Washington D.C. Local Custom Tips by matcrazy1 Top 5 Page for this destination
Washington D.C. Local Customs: 116 reviews and 203 photos
US OUT OF IRAQ?
Being the Federal City that means the seat of both the federal government and the US Congress, District of Colombia is a favourite place for various protests, rallies and marches for or against something. Well, the USA is a country of both hard (sometimes :-) and fast rules and right, outstanding law. People can speak out to the full and, so long as they don't attempt harm to others, there are no consequences by law. As I know, there is no permission necessary for single, one-person protests, right?
Well, I have seen various less and more strange protesters showing off in front of the Capitol building and the National Air and Space Museum but none in front of the White House where it's forbidden, I guess. Their favourite activity was to pose to cameras of visitors passing by. If I had had a large Virtual Tourist.com banner...
I haven't seen any protesting crowds in D.C. But I've watched them many times on TV news. Well, I guess that these crowds usually know very little about how U.S. system works and those heavy protests are usually instigated by people with an "agenda" and like lambs to the slaughter many follow them mindlessly. "THE POWER" is neither on Capitol Hill nor in the White House. It IS in American voting booths ("We, the people"). Of course, a large, loud and angry protest will get the attention of those employees on Capitol Hill because they simply don’t want to loose their jobs :-). And certainly vast majority of people prefer to watch those loud and angry protests than boring debates in, say Senate commissions, right?
US CAPITOL, THANK YOU GUYS :-)
Despite some similarities mentioned in previous tips Washington, DC is neither typical European nor American city. It's a federal city. Surely "federal" is not separate from the rest of the states. It is the structure. Sort of like the frame of a house and the states are like the walls/rooms of the house. Each wall and each room must conform to the frame. But D.C. differs from other U.S. cities. Can you see what I mean?
The U.S. Constitution gives Congress direct jurisdiction for Washington, D.C. The city is run by an elected mayor and a city council but their power is limited. The U.S. Congress has the ultimate plenary power over the district. It has the right to review and overrule laws created locally, and has often done so. Being the federal city has some advantages and disadvantages both for DC citizens and visitors.
From my, visitor's point of view there are more advantages. First of all I didn't pay a cent for over ten museums I visited and the Capitol tour I took. I saved at least $200. Well, I spent $5 for donation in one museum (it was my small thanks for US federal tax payers :-). If I had to pay ($10 - $50) for each entrance I would not visit so many great and huge museums. Then I used very convenient and inexpensive and single transportation system in the metropolitan area. It might have not exist in Washington belonging to say Virginia or Maryland. In many state cities there are not compatibile public transportation systems run by 2 or more operators. Well, high, "federal" prices for accommodations and some local restaurants I could easily skip as the state of Virginia (Arlington) was just the one metro stop from downtown DC.
SEGWAYERS INVIDES WASHINGTON DC :-)
I've seen a group of people moving quite fast among numerous pedestrians of downtown Washington, DC using funny, two-wheel, motorized means of transportation. This amazing "vehicle", I watched once on TV, is called SEGWAY or shortly SEG (Americans love shorten names :-) or officially the Segway Human Transporter (HT). I have never seen them anywhere else but in the USA capital and once in... Warsaw, Poland.
I would love to try riding (or driving?) a segway (or segwaying?) a lot. Hmm... they will be more popular when they become less expensive, I am sure. In Poland a simple segway costs the same as the cheapest, small, new car. In Washington, as for now, you can try, rent or buy one at Capital Segway one block from the McPherson Square Metro station or in Segs in the City which runs a kiosk located between 10th and 12th Streets on Pennsylvania Avenue (closest metro station: Federal Triangle). Minumum rental is 1 hour and it costs hmm... $50 (fifty, not five!) per hour or $150 for the day (a helmet and lock included). Happy segging or segwaying! :-)
Other Contact: http://capitalsegway.com/cs
Phone: +1 (202) 682 1980
HOMELESS MAKING HIS BED
I've got to know that metropolitan area of Washington - Arlington - Alexandria with personal income of $40,056 per capita is ranked 4th among 369 metropolitan areas in the USA, and with 3.1% unemployment rate it's 27th nationwide.
