As the old adage goes “membership has its privileges,” in few places does this sentiment ring true more than New Orleans. It may be known as The Big Easy, but cracking the social code in this genteel southern city is hard—especially if you weren’t born here and/or into one of its elite bloodlines.

It’s a study in contradictions, really. While out-of-town revelers flock to NOLA each winter to imbibe on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras, the carnival’s original founders—a.k.a. krewes—are hosting their own parades Uptown, in between invite-only masquerade and debutante balls. As much as you might want to be a part of the latter, you’d better be prepared to compromise and spend your days and nights in the French Quarter with the rest of the outsiders.