Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Living in the South ~ Cajun Country ~ The People

Living in South Louisiana was quite an adventure. 
But an exciting and fulfilling one!

The Cajun people are warm and welcoming. I immediately felt at home, though I did have to get used to be called, Sugar or Honey. And then there was the touching and hugs and kisses (okay - air kisses). I wasn't used to that! You see I came from an area of the country (Colorado = cold and snow) where people didn't hug and kiss when they saw each other at the store. I guess it's kinda hard to get the full effect of a hug when you're bundled up in two or three layers of clothing. But I got used to it and now have come to expect it. I'm going to miss that familiarity. Maybe I can start a new trend back in Colorado. Or get arrested for assault!

The respect that Cajun children show their elders is something that is now lost in many other areas of the country. Children are taught from the time they can speak to call men Mister and women Miss (followed by the name of the person). I was always called Miss Jeanne. Doors were always held open for me. Made me feel like a Queen! I already miss this! I was raised to respect anyone older than me. To say Please and Thank You. To use Mister or Miss or Mrs. These things all seem to be lost in today's hurried world. Except in the Deep South. 

It was awhile before I could understand everything people were saying to me. I did a lot of smiling and nodding in the first few months. Not only is their accent heavy but French words are quite often thrown into a sentence. And then even those words aren't true French but a bastardized version of French - Cajun French. I seem to have picked up a bit of an accent from the time I spent there. Many people have come up to me and ask where I am from...that they just can't quite place my accent... I just smile at people when I'm ask this and say that I studied abroad....

The sense of Family is strong in the Cajun Culture. The families are large and quite often several generations will live within a few blocks or a few miles of each other. And even though they may argue and carry-on, they are always there for each other during troubled times. And this sense of Family even goes on to include those who aren't even blood relation. This was the first lesson The Universe wanted me to learn from living there.


The Cajun People also have Joie de Vivre. A Joy of Life. They celebrate everything!!! This Love of Life is ingrained in them. It is their heritage. All too frequently they must confront danger and disaster (tornadoes and hurricanes) so they make sure to enjoy the time they have. The Cajuns are a lively, happy people and when one is immersed in the culture like I was, you can't help but enjoy Life! This was the second lesson that I was to learn.


But there is a dark side to everything. Extremes can be seen in many aspects of Life in the South- From the (amount) food that is eaten to the liquor consumed. The division of social classes is still very evident. And people happily accept their 'place' in the social structure of their society. A great number of Cajuns living in rural areas have never been out of the town where they were born, raised, and currently live. And many have nothing more than an 8th grade education. Cajun French is still the only language spoken in many remote areas. And you still hear about people going missing in the swamp....



9 comments:

Aine said...

Oh I just love this story! This has always been an area of the country that I have been rather fascinated with - I think because as you say it has a intriguing dark side. The people seem so wonderful. Living in the city has really made me miss the "characters" that live in smaller towns and more remote places.

Angelwick and Punky said...

Ahh, Louisiana. I've only managed to visit once, but it was a lovely visit. What I loved about it the most was all the culture. It was a little bit like home. That might sound strange coming from a New Yorker, but I'm a Hispanic outer borough New Yorker. Chock full of culture and family and surrounded by people who previously lived on tiny islands who are always trying to recreate the atmosphere.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

I love Cajun music! You're lucky to have experienced their culture first-hand.

Robin Larkspur said...

Great stories, Jeanne. Definitely, it sounds like Cajun Country is a whole world unto itself. I love that you tell people you were educated abroad! Keep the stories coming!!

Linda in New Mexico said...

This has been a lovely look into a culture that has been romanticized and villified. So many wonderful memories for you to carry with you. You are a very fortunate one. The Olde Bagg

Deborah Adams,Long Beach, California. said...

Excellent post Jeannie! My folks are from Tennessee so I know excactly what you're talking about. You say you're going to miss that familiarity and might take it back to Colorado. Are you moving? ~ Deb

ptrmom said...

Do you ever miss DN? I thought at first that I would but the longer I am gone, the less I miss it. In fact it can be rather depressing to go back and visit (I still have a sister and brother living there). It seems that the cold of the country has moved into the hearts of people and robbed the hope of the town.

The first time we lived in TX I was so wary of it, in DN of course we mocked the Texans and had very little good to say about them. I have found them to be so welcoming and open and friendly, but yes, very proud of their Texan parts. lol

We also moved about every three years, mostly cross country moves and I've seen a LOT of country. The joy of it is that I can honestly say that I have found good people everywhere I've been. Sometimes the local customs make it easier, or harder, to find those folks. Lousiana is definitely lovely down-home, come sit on my porch and enjoy life with me state. I'm sure you will miss it.

On a side note... my sister at one time owned the house you grew up in, I used to love the look of that house, so cozy and comfy looking.

Jeanne said...

Aine, If you ever get a chance to visit Louisiana, GO! It's really best if you can visit some of the smaller towns though the French Quarter has a wonderful mystique.

Angelwick, Louisiana is chock full of culture! Especially New Orleans as it is a port city like New York - another melting pot.

Debra, Oh the Music!!! Nothing like a good ol' toe-tappin' Zydeco tune. :0)

Robin, One must never tell all their secrets....

Linda, Yes, we have a lot of really great memories from down there. :0)

Deborah, Yes, we're moving back to Colorado this summer.

ptrmom, I think we should all be as proud of our towns and states as the Texans are of theirs. What a small world...to think your sister once owned the house on Spruce... That was a really unique place. I don't miss DN one bit. And such a shame that the attitudes have soured. Didn't your brother go to school with my middle sister?

Heathen said...

I am loving this little history of yours! Yes, people do still disappear in the swamps; there's gators in there you know. I've never been to Louisiana, but we have swamps here too. Just stay in the boat! :-)