From a visitor's point of view it should mean first of all high prices. But it luckily worked different for me. All museums I visited were free. I saved at least $200 on them. Public transportation was not that expensive as well as my hotels in Arlington. Parking lots in downtown are a bit expensive but twice cheaper than in downtown San Francisco, California. Hmm... as for food it worked worse. I skipped all those expensive restaurants. I relied mostly on fast food restaurants :-( as I didn't have time to look for any economic, local restaurants.
Walking around downtown and Federal District I didn't see any luxary houses and residencies but modest, monotonous federal buildings, offices and Smithsonians museums. But I have seen some luxary residencies in upclass Georgetown and driving to the National Cathedral as well. I suppose that most wealthy people in the area work in DC but live outside, in Arlington, Alexandria, Bethesda and other nearby cities and towns.
I didn't see almost any signs of poverty as well, although in my kiddy years I was fed with a lot of propaganda about unbelievable number of homeless families, street children etc. Well, I have seen three (3!) probably homeless people: two were sleeping on a lawn close to the Navy Memorial (one made a bed from newspapers), one came to the Union Station in the evening. It's a paradox that homeless and poor people are often much better visible in wealthy and free/democratic countries where they are allowed to show off in public space. I remember times where unemployed, poor, homeless and begging people were removed from streets and arrested by police in Poland. Thus I very rarely could see them that time but now I can see them quite often although Poland is at least twice wealthier state.
VISITOR OR LOCAL?
I've found Washington, DC quite busy and crowded city. But the only locals I could meet and talk to where those who worked for me in tourist business. I got an impression that noone else was in DC except visitors and those folks working for them.
Well, locals surely work most of a day and they usually commute to nearby towns and cities (Arlington, Alexandria, Bethesda, Fairfax City) where they live as house prices and cost of living is propably more affordable there. Then the city has only some 550,000 citizens. Compare it with almost 5 mln in metrepolitan area. But District of Columbia hosts almost 25 million visitors a year.
I was told that the US capitol is inhabited by Black majority and White minority (is that true?) but I simply somewhat saw mostly that minority. Although the visitors come to Washington from all over the world, some looked very exotic to me :-).
DC LICENCE PLATE
At first I was surprised seeing the phrase "Taxation Without Representation" on the automobile license plates of Washington, DC. "No taxation without representation" was a rallying cry for advocates of American independence from Great Britain in the eighteenth century. The American colonies were required to pay taxes to London, yet had no representatives in Parliament, and felt therefore that they were being forced to fund a government into which they had no input.
Now, I know that District of Columbia is the home of over 550,000 United States citizens who pay taxes although they have no voting representative in the United States Congress! Thus it's the only area in the USA where "taxation without represantion" still exists. How is it possible?
Well, look back into the beginning of the city. Two states, Virginia and Maryland, gave land to the Federal government, and the US capitol was created as District of Columbia in 1800. In the Constitution, the residents of the District of Columbia were put under the jurisdiction of Congress, not part of any state and were granted no vote in Congress. Today the district does have a NON-VOTING delegate to the House of Representatives who can sit on committees and participate in debates.
There is a lot of rumour about it recently. The problem is that, you know, Americans very rarely change their constitution and maybe first of all having 1 voting representative in both chambers of US Congress would be regarded by all other states as over-representation as DC has only some 550,000 citizens. And part of federal taxes (for sure more then paid by DC citizens) is spent in DC and serves both its citizens and maybe even more its visitors (free museums!). It's difficult to find right solution, isn't it?
Other Contact: http://www.stampactcongress.org
Driving across suburbs of DC and metropolitan area of DC and northern Virginia (Arlington, Alexandria, Mount Vernon) I twice followed cars with strange advertisements put on them. At the first time I took this picture through the windshield and I didn't know what the driver wanted to share with me :-). Well, Nat told me that it's about a parade float in Mount Vernon, Virginia. I was a bit surprised to see such kind of advertisement as, I guess, it might be illegal in all 22 US states I already visited. At least I never saw them anywhere else. I saw a few times cars with loudspeakers on a roof advertising a candidate for the US president.
