Jean-Paul Villere: Parade Etiquette 101

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Someone staking a false claim to the neutral ground in the 2300 block of Napoleon on Mardi Gras Day 2011. (photo by Jean-Paul Villere for

Each Carnival I approach parade routes with glee and caution.  As such please find the below pointers, tips, alerts, and otherwise whacks to the back of heads as the 2012 Mardi Gras season kicks off.  We all want to embrace the revelry, so let’s all do our best to help each other enjoy, shall we?  Let’s!

Jean-Paul Villere

1) Don’t park your car on the neutral ground.  It may not be signed and everyone else may be doing it, but you – and they – will all get tickets.  I see it every year.  And no matter how designated your driver is, not a one of you should be behind the wheel.  Ride your bike, people!

2) Whatever NOPD asks you to do, the answer is always “Yes, officer.”  Bear in mind meter maids and cops and two very different entities.  Meter maids will just ticket you; there is little if any warning.  They’ve even been known to ticket NOPD; I’ve seen it happen.  NOPD on the other hand are working exceptionally hard at maintaining the peace and progress of parties unparalleled.  Some may say they actually excel at crowd control.  So stay out of their way.  My guess is they will only ask you once, because frankly they don’t care.  They have a job to do, and if your ladder may be to close to the street (for example), move it.  And write a column about it later.

3) Day parades v. night parades.  Weekend night parades are easily more crowded and (ahem) more adult than the daytime ones.  Lundi Gras night however tends to be more relaxed as the weekend crowd has long disbanded (lightweights) and scuttled back home to their lives in wherever.  So for the family minded, choose daytime parades.  Your kids *might enjoy the night parades, but historically they can run late, be chilly, plus there’s always the added possibility of drunken mayhem.  I have seen blood drawn at parades.  It’s not pretty.  Put your kids’ priorities first.

4) A ladder is not real estate.  None of the neutral ground is.  The median namesake has no owner, hence “neutral.”  You want a spot to hang with your friends?  Great.  Maintain it.  With your own actual physical presence.  None of this roping off or placing endless empty chairs “saving” a spot.  Abandon it and expect to lose it.  This is the code.

5) Be generous.  It’s a lot of fun to catch throws.  It’s more fun to give most of your take to the 6 year old next to you.

6) Pace yourself.  I can’t stress this one enough.  Take it easy.  This is a party, not your last day on earth.  I’ve seen ambulances interrupt parades for suspected overdoses and other likely toxic ingestions.  Don’t go crazy and watch out for your people.

7) Have an emergency plan.  It pains me to write this one, but really, do have a plan in place.  Shootings have been known to take place at parades, and when that happens it can turn into absolute mayhem.  I’ve had the good fortune of never having witnessed or be near such an event.  And I’ll be just fine if I never do.  Again, don’t go crazy, and watch out for your people.  Have a pre-determined meeting place in the event of an emergency.

8) Mardi Gras ain’t green – yet.  Last year I caught a flat on my bike ride home down St Charles Ave on Mardi Gras eve, the victim of goodness knows what I was rolling rubber over – glass shards, bits of metal, and on.  The aftermath boasts waste of epic proportions, but you can make a difference.  Take your garbage home with you!  Practice what you preach, people!  Somehow the masses that might recycle at home leave it all on the tracks during Carnival.

9) Language.  This ties a little into 3) but watch your mouth.  Parades are not designed for you to exercise prolific profanity.  Time and place, people, time and place.

10) Safety first.  Stand back and enjoy the show.  Don’t rush the floats.  These are massive pieces that will crush you.  Most throws have little if any value.  Is it really worth risking life and limb?  No.  Be practical and have fun; it’s not a competition.

On that note, I hope everyone has a fantastic time this year.  Having Mardi Gras on the 21st this year lends a long and leisurely sense to the chaos.  Next year when we host (- and play in – and win -) the Super Bowl it’s going to be nuts with the Super Bowl falling on 2/3/13 followed up quickly with Mardi Gras day 2/12/13.  Get your ticket in your hand!

Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and the Du Mois gallery on Freret Street and father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at, he also writes an occasional real-estate blog at and shares his family’s adventures via pedicab on Facebook and Twitter.

33 thoughts on “Jean-Paul Villere: Parade Etiquette 101

  1. Ladders must be as far back from the curb as they are tall.

    I’ll say it again, ladder people: Ladders must be as far back from the curb as they are tall.

