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Category:District of Columbia City Guide

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Basics:

Washington DC is the capital of the United States. It is not a state in its own right (there are no Senators from the District of Columbia and the Representative has limited voting rights). It is relatively small (61 square miles) and has a resident population of about 550,000 (see below), which swells by an extra 1.5 million daytime commuters from outside the city.

Population:

Washington DC is the capital of the US (population: 550,000) at the center of the Washington DC 'metropolitan area' that encompasses suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia (approximately 5,000,000 residents). If you include Baltimore and the suburbs of that area, the general Washington-Baltimore region is approximately 8,000,000. While the city itself is nearly 50% African American, there are large numbers of Mexicans, El Salvadorans, Bolivians, Filipino's, Vietnamese, Koreans, and Chinese, in the surrounding area. As a southern city the racial divide is all too evident on the Metro with mostly white people arriving from the Northern Virginia, Northern Maryland suburban lines, and mostly black people arriving from the South East of the city and from Prince George's County, Maryland, to the east of the city.

Climate & geostability

In the days before air conditioning Washington was considered a hardship posting by the British Foreign Office, and Summer remains ferociously hot and humid outdoors, and icy cold in the ubiquitous air-conditioned indoors. Snowfall is relatively limited, with only a few big storms (10cm of snow) per year, which usually melts away in a few days, although the winter of 2010 saw two back-to-back major snowstorms that paralyzed the region. Earthquakes are rare but a significant quake took place in the summer of 2011. Tornado's and Hurricane's occasionally hit the area. It is useful to subscribe to the city's emergency alert system https://textalert.ema.dc.gov/.

Industry

The top industries in the Washington DC area (in order) are:

The US Government - The US Government - The US Military (also part of the US Government) - The US Government - The US Government - Lobbying the US Government - Selling to the US Government - Selling to the US Military -

Ok, it's not that bad--it just seems that way. There are several large Universities in the area including George Washington University, Georgetown, George Mason University, American University, Howard, Catholic University of America, UDC, Gallaudet, University of Maryland, Marymount, Strayer, and increasingly DC area campuses of further off institutions such as Virginia Tech, DeVry, Troy, etc. There is a large telecommunications presence in the DC area (Northern Virginia is the home of several major internet and telecommunications carriers) and a massive biotechnology / pharmaceutical industry in Suburban Maryland. But you need to understand the US government and its constellation of private contractors are the primary employer and concern of many people in the city.

Jobs in the US government require US citizenship, and many positions require 'security clearances' (both inside and outside of government). Working as an expat in the national security / homeland security / US government is extremely rare. Jobs in the academic sector on the other hand are pretty straightforward to obtain, as long as you have a visa authorizing you to work in the US.

Schooling & childcare

Some neighbourhoods have excellent free public schools (i.e. state schools), others are not so good, and others are downright awful. For a private, British-style education, the British School of Washington http://www.britishschool.org offer a curriculum based on the National Curriculum (England), the International Primary Curriculum and the International Baccalaureate Diploma. DC Urban Mom's http://www.dcurbanmom.com/jforum/forums/list.page is an essential forum if you are planning to move to live in the area and you have a family. Ask questions about schools, neighbourhoods, and childcare from other families living in the area.

International Community:

With nearly every country having an embassy in Washington, along with the headquarters of the World Bank and IMF, along with branches for all major foreign news agencies, you will find quite a few expats in Washington from all over the world. While there are not as many UK expats as say New York, there is a good number in Washington. Unlike other parts of the US, many residents of the Washington area do travel overseas quite a bit. There are two city-wide embassy open house tours in early May (see events calendar below).

Where to watch UK sports:

Washington has a pretty active 'soccer' (don't say football) community. There are several bars and pubs that show the English Premier League on big screen televisions every Saturday and Sunday and Champions League action during the week, for example Summers restaurant http://www.summers-restaurant.com/ in Arlington, VA, and Lucky Bar http://luckybardc.com/ in the District. Due to the television rights arrangements in the US, on a Saturday you can often see as many as 4 games from the UK (the early match, the 3:00 game, the 5:00 game, and then a replay of a game earlier in the day). Fox Soccer Channel have coverage of UEFA super cup and UEFA champions league. The ridiculous EU broadcasting laws means it is not possible to listen to BBC Radio 5 live commentary on the Internet during the World Cup :-(

Many expats have remarked "I see more UK games on tele here in the US than I ever did in the UK". Still not the same as going to the grounds on a Saturday, but it is something.

