Washington D.C. is a question mark. It’s not a state, but the political institutions within its borders hold sway over the whole country. People will argue in turns that it’s part of the North or the South.
The nation’s capital isn’t one to be pinned down by specifics, but don’t get confused. Here are 8 DC quirks for newcomers:
1. The DMV is not where people renew their license and registration
Short for D.C.-Maryland-Virginia, “DMV” informally refers to the Washington D.C. metropolitan area that includes parts of Maryland (Frederick, Silver Spring, Rockville) and Virginia (Arlington and Alexandria). Residents of the DMV almost always have business in DC proper.
2. The car isn’t king
The DC metro area is notorious for time-consuming commutes (40 minutes is a quick trip). With viable alternatives like the Metrorail, buses, taxis, and bike- sharing programs, residents actively avoid cars to move around more easily.
3. There are so many taxes to keep track of
DC taxes can be complicated even for long-time residents. Effective October 2018, the general sales tax is 6%. Renting a car is 10.25% in taxes, parking it 18%. Buying alcohol for drinking off premises is 10%, while having drinks at a bar is 9%. Getting takeout tacks an additional 10% on the bill. And staying at a hotel will cost 14.95%. That’s just roughly half of it.
4. Cultural sites can be taken in (mostly) for free
There is never a shortage of cultural and historical attractions to visit in this major city. The capital abounds in memorials, museums, and cultural centers. The (really) long list of free places includes the Library of Congress, National Museum of American History, National Arboretum, and National Gallery of Art.
5. A “high-rise” doesn’t build up all that high
Thanks to a law passed in 1910, buildings within DC cannot be built taller than about 13 stories. With no skyscrapers in sight, this law has worked well for maintaining the city’s beautiful skyline.
6. DC is a medley of languages and people
As a political mecca, the capital attracts diplomats, businessmen, and job-seekers from all over the world. The metro area is home to such a diverse set of ethnic groups that no one bats an eye at Italian for lunch, Ethiopian for dinner, and Peruvian for late nights out.
7. Business attire is the closest thing to a uniform
Because so many DC residents work for the government, the weekday crowd looks like they shuttle to and from meetings all day. Dress is conservative – even a little plain – but it makes getting ready in the morning easier.
8. DC’s current status echoes that of 1700s America
Since Washington D.C. is neither a state nor a part of one, its residents don’t get representation in Congress. The city does elect a House of Representatives delegate, but they don’t get to vote on any issues (no Senate rep either). This status is a thorny issue with residents, especially when the area’s high tax rates and cost of living come into play.
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