    Chair people, put your chairs in the back and let people stand in front. Parades are for standing. If you want to sit, sit in the back.

  2. You forgot to tell people to keep their dogs away from the parade route. It’s against the law and wrong for so many reasons, yet every year, multiple times, we have morons who bring their dogs right into the parade crowds.

    • Great reminder. Most dogs don’t want to go to the parade. They don’t know from parades, and all that noise and chaos just makes it likely some dogs are going to break out and run off. Heartache all around!

    • Excellent point I totally forgot: dogs!

      Dog lovers and dog owners remember: the Krewe of Barkus is really yours, but for public safety concerns it really is best for everyone – attendees, you, and yes, even your pet – if dogs are not brought to parades.

      Thanks for pointing that out David. Will save that for the 201 course.

  3. The photograph associated with this column fills me with dread. I get in a really great mood as we get closer to Mardi Gras. The one thing that dampens it is when I start seeing these roped off slices of public property. It reminds me of the times when that space blocks me from Point A to Point B and the self-entitled blobs on their lawn chairs stare at me as if that can prevent me from encroaching on their imaginary real estate. I just walk through and stare right back. Mardi Gras really shouldn’t evoke these emotions!

    • Do people on St. Charles get territorial about their enclosures? I know the maniacs in Mid City do, but I haven’t ever had a problem walking through an encampment Uptown when done in a friendly manner. When I was a kid, we just walked through like we belonged there and no one ever said anything. Now that I have my own family we do the same thing when we need to cut through. With a smile and a happy Mardi Gras here and there, people haven’t ever cared.

      • Good Lord, yes the St. Charles ropers are just as bad. In my experience, anyone who ropes off, sets up giant tents (its a parade, don’t you want to catch the things flying above you??), makes the inevitable WALL o ladders have no one but themselves in mind. I’ve been shoved, yelled at, as has my mother and the rest of my family if I so much as stopped too long in front of someone’s “turf” The few times I’ve politely spoken up to people taking up way too much space, I’ve been met with some of the rudest, nastiest people to disgrace our city. I had a mother with her 5 year oldish daughter BOTH curse and throw beer cans at us when we stood too close to their chairs and they wanted us to move one year!

        Usually though, once the parades start, these people (rightfully) get pushed in by the crowds and they can sit stuck in their chairs swilling their beer grouchy all they want.

        Just like another poster said, I LOVE Mardi Gras, but just the sight of a roped off camp like that can make me go from so happy to spitting nails mad.

  4. Ugh, that picture is the worst. I read a great suggestion on that they should reserve one side of the route for standers only, all the time. No chairs, ladders, tents, etc. on the sidewalk side. Disabled/infirm/elderly people (actually very few of the people who bring chairs fit into these categories) can sit all they want on the neutral ground side. The riders who have family in these categories can request a riding spot on the neutral ground side.

    On the other side, standing only, with coolers and equipment that can be carried, no exceptions.

    Putting some pressure on the people who bring 20 chairs with them will hopefully result in them bringing fewer. Right now no one stands up to those people. I stand at parades and am happy to do so, I don’t want to deal with the territorial b.s.

  5. Thank you for this post! Ever since Endymion first rolled uptown the staking claim to land has grown each year. Tents and ropes and chairs, oh my! It is such a shame as Mardi Gras is for the many not the few. Enjoy the space where you are standing, but please do not erect tents that block views and throws and go into full territorial mode. Let’s ALL enjoy the season together!!

  6. All your points are valid and great yet the point regarding those who claim territory by way of rope, tape, tarps, blankets anchored with coolers, etc., is so important to stress. Please, please send this to all elected officials and to Ronal Serpas and ask that NOPD officers enforce any and all laws on the books regarding the roping off of neutral ground ‘real estate’ during carnival season. I’ve had to go BLOCKS before I could cross Napoleon and, also, St. Charles on days/nights when parades are scheduled. Shame on those who do this. And shame on the city for allowing those who do to go unpunished. Thanks, J-P, for addressing these issues. I wish every resident and visitor could/would read this and adhere to your tips/pointers. I suggest that Mardi Gras etiquette be taught in NO area schools and these “Rules of MG Behavior” be posted in all cabs and hotel rooms! Oh, if only everyone were as thoughtful and well-mannered as you!

