Words to the Wise

Be mindful of the fact that the laissez-faire atmosphere of Mardi Gras can cause visitors to become more prone to take risks and let their guard down. Especially for those seeking to revel in the risqué side of the festivities, some precautions are in order.

Watching your step at the Greatest Free Show

While the naughty side of French Quarter revelry figures prominently in media portrayals of Mardi Gras, for local residents it’s still very much a family-oriented celebration.

New Orleans is a saucy temptress renown not only for its distinctive historical, cultural and aesthetic charms, but also for naughtiness and a citizenry that is exceptionally well-practiced in the art of diversion. With its alluring, sexy ambiance, immoderate nightlife and embrace of eccentricity as a civic virtue, the city can have an almost narcotic effect on people seeking an escape from the prosaic constraints of the workaday world. Especially during Mardi Gras, when conventional mores have a tendency to evaporate, visitors often seem to feel entitled to test the limits of decorum and revel in the risqué.

Although New Orleans was a permissive playground before the Civil War, its show-your-tits, party-down image has in recent years been seared into the national consciousness, as vignettes of French Quarter flashing have migrated to the Internet and as producers of salacious Mardi Gras videos have taken to promoting their wares on late-night TV. In the view of certain native cognoscenti, who treasure their culture’s unique heritage, vernacular traditions and folkways, such exploitation has tarnished the city’s reputation and overshadowed the traditional family orientation of Mardi Gras. But like it or not, the flesh-baring revels have become a tourist attraction/leisure activity.

The city’s alluring, sexy ambiance can entice visitors to revel in the risqué.

Thanks to consumption of, and participation in, Mardi Gras immodesty, the French Quarter has taken on a Spring Break atmosphere, attracting visitors seemingly more interested in drunken escapades and the flesh-for-beads show than the celebration’s cultural significance and storied pageantry.

The desire to experience the racy side of the festivities can, however, lead to questionable situations.

The laissez-faire atmosphere of the French Quarter — and New Orleans in general — can cause visitors to become more prone to take risks and let their guard down. If you’re drinking, don’t go stumbling off the beaten track. That is, avoid streets that look deserted, and don’t venture outside of tourist areas with someone you don’t know. New Orleanians pride themselves on their hospitality and friendliness, but strangers who amiably offer to help in the procurement of something illicit are definitely not to be trusted. Likewise, be wary of anyone you don’t know inviting you to a “party” or offering to be your “guide.”

Hustlers and grifters gravitate toward touristy, alcohol-soaked entertainment districts and the French Quarter is no exception. This is especially true during Mardi Gras, which attracts some people who are out for more than just a good time. Don’t be naïve and make yourself an easy mark. Panhandlers and con artists of all persuasion are out to scam the unwary visitor, especially the inebriated variety. If some con walks up to you and says, “I bet I can tell you where you got dem shoes,” the correct response is: “On my feet, on the street!”


All things Mardi Gras in New Orleans