Soccer

The local soccer team is D.C. United http://www.dcunited.com who play at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Major League Soccer. A small but fanatical and friendly following organizes itself into three main supporters clubs, La Barra Brava, the Screaming Eagles, and La Norte.

UK Elite http://www.ukelite.com provides soccer coaching by qualified British teaching staff at a summer residential soccer camp at Massanutten Military Academy, Woodstock, VA, in the Shenandoah Valley. In the spring they run "Petite soccer" coaching sessions for 3-5 year olds, in the MD and VA suburbs.

Rugby

Alexandria Rugby, chaired by New Zealand expat Bert "Ram" Todd http://www.alexandriarugby.org runs Union games for youths and adults, and plays in the Mid-Atlantic Rugby Football Union. In 2008 the side travelled to Alexandria's sister city of Dundee, Scotland, to play for a mayor's challenge cup.

Cricket

There are at least 35 class I cricket clubs and another 30-40 class II and hard tennis ball clubs operating in the DC metro area.

The bigger league and more established league (since 1974) is the Washington Cricket League http://www.wclinc.com with 1000+ players, and there are a few others that cater to the hard tennis ball type of cricket.

All these are in the DC area: Washington Warriors: http://www.warriorscricket.blogspot.com Washington Metropolitan Cricket Board: http://wmcbcricket.org/ Washington Cricket League: http://www.wclinc.com Washington Metropolitan Cricket league: http://www.wmcl.net

Theatre

  • Performances from the National Theatre in London are simulcast live and shown at the Harman Center for the Arts http://www.shakespearetheatre.org/ntlive
  • The British Players http://britishplayers.org, perform at Kensington, MD, town hall. They put on an annual old time music hall show in the summer, and a pantomime every other year in the run up to Christmas.
  • The Folger shakespeare theatre http://folger.edu have an open house on St George's Day/Shakespeare's birthday April 23rd.

Music

  • There are 2 British style brass bands in the area: The Brass Band of the Potomac, Rockville Brass Band; and 2 others a bit further afield: Benfield Brass Band (Annapolis) and Spires Brass Band (Frederick).

Food and drink

'Pubs'

'Sandwiches'

'Cafe & Tea rooms'

'Meat Pies'

  • Cornish Pasties, sausage rolls, and pork pies, from the Pure Pasty company http://www.purepasty.com in Vienna, Virginia, run by Brit expat Michael Burgess. The shop also sells many other goodies including cheese 'n' onion crisps, Irn Bru, yorkshire pudding mix and so on.
  • Meat and vegetable pies, including steak and kidney pie and sausage rolls, are produced locally by New Zealander Bert "Ram" Todd and are sold at several locations around Arlington & Alexandria, VA, and also from his website http://www.kiwikuisine.com

'Butcher'

  • The Organic Butcher in McLean, VA http://www.theorganicbutcher.com/, is currently selling English style back bacon from Balson's http://www.balsonbutchers.com/products/pork-back-bacon. They sell an 'English banger' which is enormous and very peppery, more like a straightened Cumberland sausage.
  • Butcher Steve Gatward's shop "Let's meat on the avenue" in Del Ray, Alexandria, VA http://www.letsmeatontheavenue.com also sells Balson's back bacon.
  • Haggis & bangers (frozen) the British Pantry, Aldie, VA. http://www.thebritishpantry.us/
  • Society Fair, run by Irish chef Cathal Armstrong, the in-house butcher and pastry chefs prepare food for Armstrong's celebrated Alexandria restaurants http://www.restauranteve.com/logos_splash/, with the same quality but at much lower retail prices. A good place to obtain hard to get butcher items including offal, lard, suet, call ahead and ask to speak with the butcher to order them 703 683 3247. Also has a wine bar and cafe with top notch sandwiches, and an excellent value Friday date night dinner carry out deal (reservation required) 277 South Washington Street Alexandria, VA http://www.societyfair.net/home.html

'Fish & Chip shop'

  • To be honest fish and chips is on the menu of just about every bar and pub in the area, but if you want an experience something like a chippie, albeit without the hot fryer in front of you, try "Eamon's: a Dublin chipper" http://www.eamonnsdublinchipper.com at the corner of King Street and Columbus Street in Alexandria, VA. Owned by Dublin native chef Cathal Armstrong. Fish, chips, mushy peas, beer, & choc bars.

