When I first got to Washington, DC, I experienced a huge culture shock. Although I’ve lived in cities my entire life, this city has a persona entirely its own. There are three things which I have found cultivate the essence of what DC is: government, young professionals, and happy hours. Each element builds upon the others, yet each one brings its own flavor to the mix.
The most obvious factor is simply that this is the nation’s capital and government paraphernalia is everywhere. Politics are life here. It is impossible to have a conversation longer than fifteen minutes without party lines coming up. This is, of course, heightened because of the November election, but the presence of the government is still blatant. You walk past marble monuments on the way to work. All roads point towards the Capitol building. Security guards have special uniforms and equipment because they are so close to the White House. Everyone’s job seemingly has something to do with the government. This isn’t bad, by any means, it’s just odd for a Michigander who has only ever discussed politics in a theoretical, far off sense. DCers talk about politics as if they know the Senators and Secretaries…because many of them do!
Because this is the political hub of the nation, young professionals are drawn here. It is the easiest place to kick start a career in the public arena. Most people move here straight from undergraduate or graduate school. The average person you meet will be unmarried and in their late 20s, if not 30s. All these single people have an interest, then, to socialize and hopefully meet that special someone, lest they remain alone in DC forever (which 100% happens).
Thus enters happy hour! This city lives for drinking after work. Sometimes it seems like there is nothing else to do here. There are no lawns or parks big enough to play sports unless you are on the mall. Everyone who owns a house lives in Virginia or Maryland, not DC itself. This city gets flooded with people from 9-5 every week day, but come the weekend it is actually somewhat of a ghost town unless you are on U St or H St, where the majority of nightlife happens. It is almost like college on steroids. Everyone is young and unattached and trying to make something of themselves. But I am not convinced that most people have found the fulfillment they are looking for in their jobs alone.
To be perfectly honest, I am not sure that I would want to live in DC forever. I will almost surely have to return here to at least start my career, but if I do I will try very hard to get a house in Virginia with a yard and neighbors. Do not get me wrong, DC is great if you enjoy what it has to offer. I am personally biased from Michigan life with its lakes and trees and pick-up Frisbee games. DC may have incredible monuments and important men doing important things, but it does not have many of the things which I consider vital to a truly fulfilling life. True joy does not come from a powerful career. It does not come from closing the biggest deal or shaking hands with the most important person. It comes from mutual love with other people, being silly, running around, and getting dirty sometimes. Happy hour can be fun from time to time. But true life, I promise you, will never ever be found at the bottom of a bottle or in the arms of an attractive stranger. So my advice is to take DC with a grain of salt. And skip the shot of tequila.