Travel

How to Speak Like a Local in New Orleans

One would think (and many do) that New Orleans—as the French-derived, most European city in the United States—is the place where those three semesters of conversational French are finally going to pay off. All that time spent practicing “Je m’appelle…”  will not be wasted, and the rolling r’s will flow like water.

But New Orleanians have their own linguistic life, with specific pronunciations that differ widely from your college French textbooks. And one of the easiest ways to get instant street cred is knowing how to pronounce where you’re going and what you’re eating.

Here are a few of the more important terms.

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Don’t overthink this one—just go with the understated pronunciation. You can only have the LEEN in there if you’re writing an R&B song and trying to rhyme something. And to be honest, the exaggerated N’AWlins thing is pretty played out at this point.

The neighborhood across Esplanade Avenue from the Quarter.

The eponymous HBO series (and local singer John Boutté’s theme song) did wonders for this neighborhood’s AMR (Aggregate Mispronunciation Rate).

French Quarter street named for French Canadian explorer.

If you’re familiar with the storied French cathedral and its tongue-twisting pronunciation, embrace the hard-r simplicity of it all.

Pretty much a gimme for anyone schooled in the ways of wine—but this is an obvious (and somewhat cruel) bait and switch.

Local authenticity requires that go nasal instead of broad with this one. In a pinch, just impersonate someone from Milwaukee on this.

Old-school New Orleans funk fans have a distinct advantage here, but to be honest, nobody gets it right the first time. One of the longest Uptown streets, down by the docks and named for the nearby Native American tribe who lived here at the time of the city’s founding.

When it comes to this spicy smoked sausage, opt for the broad “aaaaahhhh” initial vowel sound and turn the l’s into a w. (Bonus points: The phrase “andouille sausage” is redundant in this case, to kind of like saying “linguine pasta.”)

A delicious stew-like seafood dishusually crawfish or shrimpfrom the Cajun canon; the word means “smothered from gravy.” And like most such dishes, it’s served over a bed of white rice.

Yeah, locals know you pronounce it with a y and that you caught them with bacon and a string in ditches when you were a kid. Difference is that we never say “cray” (in that context) and eat them by the metric ton.

A regional variation that differs from everywhere else in the Deep South. A deliciously simple sugary candy made with our favorite nuts—pecans (pronounced puh CAWNS). Ask for PEEcan PRAYleens and you can watch New Orleanians reflexively wince.

Hit the first syllable hard here, people. The traditional deep-fried fritter requires a strong start.