Do Watcha Wanna, Except if it’s Impolite

Mardi Gras parade etiquette for the tourist (and forgetful local)


In New Orleans, much is made for our penchant to party. During Carnival time it’s especially true. But we are also part of the southern United States, a place that prides itself on manners. While we welcome visitors with open hospitality, it’s easier to be sweet to tourists when they are polite. Here are a few tips for maintaining your dignity and still having fun.


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Don’t fight for beads.

Ah, the coveted beads of Mardi Gras, as well as their plastic cup and stuffed animal brethren, bring out the hunter/gatherer in most of us. We see that shiny 13-cent piece of plastic and, with the reflexes of our pre-agricultural ancestors, pounce on the chance to claim it as our own. Let me say this: There are enough throws to go around and even the “special” ones will likely hold no meaning within two hours of the end of the parade. Don’t fight your neighbor for throws. If a rider is handing a shoe, purse or coconut to the person next to you, you know it isn’t meant for you so don’t argue or steal it. Celebrate with them that they got a great throw and they might share their booze/fried chicken/crawfish with you.


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Don’t reach into a float for beads.

This may seem a little absurd, and it is, but every rider at the bottom row of a float has a horror story about someone reaching into the float and trying to take things. Not only is it rude, it’s incredibly dangerous. The tractors pulling the floats have poor sight lines and it would be very easy to fall and get run over by the float tire. Give the riders space, don’t crowd the floats.


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Don’t set up a chair or ladder more than 24 hours before a parade.

A tourist family may have been given the advice to buy chairs and a ladder at a big box store and set them up along the parade route for the duration of their visit. That would be very bad advice. You may be spending a lot of money to rent that house along St. Charles Avenue but that does not mean you rented the sidewalk or neutral ground in front of it. That goes double for locals. The city has work crews out already removing chairs and ladders, and I’m sure our tax dollars could put those folks to work on better projects than that.


Do recycle your beads.

I promise, you will get more beads, cups, doubloons, spears, swords, footballs, bouncy balls, hats, feather boas, posters, Frisbees, coin purses, and signature throws than you will have room for in your suitcase, not to mention in your life. This year, a pilot recycling program led by the Young Leadership Council of Greater New Orleans and Arc of Greater New Orleans is planned to help people recycle their beads during and immediately after parades. During two parades this year, with hopes to add more in the future, volunteers will be handing out bags for recycling beads and throws, as well as different bags to recycle plastic and aluminum waste. If you aren’t at Krewe of Freret on Saturday, Feb. 3, or Krewe of Thoth on Sunday, Feb. 11, there are Arc collection points throughout the city.


Do be kind.

Mardi Gras does truly offer something fun for everyone. Locals will talk about “Mardi Gras magic” or “Mardi Gras miracles” and those stories are 100 percent true. Just last weekend, a friend commented to a stranger about how much better the stranger’s wig was than her own. The stranger took the wig off of her head and gave it to my friend saying, “Here, you borrow it.” They connected on social media so my friend could return the wig after her parade, and they are now friends with each other. That’s the weird, random, kind, spectacular type of thing that happens this time of year. So be a part of it. If you notice a kid who can’t seem to catch a stuffed animal and you have three, share. If you have extra Popeye’s biscuits (is there such a thing?), share them with the folks next to you. Same goes for beer. This is a time of communal joy. We’re glad you’re here to spend it with us.



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