Wednesday, June 29, 2011

New Orleans

This hour I had has quickly disappeared into a half hour. Amazing what good news can do! My call to MRAC this morning left me hyperventilting, on the verge of tears, screaming, and just plain excited. $10,000 for next year's Rhythmically Speaking production. Woah! Now, on to the bulk of my thoughts.

I have been surrounded by a big pile of cultural differences upon my arrival to New Orleans. The plane flights were pretty standard, but I realize that it likely due to the fact that I was sitting next to Midwesterners the whole time. I think we get fooled sometimes into thinking that the whole of our country is pretty similar. I am finding that to be less and less true the more I get around as an adult. Sure, I have been to most of the states in our union, but many of those visits (most, I'd say) happened when I was much younger and not responsible for as many things. I did not notice interactions with transportation staff, waiters and passersby nearly as much as I notice them now. I wonder what I would have thought had I noticed . . .

My experience in the deep south (New Orleans, Louisiana in specific), so far has been an incredibly mixed bag. I have had some kind, friendly and helpful people who have held doors, given directions and provided smiles. I have also had an angry streetcar driver, a testy class participant and a sometimes general feeling of displacement, both out and about and in class. In my mind, a number of factors contribute to my perceiving this place the way I have and me being perceived the way I have. I am not suggesting that I am a sociologist of historian or any other ian/igist that could diagnose why this land lays the way it does, but I am certainly entitled to gathering my own thoughts.

Cultural differences. Both in situational and dance interactions. I'll start with situational. The biggest thing that sticks out to me in bad situational interactions is the idea of tourism. I feel like about half of the time, I am received negatively if I give any inkling that I am not from here. I do not find myself in the wrong for asking people sitting at a bus stop where the bus they are waiting for will go. I also do not find it in the wrong to inquire with the streetcar driver about how to get where I am going, particularly after I had already tried on my own, several times before coming and several times after, to figure out online the transit system, only to fail. That falls under the other cultural differences I have noticed (to come later in the post). I was appalled at how our streetcar driver treated us. He stopped the streetcar in the middle of the tracks to come back and scold us for not asking for transfers right away when we boarded. Had he made himself seem more receptive to questions when we boarded, I may have thought to ask about that. I know that the job can probably be pretty grueling, but that does not provide free license to mistreat people as an outlet. Part of me really wanted to exit the front as we were leaving and get his badge number to complain, but it probably was best to follow my fellow Minnesotan Chris and Titos, the Congolese teacher, out the back of the train.

This and a couple of other interactions I have had have been frustrating in the fact that tourism is a big part of New Orleans economy. Service providers mistreating people who are visiting will not help them do well for this sector. The bad interactions have highly soured (but not duped) the good ones. I (and most people) have an experience or two working in a job that they do not like, but particularly in customer service, it does everyone including yourself better to be friendly while you are at it. It is sometimes easier said than done, but you always come out better for it.

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