  7. I’ve got one for parade etiquette. All these transplants (see: writer of this article) need to learn that the term for Mardi Gras is not Carnival. The term is Mardi Gras for the season and for Mardi Gras Day. The only time I’ve ever heard the term Carnival is for Rex when they call the him Rex, King of Carnival. Otherwise, I’ve literally never heard it before.

    I’ve heard it too many times in the past few weeks from so many obvious transplants. Stop watching Treme, they got it wrong.

    • My people were second off the boat. I’d like to see your degree in MardiGras-ology.

      Transplant?! Really – – –

    • Literally? You have never heard the term Carnival used as a synonym for the Mardi Gras season? Not just for NOLA’s MG, but around the world? You do know that MG wasn’t started in NOLA, right? hmmmm….

      I’d imagine that terms you have never heard before could fill volumes of books. Literally.

    • My 80 year old grandmother who was born and raised in New Orleans would beg to differ. She uses the term “Carnival” exclusively.

    • Umm ….. anyone who thinks someone with the last name Villere is a ‘transplant’ is definitely a transplant themselves.

      PS Mardi Gras is French for ‘Fat Tuesday’. If you say ‘Mardi Gras Day’ you are saying ‘Fat Tuesday Day’, which of course is silly …… but forgivable if you’re not being pedantic (and wrong) about others using the perfectly appropriate term Carnival.

    • Remi,

      Sorry Remi, but you’re the one who is wrong here. Like another poster said, Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday. Hence, it indicates the last day of Carnival season, which always falls on a Tuesday. Then comes Mercredi des Cendres (French for Ash Wednesday). The entire period is known as “Carnaval,” or in English “Carnival.” How do I know? Because I’m a transplant who has studied French and New Orleans history. And nothing bothers me more than a LOCAL who is ignorant about his or her history:-(

      Seriously dude, I think you need to eat a slice of King Cake and settle down.

      • Remi,
        Perhaps you should expand your travels beyond NOLA…sure it is a great place…however, Carnival is colorful, wild, and amazing all over the world…take a vaca…you can afford to miss one season of cheap chinese junk

        • Perhaps I was a little too upset in my first comment, and for that, I apologize. However, I definitely acknowledge the fact that the word “carnival” exists. My point though is that no one really uses it. It sounds odd to me and to a lot of people. “I’m going out of town for Mardi Gras or going out of town for Carnival?” “I’m going to a Mardi Gras ball or going to a Carnival ball?”

          For the record, I speak fluent French, and have lived in France, and have even celebrated Mardi Gras in France. But New Orleans has never been one for using the correct French pronunciation/terms/etc. That’s just the way this city is.

          • Remi,

            Ouch. Really stepped in it on this one, eh? Clearly, you haven’t had much interaction with locals since you’ve been here. Carnival is a perfectly suitable term for the entire Mardi Gras season. I can’t think of one local who would scoff at it’s use (and I’ve lived here my entire life).

            Also, to your point about New Orleanians misusing the French language: as a linguist you must know that particularly with great separation, languages evolve. New Orleans hasn’t been or claimed to have been French speaking in a long time. Sure, you could point to our bilingual “Welcome to Louisiana/Bienvenue en Louisiane” sign at Pearl River, cable TV shows about gator hunting, or CODOFIL (a revival movement, mind you), and say “hey, look, you are French, just like it says in the travel brochures!” But, you’d be wrong. This place hasn’t used French as a language in quite some time.

            The death knell of real French, French in New Orleans began around 1871 (go over to Tulane and look for a publication called “Les Comptes Rendus de L’Athenee Lousiainais” or “L’Habitation Saint-Ybars” by Alfred Mercier for a peek at what locals thought the future of real French culture looked like following the Civil War). Those little bits of French that survive (or have been resurrected by marketing geniuses in a town whose economy is dominated by cultural tourism and filled with fanny-packed oglers who want to see the bohemian side of America) aren’t going to be proper. Why would they? What impetus do they have, except to avoid your wrath?

            Languages evolve, absorbing bits of sub-dominant cultures and languages (be they French, Spanish, German, Irish, American-Indian, or alien) as the sociopolitical world around them changes. New Orleans and her people don’t claim to speak properly all the time, as you must know. If we did, we’d be much less colorful. We wouldn’t say things like “banquette,” “bayou,” “pirogue,” “gumbo,” “lagniappe,” or the word “Cajun” for that matter. Consider some of these “French” phrases Americans use that proper French speakers wouldn’t dare use in the context we Americans use: “accoutrements,” “risque,” “apres-ski,” or “maitre d’.” I could go on. Who’s to say any of these is illegitimate? And, as for the sizable French populations in New England (Acadians from Le Grand Derangement in 1755) and Missouri, do they all speak proper French?

