/region of the universe for the rest of your life, you’re going to, in some capacity, be a tourist. Or a traveler. Whatever you like. I am living here, certainly, but I carry my camera around like nobody’s business, and I don’t exactly have the local accent nailed down yet. Even the language used—“hi-ya”, “cheers”, “hob”, “loo”, “modules”, “petrol”, etc. I’m as out-of-place as you can get.

It’s the same mentality that I feel as an upperclassman at LSU.  Spring testing tours are the worst. Everyone crowds the road, they walk around asking for directions, it’s a nightmare. So it’s basically the same thing. They’re out of place, they don’t belong, they should know better.

We’ve all been there. I’ve been there many, many times. I think it comes down to the idea that we like feeling comfortable with where we are. We like feeling superior in the sense that, no, we don’t get a kick out of taking pictures of Mardi Gras beads in trees because it’s something we experience every year. Just like people in jolly old England are very, very used to snow. Also grey skies. Also just cold weather in general.

I’m trying to pull something intelligent and deep out of this summary, but mostly I sort of understand now. It’s a massive party back home right now, and I’m not able to be a part of it, even though loads of people are experiencing that particular party for the first time—out-of-state people being tourists, getting crazy on Bourbon Street. They’re having a great time because it’s new and fun and thrilling and, heck, it’s Mardi Gras. It’s kind of hard to mess up.

I get feeling excited over things. I want to unironically love where I am, to be unabashed at whipping out my camera to take a picture of a red telephone box because they’re the coolest things ever. Maybe it’s about nixing the judgmental attitude and being okay with remembering what it’s like dorking out over things that are different and cool simply because they are intrinsically “other”. I don’t really know.

Party hard, y’all.

About Jackie DeRobertis