It’s been said that the only real sin today is hypocrisy. I beg your pardon, but bullshit. I see sin everywhere, usually in the form of inappropriate phone usage, jerk-like behavior in a bar, incendiary email-list activity, and poor form on public transportation. I’m talking about bad manners. Not the failure to reserve black ink only for sympathy notes or some similarly archaic custom you might pick up at Miss Porter’s, but knowing how to act decently in public, which never goes out of fashion.
Though plenty of social conventions have lapsed in our pluralistic society, changes in technology and norms have created a new set of etiquette conundrums, some unique to D.C. Is it really OK for me to drink that water in my Uber? Is it acceptable to ask someone “What do you do?” five minutes after introductions? These are the questions we seek to answer in this issue.
When our city is facing challenges like skyrocketing housing costs and record numbers of homeless families, why should manners matter? Call it the broken windows theory of etiquette: If everyone is meeting a few basic standards of decency—not waving dollar bills at the bartender, maintaining manners as the client of a sex worker—then maybe larger ones will follow. First stop: not agitating your neighbors by email. Next: actually helping your neighbors when they’re in need. It’s a short leap from politeness to heroism. —Jenny Rogers
As the District decriminalizes pot and inches toward legalizing it, awkward exchanges over sharing pot at a party in this security clearance–conscious city have never been more likely. Adam Eidinger, whose D.C. Cannabis Campaign put pot legalization on November’s ballot, offers some guidance.
Expect to share.
If you bring pot to smoke at a party, you shouldn’t be afraid to share it. Offering is just like bringing a six-pack and leaving the rest in the fridge, according to the marijuana maven.
Eidinger has been on both ends of marijuana sharing, and he says there’s no shame in asking for some green. “Be direct, and [don’t] beat around the bush,” Eidinger says. “And when you’re direct, you can also be gracious when the person’s like, ‘I don’t want to share.’”
Expect to get stiffed.
Offering to pay for the buzz you just scored is a nice gesture, but if someone does, the joint’s originator should leave it at that. “Offering to pay is nice, but accepting the money would not be right,” Eidinger says.
Play it cool.
While Eidinger pushes the District to legalize his drug of choice, he won’t push hosts to let him smoke it: “If I’m around a bunch of non-users that don’t like smoke, I will ask their permission and I’ll go outside.”
Leave those kids alone.
Pot advocates like to compare their illicit drug with the legal highs of alcohol, and Eidinger says both should be kept away from kids, decriminalized or not. “It’s still an etiquette not to blow smoke—any kind of smoke—in the kid’s face,” Eidinger says. —Will Sommer
There’s a near-infinite number of ways to have sex, so it stands to reason that there’s more kinds of sex work out there than you can count on an orgy’s worth of fingers and toes. But how to hire someone in a classy, respecful manner? Behavioral norms vary, depending on if you’re picking someone up outside a bus station, making an appointment through an online service, or starting a long-term arrangement with an escort, but certain rules apply across the board.
DO: Give out your real name and phone number. It seems risky, but think about it—sex workers have every incentive to keep your information private (repeat customers and referrals make up the bulk of many client bases), and they’ll feel a lot safer taking you on as a client if they can Google you and have some record of who you are. It’s a simple way to keep creepers and vice cops at bay.
DON’T: Ask a lot of personal questions. Jennifer*, a local college student who’s been seeing men from a sugar daddy website since March, says her clients are paying for something that amounts to a performance, and her job is to make their fantasies come true. She’s not their friend; her personal life is none of their business. “Some girls keep spreadsheets on the lies they tell all of their clients,” she says. “I just keep it all in my head.” Discretion is paramount for most sex workers, too. “[My clients] will never know my last name unless they’re flying me somewhere,” Jennifer says.
DON’T: Think of it as simply paying for sex. The fact is, exchanging sex for money is illegal, and many sex workers think of your payment as an investment in their time, not an explicit sexual service. That means a few things: You’re not allowed to demand anything other than what you’ve agreed upon; they have the right to refuse anything you suggest; and calling or emailing them just to chitchat off the clock isn’t OK, unless that’s part of your standing arrangement.
DO: Think of it as any other appointment. You wouldn’t call a dentist at 1 a.m. and expect immediate service. Patrick*, who’s worked in D.C. as an escort and sex coach for five years, doesn’t play that game, either; he demands at least a day or two of advance notice. “If it’s really late, and you’re drunk, I won’t answer the phone,” he says. “I keep hours. I have a life, too.” Same goes for last-minute flakes or cancellations—it’s disrespectful and can cost an escort a night’s pay.
DON’T: Show up drunk or high. Patrick’s kicked at least one client out of his house for doing a line of coke without his consent. Unless you’ve both agreed that pre- or post-sex drugs are OK, stay firmly in control, if not necessarily sober. Intoxicants cloud clients’ judgment and make some of them a real pain (or dangerous) to deal with.
