May 24, 2018 at 7:14 AM
Welcome to D.C.! Or, more broadly, the DMV — that translates to D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Our love of acronyms and government agencies is just one of the things that newcomers to the area might find puzzling. To give you a leg up, we chatted with recent transplants — folks who are new enough that they remember what’s difficult, weird and surprising about moving to the D.C. area, but who’ve been here long enough to accumulate some insider intel. Here’s what they say you should know if you’re new to the region.
D.C. looks like a big city but can feel like a small town
Though the D.C. metro area is sprawling, the city’s population is roughly on par with that of El Paso, Texas. “The city’s so small, you run into people you know all the time,” says Mary Campbell, 24, a paralegal who lives in Petworth. As a result, people here tend to be friendly like you’d expect people to be in a smaller Southern town, but they have the hustle and ambition of big-city dwellers, says Loy Lee, 37, a comedian who recently moved here from L.A. “There’s an East Coast mentality and some Southern hospitality,” he says. “It’s a phenomenal mix.” The downside? “At least in my neighborhood [Brightwood], everything closes at, like, 9 p.m., and some restaurants and stores aren’t even open on the weekends,” he says.
Affordable housing is elusive, even in the suburbs
“It’s nearly impossible to live alone on an entry-level salary,” says Nick Klauda, 25, a marketing strategist who lives in Columbia Heights. “You will probably live in a tiny place with other people,” he adds. Unfortunately, things don’t get much better if you opt to live away from the city, says Kelly McDermott, 28, who lives in Springfield, Va. “It’s still very overpopulated out here,” she says. “Our rent is absurd.” Your best chance for finding a decent apartment is through word of mouth, says Joanna Roberts, 34, who lives in a Shaw apartment that’s owned by friends of hers. “A lot of landlords in D.C. only rent out to people they know,” she says.
Driving here is expensive and stressful
If you can avoid it, don’t bring your car to D.C., recent transplants say. Parking is nearly impossible in some parts of town, parking tickets add up quickly and your vehicle is a target for smash-and-grab thieves, says Chris Williams, 46, a photographer who lives on Capitol Hill. “If you need a car, use car2go or rent one for weekend trips,” he says. And if you’re planning on heading to major Northeast cities, it’s often cheaper to take a bus. “I didn’t realize how expensive it is to drive to New York,” Lee says. “The tolls alone are $60, and then it’s another $40 to $60 to park.” Parking is easier to find in D.C. suburbs, McDermott says, but traffic and tolls make driving far from fun.
Alternative transportation options abound
“You can bike, Metro, walk or Uber almost anywhere,” Williams says. City buses are another great option, Klauda adds. “I love riding through historic parts of the city and seeing how different parts of town connect,” he says. Metrorail has its issues, but it’s relatively reliable and easy to learn, Roberts says. “Sometimes you’re delayed, sometimes the train’s on fire, but it’s a pretty acceptable excuse for being late, since everyone’s been there,” she says. Download a Metro app to keep abreast of delays and when the next train or bus will arrive.
It might take you a while to get a good job
There are a lot of interesting, fulfilling jobs in D.C., but there are even more people who want them, Campbell says. “I didn’t realize how competitive it was going to be,” she says. Your graduate degree won’t necessarily help you stand out here, Roberts adds. “Anywhere else, you’d be a shining star, but everyone in D.C. has been to great schools and has stellar credentials,” she says. As a result, don’t take it personally if you’re overqualified for your first D.C. job. “Stay humble and do the grunt work,” Roberts says. “There is light at the end of the tunnel for people who work through the bulls—.”
The weather is wildly unpredictable
It’s hard to get dressed in the morning, since D.C. can experience all four seasons in a single day, Lee says. His solution: layers. “I bring my entire wardrobe everywhere I go,” he says. Winters generally aren’t very bad here, but rumors of snow send everyone into a panic, McDermott adds. “If there’s snow in the forecast, everyone freaks out and they go into the stores and get bread and milk and water and batteries as if they are going to be bunkered down in their houses for a week,” she says.
The dress code is intentionally boring
“D.C. is a lot more conservative, clothes-wise, than other places I’ve lived,” says Campbell, who works at the Department of Justice. “Everyone is in black pants and collared shirts.” People who work on Capitol Hill tend to be dressier, but rumpled clothes are a badge of honor among staffers showing off all the long hours they’re putting in, Williams adds. If you see several women wearing the same exact Ann Taylor dress on your Metro train, just know that they are too busy saving the world to put together original outfits.