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We Are Snobs

Editor Note: This entry was written originally in 2006.

I came to Louisiana brimming with Yankee snobbery, fully prepared to make fun of nearly everything here, and instead I find myself frequently charmed and intrigued. It’s a very strange feeling. I was particularly unprepared to be impressed by anything I saw happening in schools. The rest of the country looks at Louisiana with derision, as far as education and other institutions are concerned. I felt sure that my school would be an utter disaster.

Instead, I see a school working hard to do what is expected of them. I see discipline and order, students in uniforms and staff writing lesson plans according to current research. This week the majority of my work energy was spent learning names (of students and staff), procedures, curriculum, and all other bits pertinent to educating students. I do not believe that I can form an accurate picture of the performance of a school in one week by teaching one section a day, but I can say that I have so far seen little at which to poke fun. As far as I can tell at this point, they are missing only two things: resources and interest in a lifestyle which would necessitate higher education. Many lifestyle choices made by the people in this community do not require higher education. If students don’t need college, why would they push themselves in school?

As far as the people I meet at work, I also find little of which to make fun. I have been welcomed with open arms. I have been to a happy hour in a piano bar with a small circle of colleagues. My boyfriend and I left that event buoyant and enthused with our surroundings. I share an office space at the high school with a man who commutes from New Orleans and runs a culture club for the Native American students. He is as progressive-minded and cultured as anyone I have met north of the Mason-Dixon. He has also greatly reduced the dropout rate of Native American students in this parish.

People here demonstrate an incredible spirit. Fate has not been so kind to this community, and you don’t hear much complaining. When I first arrived, I was under the impression that this area was not particularly hard hit by Katrina or Rita. What I am now finding out, however, is that many people were affected. They just don’t dwell on it. These are resilient, positive people and they love living here.

I also notice honesty and a certain direct quality in the communication style of folks here. They do not mess around; they tell you exactly what is on their mind, with a “honey” at the end of the sentence, command, or request. It is so charming that you don’t even think to feel offended.

The lack of efficiency and never-ending list of rules here in Louisiana reminds me of life in France. There is a secret system, there are specified procedures, and those methods do not appear to be negotiable, nor do they appear to be rooted in common sense. However, if you find a way around such foolishness, you will be admired for your clever ways. It is possible that this is specific to the school system, which may be more archaic than other institutions, but the jury is still out on that.

Yesterday, my boyfriend and I were driving home from lunch with some friends of his from work. We saw a pick-up truck (preferred mode of transport here) with a sticker portraying Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes fame). Calvin was standing next to a confederate flag, with his middle finger waving defiantly in the air. It was something at which we could have easily rolled our eyes. But, as my boyfriend pointed out, Calvin was flicking off everybody. Catholics or Protestants. Democrats or Republicans. Cajuns and Yankees. Rednecks and yuppies. Somehow, this struck us as incredibly funny, and it lingers in my mind as a reminder of how someone like me might look to someone from here. After the first blush of disgust left our minds, we had to admire such rebellion. Perhaps the pleasure derived from life in Houma will originate from activities other than merely poking fun.