DO: Treat him or her with the same respect you’d afford any other sex partner. The person you’re paying is not “a Kleenex,” says Patrick. “Don’t just start throwing all your sexual energy and that stuff at them. Be professional.” Be vocal about your desires without whining like an entitled brat, and if you’re topping or playing any kind of “giving” role, ask what he or she wants, too. “Don’t assume that all women like the same thing,” Jennifer says. One person’s playful is another’s way-too-rough. Pay attention to her cues, and she’ll mind yours. —Christina Cauterucci
* a pseudonym
It’s great when straight allies want to demonstrate support for the LGBTQ community or go out dancing with their queer friends. But sometimes, they take it too far at the gay bar.
DO: Remember all the other bars and clubs in D.C., the vast majority of which are dominated by heteros—some of whom may judge, accost, or even assault LGBTQ people for holding hands, kissing, or just being themselves in those spaces. Recognize and respect that gay bars are one of the few places that are ours.
DON’T: Take up too much space. Straight ladies, leave your giant dance circles at Wonderland (that goes for bachelorette parties, too). Straight dudes, remember that a crowd of lesbians skews shorter than a mixed-gender group, and many of us eschew high heels—watch those elbows. And though it’s cool that you share our enthusiasm for Robyn or Le Tigre, the polite move is to leave the center of the dance floor to the queers.
DO: Treat performers with courtesy. Drag kings, drag queens, go-go dancers, and burlesquers each bring a special kind of artistry to gay clubs. “Don’t treat drag queens like they’re animals at a petting zoo,” says local drag star Summer Camp. “They spent a lot of time putting together their look. They don’t need you messing it up with your sticky drink fingers.” The same applies to other performers: Treat them with dignity and remember that, at the end of the day, their act isn’t really geared toward you.
DON’T: Hit on queer folks. Unbelievably, this is a rule many straight folks don’t abide by. Remember: If a queer girl is hoping to score at a gay bar, chances are she’s not looking for a straight date. No amount of creepy leering or cajoling will change that. And for those straight couples looking to find a “third”—there are apps and online tools out there that will prove far more successful than taking up barstools at Phase 1. —Deb Greenspan
D.C. email lists take, and they give. They take up space in your inbox, and they give contractor advice and weeks-long message threads about picayune feuds.
But how best to get the most out of your local email group? Peggy Robin, whose Cleveland Park list bills itself as the largest neighborhood list in the country, weighs in.
Reach for recommendation. While the Cleveland Park list has come together on matters as strange as a marauding flower thief, its day-to-day successes are more mundane. Some of the most effective emails come when people ask about the best contractors, babysitters, or gardeners in the neighborhood.
“That’s kind of the mainstay of the listserv,” Robin says.
Don’t think you can fool people. Cleveland Park’s list occasionally descends into flame wars, a problem that led Robin and her co-operator to make it fully moderated soon after it started. Still, some try to get around the rules—with varying degrees of success. One particularly devoted emailer created multiple accounts to accuse residents of being pedophiles, but Robin wasn’t fooled: In short order, each account was nuked.
Be neighborly. Robin wants users to remember that their fellow members are their neighbors—even if they come across much worse online. “If you wouldn’t say it to your neighbor if you met them on the street, you can’t post it,” Robin says. —Will Sommer
“So, what do you do?”
The observation that Washingtonians often begin introductory encounters with this query has become a prized meta-status detail about life in the capital. “I heartily agree that in Washington, D.C., this is the default question,” the Atlantic’s Deborah Fallows recently wrote after a trip she and her husband James had taken to Greenville, S.C. There, they found, people instead initiated an encounter with: “Where do you go to church?” Her curiosities piqued, Fallows solicited readers to share their own local default question. In some regions, she was told, respondents were prompted to identify the neighborhood in which they lived or where they had attended high school. But in D.C., where Fallows lives, the prize was the name of a stranger’s workplace. “Everyone here knows that it is a not-so-veiled way of assessing power and connections, the currency of the town,” she concluded.
That may in fact often be the intention, yet the fact that status attaches to work and not indicators of wealth or lineage is one of the most refreshingly democratic characteristics of official Washington, as well as global Washington. Academic CVs are rarely treated with prestige, and markers of hometown status—high-school alma maters or family names—tend not to travel well. When work draws people to the District, it usually remains the most interesting thing about their lives once they’ve arrived. (Not to mention, there are a lot of people here doing reasonably interesting things.) Asking what someone does all day just forestalls predictable small talk about their banal tastes and diversions. Is anyone better off when a conversation drifts immediately into a discussion of which 14th Street tapas place is superior, the weekend’s scheduled athletic events for charity, or the folkways of your interlocutor’s preferred football team’s D.C. expat bar?
In a city where professional ambitions, rather than natural beauty or quality-of-life affordability, are often the magnet that pulls newcomers, “What do you do?” can serve as a less creepily invasive way of inquiring “How did you end up here?” And that’s where the real conversation can begin. —Sasha Issenberg
Ecclesiastes declared, “Of the making of many books there is no end.” Nowhere is that as true as in D.C., where the steady output of thousands of scholars and advocates and pundits leads to a seemingly endless stream of #ThisTown book parties to celebrate the achievements and ideas of its residents. Book party etiquette is pretty straightforward. The events are usually two hours long, serve up cocktail party food, and feature a reading that begins somewhere between 30 minutes and one hour from the announced start time, to give everyone time to gather and mingle before listening to remarks.
