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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Washington, DC: The Outsider's Perspective

As a long-time resident of Washington, DC, I am always fascinated by how outsiders perceive the city. I'm talking about the city proper, not the political intrigue that is going on within its borders. I think we can all concur that what happens on Capitol Hill is not a pretty sight. 

This week, I was privileged to be a guest speaker for American University's Washington Semester journalism students. The 30-something 20-something-and-unders to whom I spoke were from Norway, Germany, Austria, France, Japan, and Lebanon. There were also a handful of Americans from California and Pennsylvania, most of whom had never before landed in the nation's capital.

Before I started my talk, I asked about their preconceptions of Washington, and if those perceptions matched the reality.

It  was heartening to hear that most of the foreigners found Washington a very friendly city. They liked the people, finding them open and welcoming. They felt comfortable here due to the diminutive size of the buildings ("The White House is so tiny," said the young lady from Austria, while the French student remarked on the fashionably small scale of Georgetown). Obviously, from the pictures on TV, they were expecting super-sized buildings and super-sized egos, but, by avoiding the U.S. Capitol, they discovered super-sizing in DC to be a phenomenon mainly experienced at fast-food eateries.

On the other hand, the American students didn't find Washington particularly friendly. However, they did express surprise at how clean the city is. I had heard this comment before from friends visiting from New York and other slightly grimy U.S. cities (not that there's anything wrong with that). I was intrigued to know if Washington's cleanliness struck the foreigners as well. It did not. They expected our nation's capital to be a gleaming, shining beacon, and, in aesthetics at least, it lived up to its hype.

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