Ten ways to pretend you’re not a tourist when you’re a tourist in D.C.

12 years ago by in Uncategorized Tagged:

Observer photo
Tip No. 10: Stand to the right when riding up and down the metro station escalators.


I was sitting on my butt reading a book at the Courthouse metro station last week when I was approached by a flock of women talking in thick southern accents. I had noticed they had been scouring a small D.C. metro map and looked clueless.

“‘Scuse me darlin’, do you know how we might get to Arlington cemetery?” one of the women asked me.

I grabbed the metro map.

“Orange line to Rosslyn — take the escalator downstairs — blue line to this stop here,” I pointed. “Arlington cemetery.”

As if a light bulb had turned on, they suddenly grasped the concept of our color-coded train system and boarded the next orange one.

I looked over at a fellow Washingtonian about to board the metro. He was clearly thinking the same thing.

“Ugh. Tourists.”

While the D.C. economy thrives from world-wide visitors, the people of Washington sometimes find them a pain in the neck. For the sake of all of us, I have devised ten simple things tourists can do to make them look like locals.

10. Stay to the right
Two hundred and six million people rode on our metro train system last year, and many of them were taking it because they needed to get someplace–fast. As a courtesy to all the rushing Washingtonians, please, when riding the escalators down to the subway, stand to the RIGHT. It’s just like driving people, the right lane’s the slow lane and the left lane’s the fast lane. It’s that simple.

9. Leave that map in your backpack
Pulling out the giant map of the National Mall is the fastest way to prove your cluelessness. Keep it hidden. The streets are all alphabetically and numerically ordered. If you can’t tell whether you’re going north or south, just pick a direction and walk like you know where you’re going. When you figure out you’re going the wrong way, detour around the block.

8. Stop complaining
I know we’re not in London, Paris or New York, but Washington is expensive. When I’m waiting in line for my Starbucks, I don’t need to hear a price comparison to your little crappy town in the sticks. Suck it up and realize you’re in the capital of the free world.

7. Never ask about drink specials
The D.C. night life is great. There are large sections of bars in Georgetown, U Street and Adams Morgan. The D.C. prices are not so great and you probably won’t find drink specials. Don’t even ask. They are about as rare as seeing a pick-up truck driving down Pennsylvania Avenue. Just order a domestic bottle and relax. Yuengling is a favorite among Washingtonians.

6. Leave your car at home
Seriously people, no matter how skilled a driver you think you are (and most people think they are), just don’t bother driving here. While other cities have traffic lights, D.C. likes to mix it up with traffic circles. Traffic circles have lots of lanes and in order to survive the circle you need to know exactly which lane to be in to get spun off in the right direction. Even as a Washingtonian I don’t understand it. So if you’re headed to the nation’s capital in your Subaru, do us all a favor and leave it parked at the hotel.

5. Embrace your road rage
If you decide that you must drive that Subaru into the city, it’s important to exhibit as much road rage as possible. Turn signals are for losers who are asking to get cut off. Make your move swiftly and never look back. Honk your horn as much as possible and throw your arms into the air in disbelief at the stupidity of all the other drivers.

4. Read wonky literature
You’ll be more credible as an “insider” if you read the insider mags. Grab a copy of the Politico or the Hill Rag and learn a little Washington-ese (e.g. politico jargon) before you arrive. You’ll fit right in with the congressional staffers and politicos as they flutter among government buildings.

3. Lose your accent
The sooner you can stop saying “salad” like you’re from the Midwest, the sooner people will realize you’re a legit Washingtonian.

2. Show up the other tourists.
Once you learn the rules, show all those tourists who clog the Metro on weekends that you’re a local. Whisk past them with their clunky day passes by flying through the entrances with your SmartTrip card. Yell at them when they stand on the left side of the escalator.

1. Don’t bother
Being a tourist might not be so bad. The White House makes a pretty rad backdrop for photos and the pandas in the National Zoo are super cute. There are bus tours, trolley tours and if you really want to look like a nerd–Segway tours of the city. If you really don’t think you can mind my guidelines, just embrace your inner-tourist, get out that insanely large map and have a good time.
Just don’t get in my way while doing it.

~Observer reporter Robin Bravender contributed to this report.

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