“Where did you go to school?” How you interpret and answer this question may be one of the most telling statements in a New Orleans meet cute. Those who didn’t grow up in NOLA will react in one of two ways: 1. They will answer with their University or 2. They will roll their eyes and say, I didn’t grow up here. The former, are simply unaware that the question “Where did you go to school?” actually means, “Where did you go to HIGH SCHOOL?” and the latter are those who have spent more time in New Orleans and are sick of being asked the question that they are unable to provide a satisfactory answer to. I honestly can’t say I blame them for this reaction.
Those from New Orleans react to this question quite differently. They simply state the name of the high school they attended and reciprocate the question. What follows is often an exchange of graduation dates and friends who attended each other’s schools. While the answer to this question seems to be a piece of useless information, it in fact provides any NOLA-ite with the most detailed background of their new acquaintance in the shortest amount of time.
Of course, since there are so many schools in the city many of them with extremely small class sizes, one’s social network was not limited to their own school. In fact, it was preferable to have friends outside of your own high school so that you were able to take a mini vacation from the drama that smaller schools often breed. Since in New Orleans the six degrees of separation actually become two, asking where someone went to high school on the surface is an attempt at finding the two degrees between you and your new acquaintance. Nine and a half times out of ten you can find at least one person you know in common.
With the plethora of private, parochial and public schools in the city, each school has taken on a distinct identity. You can think of this in terms of Greek life in college, where each fraternity and sorority had their own reputation-the smart kids, the preppy kids, the stoner kids and so on. On another dimension, the New Orleans high school question serves to instantaneously understand a person’s background: the type of people they grew up with and who was influencing them during their formative years.
Aside from the social reputation the school has earned, the final dimension to the high school is the individual’s socioeconomic status. The schools in the city range from the free public schools to private schools that can cost up to $17,000 a year. Whether the person asking the question intends to deduce this information or not, the answer to this question often times inadvertently suggests the financial means of a person’s family. This is perhaps one of the most flawed dimensions to the question as there are many individuals who attend private school on scholarship and likewise many who attend the public magnet schools despite their family’s fortune. So in the very least, even if someone is shallow enough to try to pull this information out of someone upon a first meeting, the accuracy of the supposed answer is never guaranteed.
The New Orleans high school that someone attends is a life long brand that you can never shake. Hell, there are sixty year olds I know that still participate in the high school question ritual. Most days people wear their brand with honor, acting in full support of their alma maters. However even the most well respected high school in the city comes with a social stigma that is less than desirable if you encounter a group whose personality clashes with yours. So even those of us who can and will answer the age-old high school question, are often times weary of the information they inadvertently provide and the reaction that may ensue as a result of their answer. But in all actuality, we really just want to know if we know your momma and dem!