Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Louisiana: "Are You Doin' All Right?"

The first time someone asked me "are you doin' all right?" in South Louisiana, I thought it was a kind, solicitous question asked specifically of me by someone I knew. The second and third times someone asked, I wondered, "Do I look ill? Troubled? Uncomfortable?"

I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed on some matters, so it took me awhile to understand that "are you doin' all right?" is the South Louisiana version of  the casual-polite "howya doin'?" of the Midwest.

In Missouri, my experience is that we reserve the phrase "are you/she/he/they doing all right"? for occasions when: 
  • There has been a past challenge, such as health or finances, that the person has (hopefully) overcome
  • Someone appears (or has been heard) to be in some emotional or physical distress
  • Someone might need a little financial boost to help them over a bump in the road

But as I write the above, I realize I need to qualify my understanding about what we say in Missouri - it's my experience from growing up in a middle-class, suburban, cultural-Catholic, white environment. Frankly, I can't speak on the standard greeting in other niches that make up Missouri.

The reason I bring up the qualifier is that after being in Caucasus Georgia, and in South Louisiana for more than a year, and via my tiny interactions with various Indian events in New Mexico, and other, more indirect sources -->  in many groups, when there is universal hardship for the people in that group, there also comes a culture of sharing, of helping each other out when possible.

Based on my understanding, it seems that most South Louisianans, starting from the early 1700s and until about 70 years ago (hello, oil) were subsistence farmers or ranchers (forced or unforced), fisherfolk, hunters, or laborers.

Historic components of the courir de Mardi Gras involve the communal gathering, cooking, and sharing of food at the time of year when the food supplies laid by for winter from last year's harvest are almost exhausted, and the new year's crop of fresh vegetables or fruit isn't yet mature.  English lyrics to the song, Danse de Mardi Gras
The Mardi Gras come from all around, all around the center of town.
They come by once per year, asking for charity.
Sometimes it's a sweet potato, a sweet potato or pork rinds.

The Mardi Gras are on a great journey, all around the center of town.
They come by once per year, asking for charity.
Sometimes it's a skinny chicken, or three or four corn cobs.

Captain, captain, wave your flag, let's go to another neighbor's.
Asking for charity for everyone who'll come join us later,
Everyone who'll come join us later at the gumbo tonight!

In South Louisiana today, I think I see a more inclusive attitude toward local homeless and people with tough economic times that is different from what I see and hear from people elsewhere.

Note: Now, look, I'm talking about a person-to-person level and not the contemptible political level, where we, the people, have voted in power whores who seek the approval of fascist-like, pseudo-Christians by passing laws that target poor constituents, or the populist level where social media folk share Dalai Lama posts in one stroke and in the very next, comment amen and hallelujah to the posts about drug tests for people on welfare. And say zip about doctors and other professionals stealing hundreds of millions from taxpayers in Medicare and Medicaid fraud. Where's the rallying cry for drug testing for doctors and their staff who bilk Medicare and Medicaid?


To get back to the "are you doin' all right?" question. Maybe it arises from a long, long history of widespread hardship, where neighbors help each other out when they can. Or maybe it means nothing, really; just a quirky fashion at one time that became culturally codified. I've learned that we humans are hard-wired to place meanings on things, even when there really isn't any particular meaning to be had.

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