Louisiana is known for its unique history, its oil/gas and seafood empires, its music, its diverse cultural make-up, including the Cajun culture of Southwest Louisiana and its once dominant Creole culture, its vast wetlands, swamps, bayous, and its sugar & cotton plantations along its waterways. The culture in the northern half of Louisiana is similar to that of Mississippi, Arkansas, and East Texas.
The heat in Louisiana can often become unbearable especially during summer months. People not from the South should understand that the humidity can make it feel much hotter than it actually is. Seek shade, wear loose clothes (preferably white) and remember to drink lots of water to help prevent against heat related illnesses.
While both English and French are the two de facto official languages of the state, English is the more dominant language. Parts of the south of the state and New Orleans have a long French speaking history; however, in the early 20th century, it was discouraged by the state school system in favor of English. Today, English is spoken by nearly all; however, it is not uncommon to hear conversations in French in the southern and rural parts of the state. Furthermore, there is still a small number of elderly in those parts of the state who can only speak French. Spanish is also spoken too.
In honor of the state's French heritage, local street signage in the French Quarter of New Orleans and many downtowns of cities in the Acadiana region are bilingual in both French and English, with French being more visibly prominent in the latter. However, locals will often refer to a street by its English name rather than French name. As of 2013, the Louisiana legislature has also approved of a bill requiring highway signs to be bilingual in both French and English.
Unlike northern and central Louisiana, the Southern "drawl" is very rare in the southern part of the state. The native English accent in Acadiana has many distinct sounds due to the people's collective French heritage. In addition, the accent of New Orleans is similar to that of Brooklyn.
Seafood Louisiana has long been known for its bounty of fresh seafood.
Some vistors have recently expressed concern about the safety of local seafood due to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Seafood that makes it to the markets and restaurants is safe. Oil affected areas are closed to fishing, and catches from unaffected areas are being inspected in even more detail than usual. The oil spill may result in shortages of some species or higher prices in the future. Now is still a good time to enjoy Louisiana seafood.
Louisiana loves good food. Cuisine includes the famous Cajun cooking of Acadiana and the continental traditions with innovative additions in New Orleans. Some items that may seem exotic to visitors from elsewhere may appear on menus, including crawfish and alligator.
The legal drinking/purchasing age is 21. However in New Orleans and parts of Acadiana this drinking age is not rigorously enforced. In March 1996, the Supreme Court of Louisiana upheld a previous ruling by Judge Aucoin that the 21 year old drinking age was unconstitutional, violating the Constitution's equal protection clause. However, it later overturned this ruling. Within hours of the first ruling, the state law enforcement community vowed to enforce the current law, until the loophole in the Constitution was closed. More than 10 years later that loophole is still there. Rule of thumb for anyone wanting to party in Louisiana, regardless of age: don't drink and drive. If you are over 18 but under 21, you generally won't have much problem in New Orleans. Just play your cards right, act like the adult that you are, drink responsibly and you'll have a good time. Don't argue with bartenders, police officers or liquor store owners.
Laws regarding alcohol are more restrictive in parts of northern Louisiana.
While known for its high crime rate, these issues continue to decline in severity. Louisiana is a mostly safe state for the average traveller to get around, but like in most places, one should apply common sense where necessary.
Louisiana (as much of the rest of the South), is known to display the stereotypical "Southern hospitality". However, the condition is that you give respect back. The pace of life is often more Mediterranean than other parts of the US. Approach locals with a positive attitude and you are apt to make friends; a gruff impatient attitude may generate resentment rather than promptness.
South Louisiana has a large Cajun population; while English is generally understood everywhere, French is still spoken by many people especially in South West Louisiana. Louisiana Cajun French is a distinct dialect difficult to understand for many speakers of conventional or Parisian French.
The notorious Hurricane Katrina of 2005 particularly affected the South East of Louisiana with one of the worst disasters in U.S. history. Less well known elsewhere but causing significant damage locally were Hurricane Rita hitting Louisiana's South West a month later, and other areas flooded in Hurricane Gustav in 2008. The disasters are still an emotional subject to many Louisianans.
Even those who escaped with little harm often have friends, relatives, and co-workers with more tragic stories. Jokes that you were told elsewhere blaming or insulting Louisianians will bring a negative response here. Some locals may be inclined to share disaster stories with sympathetic visitors, but others prefer not to talk about it--don't push them.