'Cheese & biscuits'

  • My Organic Market http://www.myorganicmarket.com sells Stilton cheese from the Long Clawson dairy in Leicestershire.
  • World Market, Pentagon City, Alexandria, VA, is a good place to find Cadbury's, McVities & Burtons digestives, Bovril, Bisto gravy powder & granules, Bird's custard powder & in cans, and other products.
  • Wegman's stores in the outer VA suburbs, and Harris Teeter in Arlington, stock a limited selection of British groceries in the international aisle.

'Comfort Food'

  • Branches of Giant sell Ambrosia custard, spotted dick and creamed rice as well as other goodies such as Marmite, Aero, Smarties, Jams, Ribena and others. It can be difficult to find in stores as a staff aren't knowledgeable (and don't ask if they have any spotted dick), but it's worth the hunt.

Expat events

Events Calendar

January

February

March

April

May

June-July

August-October

  • Virginia Scottish Games, end of August http://www.vascottishgames.org
  • Maryland Renaissance Festival, end of August through October http://www.rennfest.com is a fascinatingly bizarre experience for expat Brits - a medieval themed festival with lots of Americans saying "hail fellow, well met" while wearing hose drinking mead and munching on turkey legs.

December

Other things to do in the area

  • Official Tourism website for Washington, D.C. http://www.washington.org
  • Wikitravel Washington, D.C. excellent overview of the city http://wikitravel.org/en/Washington_(D.C.)
  • Spend the day at Mount Vernon, historic home of George Washington http://www.mountvernon.org
  • 2011 is the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War. Battle reenactments and commemorations will take place over the next four years in Virginia http://www.virginiacivilwar.org/committeeevents.php, Maryland, and the District. The Wiki article on Washington DC in the Civil War is a good starting point http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington,_D.C._in_the_American_Civil_War. Some of the Capital's defensive fort system can be visited e.g. Fort Ward, in Alexandria, VA http://alexandriava.gov/FortWard, and places of significance such as Ford's Theatre where President Lincoln was assassinated http://www.fordstheatre.org
  • 2012 is the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, and some local sites associated with this British-American punch-up are on the Maryland Bicentennial commission website http://starspangled200.org/1812Sites/Pages/Welcome.aspx. Many of the federal government buildings in Washington, DC were burned by the British during a raid in 1814, but the Marine Corps Barracks at 8th & I St SE were spared in recognition of the gallant but failed efforts by 400 US Marines and seamen at the Battle of Bladensburg to fight off two battalions of the British Army, an event remembered in good spirit today at the Barracks annual "reparations night" http://www.centerhouse.org/stories/british-stand-trial-for-pillaging-washington/
  • Go for a bike ride! Capital Bikeshare http://www.capitalbikeshare.com is the Washington DC equivalent to London's "Boris Bikes" cycle hire system. There are four membership options: 24-hour, 3-day, 30-day, or annual. Once you're a member, you will get the first 30 minutes of each trip free and pay an additional fee for every 30 minute period thereafter. For this reason it's best to rent a bike from a bike shop if you are planning an all day ride on one of the regions many excellent bike trails (for maps see http://www.waba.org/resources/maps.php). Download the Spotcycle app http://www.spotcycle.net to your iPhone, Droid, or Blackberry device for Bikeshare locations & real-time bicycle availability, bike paths, etc.
  • Exercise police horses http://www.hoofsfund.org/aboutus.html Volunteer at one of the four police stables in the Washington DC area, e.g. there is one in Rock Creek Park. You get to exercise the horses in exchange for stable work.
  • Waterfront fish market http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0207/feature7/index.html. Buy a punnet of steamed shrimp (Prawns) with Old Bay seasoning, and Chesapeake Bay soft shell crabs in season, at this fish market where you buy from boats moored at the dockside, most of the catch is landed and trucked in from New Orleans and Baltimore. There is no seating and pealing shrimp can get very messy so its best to take away.
  • St Michael's, Maryland, has a marina with flagpoles alternately flying both the Stars and Stripes and the Union Flag http://www.stmichaelsmarina.com/marina-map.html. The current American owner put up the flags after the British reaction to September 11, 2001. View them from the town dock restaurant http://www.towndockrestaurant.com
  • The Folkore Society of Greater Washington http://fsgw.org/ organises English Country Dancing events in the area.
  • Each Monday evening at 8:00 p.m the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, of Washington DC http://rscds-greaterdc.org/ has Scottish Country Dancing lessons at St. Alban's School on the grounds of the National Cathedral.

Other sites/blogs of interest for the DC area



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