There’s no getting around it for visitors: DC is a large city, sometimes it can be confusing, and it isn’t cheap. However, as Insiders we want to reassure you with a few tips about the local population, and let you in on one of our best secrets: Washingtonians are actually pretty friendly.
One of the great things about the Washington, DC area as a destination, whether to visit or to live, is that most of the people here like to meet and get to know new people.
Because so many people visit our nation’s capital, or live here for just a few years while being, or working for, an elected official, the whole population is used to new faces. Many remember the time when they were new themselves, and appreciated the kindness of strangers. Whether you’re at a bar or hanging out in a theater lobby, many people around you will welcome a greeting and some conversation.
It is true that DC can be obsessed about work. “So, what do you do?” is a common conversational opening here. Like most conversational openings, the goal is to establish some common ground. Two government employees or two lawyers exchanging answers to this question can quickly get on to sharing the kinds of stories about parallel experience that so often lay the foundation for friendships.
You can jump right in with how you earn your daily bread, or you can playfully subvert the script by answering with something other than a profession, which is one of the gambits we like to employ. “I coach my daughter’s soccer team.” “Today, I stared at French impressionist paintings for about an hour.” “I sit on this stool and wonder when the bartender will notice me.” An unexpected answer like this will almost certainly amuse the DC native and take the conversation someplace interesting.
An awful lot of Washingtonians are interesting and interested in the world — it’s what brought them here in the first place. “How long have you lived in the area?” is a typical way to either start a conversation or redirect someone who is maybe going on a little too long about their pet project, so we recommend it, and be sure to share some information about your hometown and reasons for travel in exchange.
Some of us are even natives of the area or the city (an important distinction to some people, for whom being “from DC” means being born and raised within city limits). Washington-area natives have what we like to think of as an ideal mix of Southern hospitality and Northern forthrightness — we’re friendly and outgoing, and we also like to get to the point. So if you’re stuck for conversation, you can always ask someone to describe the area’s character, and see if it matches what you’ve gleaned in your time here.
During your vacationing daytime rambles around museums and monuments, you’ll be surrounded mostly by other visitors from around the country and around the world. Asking them what they have particularly enjoyed can start a pleasant conversation, and might even tip you to something you’d like to do.
So while you’re around the nation’s capital, make your way through your personal pilgrimage list, take that photo where your companion seems to be holding up the Washington Monument, have a few great evenings out, and don’t forget to meet some people beyond your fellow travelers and glimpse the place through their eyes as well.