7 unofficial rules you need to know about Washington, DC

7 unofficial rules you need to know about Washington, DC

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Every city has a set of unspoken rules you need to follow. These aren’t laws and they may not even have anything to do with etiquette — but they have everything to do with fitting in like a local. Here are the seven things you need to know if you want to experience Washington, DC the real way.

1. Stand on the right, walk on the left

If you only learn one thing from this article, let it be this: escalator etiquette. Stand on the right, walk on the left. You will save yourself a lot of passive aggressive behaviour or a curt “Excuse me,” if you just stand on the right of an escalator, especially at Union Station during rush hour. People might be in a hurry to catch another subway line, bus or commuter rail. This is a good practice 24/7/365, as in this city every second counts. Sometimes it makes the difference between making your connection, and waiting an extra 10, 20 or 30 minutes to get home. DC residents appreciate your cooperation.

mural of the Obamas and Prince

The mural at Ben’s is a must-see | Photo by Washington DC Urban Adventures

2. We need to talk about Ben’s

Ben’s Chili Bowl is a tourist trap. Sure, it’s one of the most famous restaurants in DC. Celebrities, politicians and musicians have frequented Ben’s since it opened in 1958, and it is truly a bedrock of U Street. We think it’s worth a visit but, just like Pat’s & Gino’s in Philadelphia, it’s not the best. If you head to their original location, make sure you check out the mural on the outside wall — but if you’re looking for the best half-smoke, my choice is Meats & Foods on Florida Avenue NW.

3. Snake bitten sports teams

Follow DC sports teams at your own peril. Redskins (American football), Wizards (basketball), Capitals (hockey) and Nationals (baseball) represent Washington, DC in the “Big Four” sports leagues. DC has not won a title since January 1992, when the Redskins beat my beloved Buffalo Bills. Despite having some Hall of Fame talent playing, there have been big payrolls but not much to show for it. Such superstars as Alex Ovechkin, Bryce Harper and John Wall have a tendency to disappear in the postseason. The exception to this rule is MLS’s DC United, who have four MLS Cups (last in 2004).

crowd at a baseball stadium

You might not want to come here for the sports | Photo by Washington DC Urban Adventures

4. DC has a bit of an inferiority complex

First off, DC is not a state. That wouldn’t be much of a problem if DC residents didn’t have to pay federal taxes or if we had actual representation in the Capitol. DC pays the most taxes per capita in America, yet do not have a senator or representative. Hell, DC wasn’t even allowed to vote for the president until 1964. If you look at our license plates, it says “Taxation without Representation,” harkening back to the rallying cry of American colonies in the mid 1700s. Also, we’re really not fans of being compared to New York City.

5. Happy hours

I’m not sure if there’s another city in the United States that has embraced happy hours more than DC. You can get deeply discounted drinks usually 4pm–7pm across the city. Because a lot of people commute in from Maryland or Virginia, going for drinks after work hours is convenient, especially those who commute in by metro or bus. Side note: DC has really embraced the idea of day drinking (code name: brunch, the happy hour of the weekend). You find a lot of all-you-can-eat-and-drink brunches around the city.

cocktail in a bar

Happy hour is an important part of DC culture | Photo by Washington DC Urban Adventures

6. “Excuse me, where is Cathedral Heights metro station?”

Most movies aren’t filmed here. Places like The Jeffersonian from Bones or Cathedral Heights from House of Cards don’t exist. Between post-9/11 security hurdles and getting the okay from different departments and policing agencies, it’s usually more trouble and money than its worth. Most TV shows and movies set in DC have been filmed in Maryland, in cities like Annapolis and Baltimore. Although, recently Maryland got rid of their tax incentives for filming, so shows like Veep have been filmed mostly in California.

7. Embrace the freebies!

If you’ve been here, you know it’s not cheap. Metro, food, hotels and just about everything else is going to be more expensive than any other place you come from, unless it’s New York or San Francisco. So embrace the free cultural things that this city has to offer. Free shows every day (except Christmas) at the Kennedy Center. Jazz in the Garden on Fridays during the summer at the National Galley of Art’s Sculpture Garden. Free talks by authors and historians at Politics and Prose or Kramerbooks. Free concerts on the Mall, like the Concert for Valor on Veterans Day 2014. Obviously we have free, world-class museums, and a lot of them, all around town. Take advantage of all the free or cheap opportunities this city has to offer — you’re already paying enough in taxes!

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Shawn Sullivan

Tour Guide @ Washington, DC Urban Adventures. Recovering history teacher. Podcast enthusiast. Avid cyclist. Valar morghulis.

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