So, what’s it like living in Washington, D.C.?
I get this question a lot—especially when I’m home in the Midwest. D.C. is a semi-mythical place to the outside world. The national view of the Capital is a dichotomous. To some, this city is like that shown in Independence Day—our president flies fighter jets and we give aliens “the finger.” The residents all wear flag pins on their suits as they save the world each day. View #2 is that everyone who lives in the swamp (D.C. is built on a swamp) is unfeeling and bloodsucking, like the mosquito, and is out of touch with the outside world.
Honestly, Washington, D.C. is like a group of bumbling, young girl scouts on a camping trip. I can say this because I was both a little girl and a girl scout—so no harm in my making fun of myself and my “troop” of friends. Not many little girls get up in the morning bent on creating chaos and pain—and, like them, most people in D.C. go to work meaning well. They want to get things done and receive praise—like selling the most Girl Scout cookies, bringing their troop greater glory, and helping people in their community. Of course, there’s always that one girl who refuses to help paddle the canoe and just wants the next colored sash…but, you can usually win her over by trading some beanie babies—or political favors.
The second-most popular question that I get is; How is the bar scene–how are the people?
I think the biggest surprise after I moved to D.C. were the bars and their dating scene. Back in good ‘ole Wisconsin and Ohio, bars were primarily dark, low-key places that tended to have a Badger game playing. You show up in whatever you’re wearing: suit, flannel, hunting gear, wedding dress (it’s happened) and you’re welcomed with open arms. You also make friends with whoever you’re sitting next to—you might even join friend groups and move on to another bar en masse.
In Washington D.C., people dress up to go out—even to patronize dive bars. D.C. bars are the salons of revolutionary France–they are where the young, political gentry hang out and talk about themselves–and where the bourgeois go to get noticed.
The females are dressed in their favorite gal-pals: Lily, Kate, and Tory, and teeter around on impractical high-heels. They move in a pack of jolly-rancher shaded dresses; whacking people with their large Longchamp bags; screeching for someone to help them find their lipstick. It was $40!
Where I frequent, these girls tend to work on the hill—usually something marketing or media related. They probably grew up on the east coast and studied abroad in college. As a sorority girl, I can say that many pledged in college. I can tell.
Their male counterparts are either in a full suit or are ready to set sail—typically decked out in boat shoes, braided belts, and melon-colored plaid shirts. Those of you planning to move to D.C., take note, wearing plaid is as important as having air to breathe. They tend to drink IPAs and other craft beers. They refer to each other as “broski” and “brah.” These males are handsome and charming and, although they sometimes look like they are on their way to a clam bake, are fairly approachable and friendly.
So after an east-coast girl makes her way into an establishment, granted she doesn’t fall over in her heels, she sidles up to the bar. She probably won’t have an immediate offer to be bought a drink—D.C.-ers tend to stick to themselves until the clock strikes 10:30pm—but she might catch the eye of some Ray-ban-wearing man across the bar.
If there’s one thing D.C. men do not lack, it is confidence. They tend to be secure with themselves and are willing to make the first move—much to the detriment of the girl who just wants a strong whiskey in her hand and the sun on her face. Most men start conversations with a simple question: Who do you work for on The Hill?
And this is the number one reason why I laugh at the bar scene in D.C. Painted peacocks and strutting aside, you can never leave your job at home.
I like to bob and weave with “What side are you on?”
Since we are near Capitol Hill; most men think I mean House-side or Senate-side. No, I’m right to the point–I’m going to rule you out early if there is any possibility of you giving me a lecture on my political beliefs; thus ruining my enjoyment of the drink that I just over-payed for. I came to the bar to have fun. If a guy is going to start off with judging me based on who I work for, I might as well cut straight to the point. I didn’t come to argue policy or votes–I won’t do it after 5:30pm rolls around. I’m going to have a little fun…
“House side,” says Ray-ban man.
“No, are you Red, Blue, or Purple?”
Most look at me funny with the inclusion of “purple,” but I think it makes logical sense–I wouldn’t say I fit entirely into the mold of one side anyway–you should always leave room for the middlemen who have their own ideas. Also, Red + Blue = Purple. Come on, color theory.
“Uhhh…” [runs hand through hair and looks at the ceiling nervously]
Yea, Ray-ban Man doesn’t want to lose you right off the bat so he is going to try and gauge your “side” based on either what you are wearing or where this bar, that you both stumbled into, is located. The smart ones go with “Purple” because they understand it indicates the middle. Those who don’t understand color theory probably think it’s some subversive group they’ve never heard of–and that I am part of it. I try not to laugh at this point–
“Oh come on-let’s be friends!” he exclaims.
This answer will do from Ray-ban Man. I usually read it as “let’s not talk politics and just have fun”–so it’s safe to continue talking to him and not have your drink spoiled.
People outside of D.C. need to understand that work never stops here. I sleep with a Blackberry and an iphone. I do sometimes answer emails at 2am–some days, it is just part of the job. It’s the same when going to a bar. When you go out, be ready to talk all about your job, defend your political beliefs, and know the most up-to-date facts on legislation X and Congressman Y.
A few years ago, and a few drinks in, I found myself explaining the political tension between Pakistan and India to a guy named Jerry. He wasn’t even sitting with me–just at the table next to me and decided to use the “who do you work for?” tactic. I rattled off nuclear weapons statistics and information on current military capabilities and movements. After answering his amateur questions for ten straight minutes he paused and said; “the world should just stop and all be friends.”
He probably didn’t understand color theory either…
You may lose a battle, you just have to win the war. Sometimes, getting through a drink at a D.C. bar is a major feat–it comes with the territory of living in an incubated bubble of nerds and know-it-alls. I’ve learned how to bypass the Hill tendency to categorize me. I’ve also learned to laugh at myself–and this city. Sometimes, all you have is humor to get you through the day.