In many countries, cities, states etc. local law limits creativity of professional advertising agencies and don't allow (or order to pay a lot for it) to use cars and/or space adjacent to main highways for advertisings not to divert drivers' attention away from a highway and traffic. Hmm... all those semi-nude beauties advertising new shampoo or underwear put on huge posters by some freeways and highways in Europe are dangerous, indeed. I have never seen them in the Washington metropolitan area. Does it work differently here?
THE NATIONAL MALL - VIEW FROM THE CAPITOL
I was suprised to see large completely empty green space, a huge meadow in the heart of the US capital. There are no skyscrapers, no shopping malls, no supermarkets, no metro stations or bus terminals but grass and grass and large pools with water. It's the National Mall.
Additionally this huge space starts just down the Capitol, seat of US Congress and is located close to the White House, seat of US president. Thus it's likely to use it by all those protesters, oponents and organisations which support huge marches, rallies against or pro something. Hmm, can you see anything like this in old European democracies?
"Clever" European rulers would never leave such large empty public (not fenced) space just by their palaces, castles or parliament buildings to avoid possible problems with their "unpolite" lieges.
The National Mall is a stupid waste of the most valuable space or a mistake, one could think, as both political and economical factors worked against leaving this space empty. In fact, DC served first of all the government and the Congress from the beginning and it serves visitors now as well and most people live outside DC (0.55 mln in DC and almost 5 mln in metropolitan area). Thus there was no urgent need to build up the National Mall which has become one of Washington's landmarks since the beginning.
Now, better do not propose to build there anything except maybe next memorial or monument. Well, what about building underground Food World under the National Mall - I mean, say 100 small and medium size restaurants, each representing different American, ethnic, world (?) cousine? Hmm... there is "a food problem" for visitors in this area of DC.
Other Contact: http://www.nps.gov/nama
EUROPE? NO, IT'S WASHINGTON, DC
A few Americans (but no European) told me that they liked Washington, DC because it reminded them old European cities. Well, I can't agree. First of all there is no typical old European city. There are 43 countries and countless number of different cultures and cities in Europe. Well, if we squeeze to ancient cities there are some similarities. There are many copies of ancient temples and buildings put up in Washington. There are large parks and broad avenues like in, say, Paris, Wien or London. There are numerous similar in design monuments as well.
But this is NOT Europe! There are no charming, straight or bended, narrow and lively streets full of pedestrians, cafes, local restaurants and small local boutiques. Instead there is fast food on streets and large gift stores and food courts in Smithsonian museums. There are no rows of charming, decorative facades of tenement houses but monumental, boring federal buidings. There are no small squares with small fountains, monuments and tables of numerous cafes put outside. There are no one-way streets, no ban on traffic in downtown. Well, America being a car country would loose its identity with such a ban in the heart of its capital, right? In Europe countless number of VIPs (like politicians) are allowed to drive and park their cars where others are never allowed. It's rather unlikely in the USA, a country of equal rights for all and few exceptions, right?
DOWNTOWN WASHINGTON, DC
I have already visited a few tenths American cities in 22 states of western half of the USA and the South. Generally there is no typical American city but there are some common features I found in all of them except... for sure downtown Washington, DC (add Las Vegas, Nevada and maybe New Orleans, Louisiana here). Thus if you, a foreign visitor, visited only DC, Las Vegas or as I was told New York City (I must check it :-), in fact you hadn't seen real American city.
First of all each American city has downtown (called the city sometimes) which has less or more numerous high skyscrapers and patchwork of perpendicular, busy, crowded and noisy streets. There is almost no green space but some underground tunnels or bridges above ground. There are banks, various offices and multi-store parking lots, sometimes downtown shopping malls but few or no residential houses. Well, the downtown is to work and make business not to live in.
Now, look at my pictures of downtown Washington, DC and forget about the above. The downtown reminds rather a large park (the National Mall up to the Lincoln Memorial) surrounded by monumental federal buildings and few broad streets (rather boulevards) which are empty most of the time. Surprisingly there are NO (even one) skyscrapers in DC. They are put up across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia. There is a lot of green space which spreads southwards along the Potomac River (the West Potomac Park). In contrast to other US cities most locals do not use private cars to get to work in downtown as there is suprisingly convenient and unique in the USA public transportation system (metro + metrobus) which covers the whole DC metropolitan area.
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