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Washington DC: Formal But Fun

I’ve lived in Washington DC for a little over seven weeks now. Time enough to get the lay of the land and understand a bit about how the city and its inhabitants function, but not so much time that I don’t still get surprised on occasion by what goes on around me. I’ve visited DC a few times growing up but never lived here and seeing the city through (somewhat) adult eyes is an entirely different experience. DC has its quirks, good and bad, just like any other city I’ve lived in, but it’s those differences that make traveling and living in new places a worthwhile experience. Here’s some of the things I’ve noted that define the city, at least in my head:

Formality- Washington DC is the capital of the United States. Unsurprisingly therefore, a lot of people you meet and see work for the government either directly or with the seemingly millions of lobbying groups, non-profit organizations, foreign envoys or other entities that are here for that reason. That means a lot of nice suits and similar outfits, even more so I’d say than places like Boston or New York (outside Wall Street at least) and a similar level of formal wear even in social settings like bars. Not just high-class wine bars but pubs and even dive bars in certain areas. As someone from Seattle (where the joke is that to be formal we wear socks with our sandals), this feels a little stifling (and entails a lot of shopping for new clothes). On the other hand everyone looks good when dressed up so the city takes on a classier air than it might otherwise.

Transport- Munich spoiled me a bit with its hyper-efficient, always very clean transport. Not to mention the allowance of eating and drinking (and alcohol) on board. DC strives to be efficient but doesn’t always quite make it and while the cars are usually quite clean, it’s because of strict no food or drink rules enforcement. I also rather miss the ‘honor system unless you get caught without tickets’ system in Germany, as well as being able to get unlimited monthly passes, public transport here is expensive. On the other hand it does work well overall and doesn’t cram unnecessary stops downtown like other cities often do.

Food- One big plus about this city is the enormous abundance of wonderful restaurants and other food-providing places. I have yet to have a bad meal (that I haven’t cooked myself at least) and there are honestly hundreds of places to try just in the downtown area. Often expensive but usually worth the price in my opinion. There are plenty of grocery stores around too, which helps in the saving money area and I haven’t had any issues with their quality either.

Nightlife- I’m not a nightlife expert by any means. Until living in Munich I merely dabbled my toes in the pool of drinking, dancing and assorted activities. Post-Europe, I feel a bit more qualified to make comparisons however. Like the rest of America, DC goes out to the clubs generally much earlier than Germany, at ten or eleven rather than midnight or later because the clubs and bars close at tow or three if you are lucky. After-parties therefore play a much larger role, and pre-gaming can sometimes begin almost as soon as dinner ends. At the same time there’s a restraint (in most, not all) that isn’t present from what I remember in my travels. Partly this is because alcohol is prohibitively expensive, even more than European cities, and often of  a lower quality that makes one even more reluctant to buy it. But it also derives from the subtle yet surprisingly strong Puritan view that many people here have, even when they insist they don’t. It comes out in disapproving looks when people order more drinks, or the reluctance (especially but not always in guys) to dance in any way that is not grinding or at best not one-on-one. Still, like most things, you just have to find the right venue and group to go with, that’s the real key.
Of course these are just a few aspects of the city and living here but they stick out in my mind, and really that’s what matters…

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