When they land in London, Who Dats traveling across the pond for the Saints-Dolphins game may feel like fish out of water.
After all, the host country for this neutral site game is a place where tea is a ritual but iced tea is anathema, where a proud Southerner is still just a "Yank" and where even the word football doesn’t mean the same thing. Talk about an away game.
But just how different is a Saints game weekend 4,600 miles from the Superdome? Are Londoners and New Orleanians really two people separated by a common language, or is there enough neutral ground between them for Who Dats to feel just a little more at home?
Who's your father (of waters)?
London is a sprawling, thriving city, expensive and cosmopolitan, with a high population density and the ethnic diversity of a modern global crossroads. The Big Easy, it is not.
But Britain is also an island nation — part of, but historically distinct from, the rest of Europe. London is the labyrinthine heart for this place apart. New Orleanians often like to see their own city as an island unto itself (and depending on the status of levees, floodgates and canals, it is sometimes closer to a literal island than not). In their own hearts, they know it's a place that’s different from mainstream America and even from the surrounding South.
All great river towns must share at least some strains of DNA, and both London and New Orleans have a heritage as major inland ports. We have the Mississippi, AKA the Father of Waters. London has the River Thames, aka “Father Thames.”
Learning London English
Visitors traverse and must reference the Thames frequently on their tour of London. That also makes it a helpful lesson in the subtle art of city-specific pronunciations.
To say Thames properly is to forget how it’s spelled and just blurt “tems” (close your eyes if it helps). This is hardly an isolated example. With Leicester (“less-ter”) Square, Southwark (“suth-uck”) and Grosvenor (“grov-na”) Square, the map of London is full of names just waiting to sort out the natives from the newcomers.
This should not faze New Orleanians, however, given our own peculiar house style (see Milan, Chartres, Burgundy, Calliope, etc.). We know what it means to miss the proper pronunciation of New Orleans. New Orleanians who are challenged on their Thames interpretations should have plenty of material handy for a comeback.
A taste of home, away
The Thames has crawfish — well, crayfish, anyway — though London has not exactly embraced their potential for boils. And in this city, holding an Oyster card does not entitle you to a cold dozen on the half shell but, rather, just a transit ride.
When it comes to what London actually does eat, visitors may already have their minds made up. British food is a routine subject of disdain, but then New Orleans people are already used to looking down their forks at any cooking other than their own. There should be little shift of pace here.
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Visitors who want to claim superiority over fish and chips and pork pies are probably missing the fact that London can bring the flavors of the globe to the table (including Cajun), and that, in particular, it’s home to the hemisphere’s best Indian cuisine.
Still, New Orleanians abroad may take solace that a few familiar restaurants have set up shop in London. Dickie Brennan’s restaurant group is in residency at Boisdale of Canary Wharf, a restaurant and whiskey bar now experiencing our regional oddities of BBQ shrimp (not barbecued) and crabmeat cheesecake (not a dessert). Across town, Galatoire’s is in the house at the Beaumont Hotel, serving a menu that (for once) even regular Galatoire’s patrons may actually need to look through. Dover sole and fried cod amandine are some overseas adjustments to the Creole standards during its stay.
These transatlantic pop-ups may help court the business of Londoners who travel the other way to New Orleans. For the homesick Who Dat who can’t fathom a weekend away from trinity and crabmeat, it’s more like they're catering to an upscale version of Ignatius Reilly.
Keep calm, drink on
Things at the bar should be pretty straightforward.
Sure, a round of drinks is called a shout, you’re not being a jerk if you don’t tip (just following local custom) and any ice that finds its way into your glass will be dispensed so sparsely you’d think it was being rationed.
But underlying such style points, New Orleanians will find the robust and liberal drinking culture of London familiar. The pub is regarded as a cornerstone of the city’s neighborhood life, akin to the corner joint in New Orleans, and a tour of London can feel like a relay between them.
Should the Saints prevail and pints rise in cheers, count on locals joining the universal rite of celebration. If things go badly, though, there’s always the consoling perspective of Brits who would really rather be watching soccer or rugby this time of year anyway.
In either case, this particular away game will be a chance to adjust that famous bit of British home front advice to keep calm, carry on and go marching in.
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