When I first moved to the South in the fourth grade, I realized that I was stepping into a completely different world. New Orleans, Louisiana, was unlike any other place I had ever been. In the French Quarter, tourists walk around all year with beads hanging from their necks and long, skinny cups in their hands. When there is a Saints game going on, the streets are littered with cars, but devoid of people. What surprised me more than anything, though, was the constant friendliness and compassion of the people of New Orleans.
“What can I get for you, honey?” a waitress asked me on my first day in Louisiana.
I was taken aback. This woman did not even know me, and yet she treated me like family. She smiled down at me as I pointed to an item on the menu.
“Is the pasta good?” I asked her.
“Baby, it’s not my favorite,” she admitted with a grin, “But I’m more of a jambalaya girl, you know!” She elbowed me, letting out a loud cackle.
I looked at my family in shock. What was I supposed to say to that? I had no idea what jambalaya was, nor could I believe that this woman had just deferred me from ordering something. She had given me her honest opinion, as if we were best friends.
After a few years in New Orleans, I got used to the honeys and the babys. I also realized how comforting it is to be treated like I belong, no matter where I go or who I am with.
I recently went to the DMV to update my driver’s license. As I was sitting in the silent room with at least twenty other people, a woman walked in.
“Good morning!” she announced to the room.
“Good morning,” the whole room said back without hesitation.
The woman took her seat, and waited with everyone else for her number to be called as I looked around the room, startled. Suddenly, everyone was comfortable with each other. We were all friends and neighbors.
Even after eight years of living in Louisiana, it still makes me smile to know that I am not alone here. Someone is always willing to say hello or to lend a hand when it is needed. It is a sense of family and love that I have never been able to find anywhere else.
As I continued to wait for my number to be called, a man walked in.
“Good morning,” he said to the room.
“Good morning,” we all said back.
So I believe in treating strangers like family. I believe in making people feel comfortable. No one should have to feel isolated or alone when they walk into a room full of strangers, and in New Orleans, no one does.