Talk and Navigate New Orleans Like a Yat!

The City of New Orleans is so unique that the gumbo mix of flavored air is immediately identified the very second you step off a plane, cross Lake Pontchartrain or The Mississippi River.

That long sigh of relief everyone feels when they return home after a long commute from work, travel or vacation is decidedly not the same as the sigh of relief the normal New Orleanian feels when they return home from anywhere that is NOT New Orleans. 

FIRST and FOREMOST you want to drop to your knees and kiss the ground as the first breath you take makes your soul break out in a joyous smile whilst your heart skips a beat to adjust to the rhythm of the "joie de vivre" vibe that is the very essence of  New Orleans and indeed all of Louisiana.

"Yat", for those who have never heard it must imagine "Brooklynese on Quaaludes" as noted by the famous cartoonist, Bunny Matthews, in his book "F'Sure!:Actual Dialogue Heard on the Streets Of New Orleans" which is now out of print.  

"Yat" is not only the dialect most commonly heard in New Orleans, it is also the description of the quintessential neighborhood New Orleanian.  Actually, it is a state of mind.

To understand New Orleans culture you must understand that there are "basically two kinds of people in New Orleans. The filigreed Uptown people who pronounce New Orleans with at least five syllables and are consumed with living the modern life" AND Everybody Else, generically called "YATS",  who are united in the fact that their homes and lives have not been renovated, that life is the same as it has always been, only worse. "Yats" hate modernity and are most comfortable when life is in the most direst of circumstance.  If you think about it, who else would actually live 6-12 feet below sea level and celebrate this fact?  Disaster looms around every corner and "Yats" just love this.   

For the wanderlust-struck traveler who wisely decides to visit Louisiana and of course, New Orleans, there are a few hard and fast "Yat" terms one should learn.

Directions: Very important so pay attention: There are no directions such as north, south, east and west.  It is:  Uptown, Downtown, River Side, and  Lake Front.   

On da wes bank, ova da rivuh, cross da rivuh: The West Bank of The Mississippi River where Algiers, Marrero and Gretna lie.  Oddly enough the West Bank lies due south of New Orleans, except for Algiers, of course, which IS on the West Bank.  I know. It is a tad confusing.

Neutral Ground:  The grassy or cement strip in the middle of the road.   "Median" or "island" are NEVER used in New Orleans and people will look at you funny if you use them. It is a great place to camp out before a big parade or to play a friendly game of football. 

Banquette: The sidewalk.  (BANK it)  Usage is dying out but you will still hear it.

Hey Dawlin' or Dawlin': A term of immediate endearment that means all-at-once: Hi! How are you? You look good today?  Are you having a good day? How's your mama?

Where y'at: The very source of "YAT".  Traditional New Orleans Greeting.  Means: Hello, How are you doing?  Where are you living now? What is your state of mind today?

Who Dat?:  Expression of encouragement for the New Orleans Saints Football Team.  To recognize  a fellow fan. Can just spontaneously erupt in excited conversation or in a hello or goodbye.

Y' Heard: (yhurrit):  Do you understand what I said?  Do you get it?

Yamamma n dem:  Your immediate family.   One word.

Yamama:  Your mother.  Your mama.   

Algerian: Someone who lives in Algiers, the only part of the City Of New Orleans to lie on the West Bank.  FYI: a ferry boat crosses every 15 minutes until midnight every day between the two points of the city from the French Quarter. Cars, bikes, motorcycles and pedestrians allowed.

Lagniappe: (lan-yap) A little something extra from a merchant in the hopes you will return.  Sometimes an extra beignet from "Café du Monde" or in fine dining, a free dessert or bottle of wine.  Used by the service industry to secure a good gratuity.

Po Boy:  THE quintessential New Orleans lunch (except on Mondays which is ALWAYS red beans and rice) which is a sandwich made with crispy french bread and consists of either meat or seafood. While in New Orleans you must inquire about the history of the Po Boy and the Monday Red Beans and Rice. 

Dressed:  This does not have anything to do with your clothing.  It means do you want your Po Boy sandwich with lettuce, tomato, pickles and mynez (mayonnaise).  When you step up to a deli counter and the nice lady says "Hey dawlin',  where y'at? do ya want yo po boy dressed?"  You reply: "I'm all good,you? yes I do, thank you."  (if in fact, you are all good and do want lettuce, tomato, pickles and mynez on your po boy.......fries are extra, by the way, and the nice lady is all good as well) or you may want nuttinonit.

All good, You?: Common all-in-one inquiry and statement:  "How are you today? I'm fine."  "How's your mamma n dem? My people are fine."  "How are you feeling today? I'm just great!"

Y'Heard?  (yhurrid) One word meaning: Did you hear me?  Did you get what I said? 

Nuttinonit: You do not want your Po Boy dressed.  Just the meat or seafood and french bread.

F'Sure: In a question, "are you sure?".  In a statement, "yes, you are right!"

