A Few Thoughts on “D.C. vs. NYC”

I wanted to talk about the little Washington Post piece from yesterday about former New Yorkers living in Washington, D.C. I’m not an expert on many things, but think I am uniquely qualified to address this particular topic. Right now I’m living in New York, and I was born here, but I’ve moved back and forth between the NYC and D.C. metro areas so many times (six, to be exact!) that it’s hard to say if I’m a repatriated New Yorker or an expat Washingtonian. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about what makes these two cities tick.

First up, you could tell from the headline alone (which contains both the words “exiled” and “sufferers”) that they were having a little fun with it, but I think the topic could have used a bit more fleshing out. The D.C. vs. NYC debate is one of the eternal discussions among East Coasters who forget there’s a world outside the little strip from D.C. to Boston (guilty!). Also, in proper modern journalistic form, they picked a rather annoying crew to represent exiled New Yorkers. Apparently there’s a group, with the darling acronym “FUME,” that meets periodically in D.C. to complain about how much they miss New York.

Of course (as is addressed in the article), most of these people moved to Washington because, when New York’s financial backbone broke in half, D.C. kept chugging away. In fact, D.C.’s economy and workforce actually grew, because if there’s one industry that added tons of jobs during the recession and aftermath, it’s the Federal Government and its related industries. But hey! They won’t let that get in the way of some good gripes about our nation’s capital.

The group asked each other things like why everyone in D.C. watches so much C-SPAN (I don’t know, because many their livelihoods are affected by what goes on on the Hill?), why women wear so much Ann Taylor (because they either – gasp! – don’t care about fashion, or their office has an oppressive dress code) and why organic grocery stores aren’t open past midnight (because”¦ wait, what?).

And then there were the charming people who were directly quoted (and yes, I’m sure that the reporter hung out with them all night but only pulled out their most insufferable quotes. Journalism!). I think “Emily” was a little off in saying that no one cares about what you do for a living in New York. It’s true that in NYC, people don’t care about your specific job, least of all your title, which is a contrast to title-obsessed D.C. But I think people in New York care indirectly about your profession, because they care about money, and they care about whether or not you can do them any favors. Also, it’s important to point out that there’s a huge difference between New York City as a whole and Manhattan-as-NYC (an important distinction that many people miss). It is most certainly true that no one in the outer boroughs cares about what you do for a living.

The other big issue addressed is the food. Apparently there’s no cheap food in D.C. I will say that NYC has an overabundance of cheap food, but I think that’s because it fits in with NYC’s more on-the-go way of life. While food trucks are becoming more popular in D.C. now, it’s a relatively new phenomenon. You just don’t see as many people standing on the sidewalk eating their lunch as you do in New York.

But they have a point about the bagels.

Anyway, if I come off like I’m being protective of D.C., it’s because I am. It’s not a perfect city, but I spent the best years of my life there, and now that I’m back in my semi-hometown of New York City, I miss D.C. I’m also happy to discuss the relative merits of these two cities in the comments (and I welcome “They both suck!” comments as well). Still, I thought I’d finish out with a few things I miss about D.C.:

Election results parties
Free museums
Trees! In places other than a park!
The relative (relative!) affordability
The Metro system (Hey, thanks to the no-food rule, it’s not rat-infested. And the stations have A/C.)

Photo: Getty

6 replies on “A Few Thoughts on “D.C. vs. NYC””

Perhaps its because I’m grumpy, but as someone who’s been in DC for damn near a decade, and spent her life before that living just outside of NYC, I kind of identify with FUME way more than I ought to. I will happily trade free museums (which I only ever go in when I’ve got tourists visiting) and a rat-free metro (and just because the metro’s rat free, the rest of the city is positively overrun with them) for decent bagels, cheap manicures, and, oh, let’s say a single store in all of downtown that sells plus size clothing (besides forever 21.)
But, like I said, I’m grumpy.

I found the job comment interesting as well, as D.C. is the only place I’ve been where these conversations happen at social gatherings:

Me: “So! What do you do?”
DC person: “Department of Defence/Homeland Security etc.”
Me: “Oh! And what do you do there?”
DC Person: “I can’t really discuss my work.”
Me: “…um, seen any good movies lately?”

It gets a little weird after a while, knowing that the people at the party are so full of important secrets.

Argh, the security people in DC. Can’t swing a purse without hitting someone with a secret clearance on the Metro.

I mostly know interpreters who are just straight up able to say “I have a top secret clearance,” but they don’t discuss what they’ve interpreted of course. It is a little weird knowing people who have accompanied the President around the world, but they aren’t all that big-headed about it. Can’t say that for some of the other people I’ve met in DC, particularly the ones who name-drop ALL THE TIME. Do they do that in NYC? Probably not, but holy shit the people I’ve met who work with Congress especially will constantly talk about this and that person they know.

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