            If you want to be a pedant, get it right. Come over to my house any day for Carnival this year and take some notes.

          • The vast majority of the older generation in my family (may their souls rest in piece) called this whole season Carnival. Seriously, what are you smoking?

          • Local here–I say “carnival” when describing balls, when telling everyone on January 6th that “it’s the most wonderful tim of the year–carnival time!”, I also use it when telling people from out of town that they should come down for “carnival season.”

            I cringe when I hear people say “Mardi Gras” in reference to any ball, parade, other awesome noun that falls between Twelfth Night and Lundi Gras. “Mardi Gras” is only one day. Carnival season is the time leading up to it.

            I’m 23, native, bilingual (French), and my family was one of the first here.

            Hope that helps.

  8. For my entire life, I have used the term “Carnival” to describe the season, and “Mardi Gras” when referring to Fat Tuesday. You may remember from your French classes: “Mardi” – Tuesday. “Gras” – Fat, and from what I can tell, every day from January 6 on is definitely not Fat Tuesday.

  9. The ladder thing I mentioned earlier is in the Municipal Code of the City of New Orleans. The roping off of public property is also against code.

    About ladders:

    Sec. 34-33. – Ladders.

    All ladders used by parade spectators shall be structurally sound. No ladder, chairs, ice chests, chaise lounges and other similar personal effects shall be placed in intersections or between curbs of public streets during the pendency of a parade. Ladders shall be placed as many feet back from the street curb as the ladder is high. Additionally, the practice of fastening two or more ladders together shall be prohibited.

    (M.C.S., Ord. No. 19,314, § 1, 7-15-99)

    And the part about fencing or roping off public property:

    Sec. 34-32. – Fencing of public property prohibited.

    It shall be unlawful for any individual, organization, or corporation to fence, rope off, or stake out any area of public property along a parade route except when necessary to protect plants, shrubbery, trees and other landscaping materials with the approval of the department of parkways and parks. Each private property owner shall notify the parkway and park commission at least 30 days prior to the date of a parade in writing and shall submit a detailed drawing of the planned protective enclosure device. If the private property owner is not notified in writing by the parkway and park commission within ten days of the parade date, it shall be assumed that the proposed protective enclosure device is approved. Any changes to the proposed protective enclosure device mandated by the parkway and park commission shall be complied with.

    (M.C.S., Ord. No. 19,314, § 1, 7-15-99)

    So my question is, when will the City begin enforcing these ordinances?

  10. I think you are forgetting about the handicapped, the very young and old. They have to sit in their chairs in the back and see nothing? I think they should sit in front so they too can see.
    David Eidler

    • David – If someone were really handicapped or old, I’d have no problem with them sitting in a chair in front of me. Or even a kid in a stroller. The fact is that the people in the chairs are HARDLY ever handicapped or old. Typically, the chairs seem to just be there for people to sit in between the floats and then they jump up and leave the empty chair in the way of the rest of us who have been standing the whole time. It’s rude.

  11. If only they would enforce the ladder policy, I could handle the tents and camping (sans ropes). I can’t stand those ladders right up near the street. You have a ladder, why do you need to be so close?

    The generators have to go to. They are becoming more and more common.

  12. The problem is THE NOPD. Ive been going to carnival for 50 years…THEY DO NOT EQUALLY ENFORCE THE RULES…PERIOD..I’ve seen them force families who have nothing more than ladders away from a spot they were at all day….AND ONE BLOC DONE…LET ‘BROTHER-IN-LAW & CREW’ PITCH TENTS BBQ PITS, ROPES AND SAY NOTHING…and then you have the drunken punk sofa in hand high school & college kids who park theier ass out there…so what do you expect a man to do for his family…BECAUSE OF UNEQUAL, SPARODIC, NON-UNIFORMED ENFORCEMENT BY NOPD….he is FORCED to set up his own spot so his children don’t have to be 100 feet behind the idiots!!! I have no problem with no set-ups on parade routes…ONLY, AND ONLY WHEN NOPD EQUALLY, FAIRLY & UNIFORMERLY ENFORCES THE RULES FOR EVERY SQUARE INCH OF THE ROUTE….be honest people

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