Go Cup: A plastic cup that is requested from the bartender or host in order to bring your unfinished beer or cocktail with you whilst out on the town. (glass containers are prohibited)

Regulauh Coffee: This does NOT mean black coffee.  Regulauh coffee is loaded with cream and sugar.  Almost like a café au lait which IS black coffee with steamed milk.  (sugar optional as when eating beignets you will be dipping them in your café au lait which in turn sugars it nicely)

Beignet: BAN YEAH  Squarish shaped fried dough liberally dusted with confectioner's powdered sugar.

Da Parish: St. Bernard Parish, specifically, which is suburban to New Orleans. 

Pass by: To make a visit or accomplish something.  "If ya gonna be home later, I'll pass by." or " I passed by the post office and picked up some stamps."  It does not mean you will pass by and keep driving.

Making Groceries: To go grocery shopping.  Also, groceries are "saved" after being "made", not "put away".

Lookit da TEE vee & DA Show:   "Yats" never watch television.  They "look at it" with emphasis on TEE vee.  As for going to the movies or the cinema, it is "going to da show".

Coke:  Any carbonated drink.  No matter if it is a Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, etc.  "I'm passing by da cornah storah, do ya wanna a coke?"  If the reply is yes - you are asked "what kind of coke do ya want?" 

Praline:  Invented in New Orleans, made with sugar, brown sugar, butter, vanilla and pecans and is a flat sugary pecan filled disk.  There are some variations, all delicious.  In the French Market, for instance, one can watch them being made.  PRONOUNCED: pra LEEN.  Never:  PRAY leen - people will look at you funny for that one too.

New Orleans:  There are about a thousand ways to say this one due to each neighborhood, each ethnic background, each school district, each Parish inflection or perhaps just a slow tongue that decides to take a leap of faith.  The main thing to remember is to never, ever say "NOO OR LEANS".  People will look at REAL funny and KNOW for a fact that you are not of this world. "Naw AU lings said fairly fast is quite acceptable.  EXCEPTION: when "Orleans" stands alone as in,"Orleans Parish", it is "OR LEANS."  Also, in the song "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?", it IS meant to rhyme. However other songs such as, "The City of New Orleans" or the ultra classic "Walkin' to New Orleans" gives a more "native touch."

People are so laid back in New Orleans, that really, sans souci, mon ami!  (no worries, my friend!)

The Big Easy: Don't go there. It is never uttered by a local.  Interestingly enough, the local arts and entertainment awards are called:  "The Big Easy Awards."  I know!  

Besides the few Yat-isms mentioned above, there are the street names which need linguistic clarification.  Your neck will hurt between looking up at street signs and checking your tourist map trying to reconcile what your concierge or friendly "Yat" actually meant when giving directions.  Attention is being given to the French Quarter and surrounding downtown areas where your hotel, hostel, or B&B is likely to be located.

Rue Burgundy:  In the French Quarter -  Burr GUN dee - not  like the color or wine.

Rue Dauphine: In the French Quarter - dauw PHEEN - not like dolphin.

Rue Chartres: In the French Quarter - CHAW  tuhs.

Rue Royale: In the French Quarter - RERL. Rhymes with Pearl with an R.  Strong "YAT"

Rue Toulouse: In the French Quarter - TOU loose.

Tulane Street: In the Central Business District (CBD) TOU lane.

Poydras Street: In the CBD:  PER dras.  Hardcore "YAT".

Prytania Street: In the CBD: pra TAN ya.

Socrates Street: In Algries, cross da rivah.  SO CRATES.  Seriously, I KNOW!

Tchoupitoulas Street: In the CBD: chop a TOO las.  Easier to say than spell.

Terpsichore Street: In the Garden District: TERP sa core.

Marigny Street: In the Faubourg Marigny: MA ra nee.  The "a" is as in hat.  Also one of the most favored girl names in the City.

Rue Iberville: In the French Quarter: iB bur vill. Not, I ber ville.  Also, not short for Info Barrel. Just saying.

I hope this short-list of "YAT-isms" will help you, the traveler, to enjoy New Orleans to its fullest extent.

"YATS" are a kind, generous, friendly and artistic people who will welcome you with open arms.  The "Yat" works hard and plays harder.  Their histories are most important to them and they enjoy nothing more than sharing this fact with anyone who is from "somewhere else". 

Louisiana has such a diverse and fascinating history that many of you may find you have a connection to her!  Parts of 15 United States, from the borders of the Gulf of Mexico to Northern Canada, were carved out of Napoleon Bonaparte's and Tomas Jefferson's infamous Louisiana Purchase real estate transaction which was signed, in the French Quarter, at the Cabildo (now a Museum) transferring the French Territories from France to the United States in 1803.

The 15 million dollar acquisition, of nearly 900,000 square miles, allowed individuals and families to strike out into unsettled territory and create lives for themselves helping to foster the spirit of independence, curiosity, and cooperation that is now associated with the American character.

F'Sure, everyone should experience Louisiana at least once in their life and laissez les bon temps rouler! (Let The Good Times Roll!) 

Stay tuned for more tips, histories and lists of places to go and things to see in Louisiana.