Time your arrival accordingly, so you don’t have to interrupt the author’s speech with your rustling. Door placement can be an issue; arriving midspeech and entering through a door that is also right behind the speaker is a major don’t, and always a possibility if you don’t know the space in question.
Also: You’re supposed to buy the book. Consider it an investment in sustaining the market for first-run public affairs hardcovers. After all, if you’re at one of these things, you’ll probably be writing one some day. —Garance Franke-Ruta
A series of recent guilty pleas have illuminated that touchiest of Washington etiquette questions: how to ask a District businessman to spends hundreds of thousands of dollars illegally backing your political ambitions.
Do it in person. There’s nothing tackier than asking someone to risk a felony via text message. When Mayor Vince Gray allegedly wanted businessman Jeff Thompson to put another $425,000 into his 2010 mayoral run, Thompson demanded that Gray meet him in person to make the request, according to Thompson’s guilty plea. (Gray, for his part, insists that he’s innocent.)
Leave a paper trail. The Wire warns about taking notes on “a criminal fucking conspiracy,” but documents are apparently de rigueur in the political underworld. Consider that Thompson says Gray presented him with a paper copy of his shadow campaign budget, or former Ward 1 candidate Jeff Smith’s email exchanges with Thompson.
Don’t expect loyalty. All the etiquette in the world won’t help when the feds get interested in your scheme, as government cooperation deals from both Thompson and beneficiaries of his largesse show. —Will Sommer
You’re in line for a slice at We the Pizza behind one of the folks the rest of the country has sent here to make laws. But which one? You’re elbow to elbow, each waiting for your plastic disc to buzz, and he doesn’t realize that you aren’t sure if he’s one of the two men named Mike Rogers in Congress, or if he’s from Wisconsin or Texas.
Even if you aren’t in journalism or politics, you should chat with the congressman: He expects you to recognize him, and like any elected official, he wants to talk about himself. (Yes, I’m using male pronouns. There aren’t enough women in Congress for you not to know them.) Here’s how to figure it out with a quick glance and three questions to suss out all the clues you need. A lot of these dudes look alike, so even with my formula, this isn’t such an easy task. But at least it’ll help you narrow it down.
1. Eyeball the tie or cufflinks. Many members will have designs paying homage to their home states. Just make sure you know the difference between a palm tree and a palmetto.
2. You: “This is great pizza, and so convenient to my office. Do you stay around here when you’re in session?” He might complain the rent is so much more expensive than Cleveland, or reveal his Tea Party roots if he sleeps in his office.
3. You: “What’s your favorite committee?” He won’t expect this question. But for the answer to help you, you’ll have to appear interested in his explanation of an amendment that will never become law anyway.
4. You: “What did you hear from folks back home over district work period?” (Don’t call it recess—they hate that.) If he says “Obama’s imperial presidency,” he’s a Republican. If he says “income inequality,” he’s a Democrat. —Christina Bellantoni
Obnoxious and uncivilized children are sort of par for the course. Obnoxious and uncivilized parents aren’t. Don’t be one.
A humble brag disguised as a plea for help is still a humble brag. Your fellow parents know what you’re up to when you post on D.C. Urban Moms and Dads with questions like, “I’m a little worried because my kid only wants to talk Mandarin, even though he’s just barely started learning it and he’s only 4. Should I make him focus on English and Spanish first? Or will practicing Mandarin help him when he also starts working on Japanese?” The answer you’re looking for is, “Your kid is a genius,” so rest assured, he or she is, and stop seeking validation from the rest of us.
The playground is not LinkedIn. Weekend morning small talk should remain small: What’s your kid’s name? How old is she? Where does he go to school? Feel free to ask where other parents work (see our etiquette tip on that subject, too), but don’t take it much farther than to see if you know people in common. Raising kids is hard work. Working is also hard work. No need to mix the two.
And your kid’s not really on Twitter. We’ve all seen the Twitter feed that’s born just a few days (or hours) after a new baby is. There’s no reason for any of them. That’s not to say these projects aren’t funny; often they are! But they violate parenting etiquette for two reasons: One, the best kid-centric Twitter feed remains Bunmi Laditan’s Honest Toddler, which already got a book deal, so don’t try to rip her off; and two, carefully constructed, witty parody feeds by brand-new parents make the rest of us who can barely manage to get our children fed, dressed, and out the door to school every day look bad.
Chill out about birthdays. Just because the Washington Post runs features (with odd panda tie-ins) about parents in the D.C. area who go to absurd lengths of expense and effort to celebrate their child’s 1st birthday doesn’t mean you need to join them. Up to a certain age, kids are too young to be impressed by how lavishly you’re outfitting their party; after that age, they’re old enough to get the wrong idea from it. And party attendees, take your fellow parents at their word: If they say “no gifts,” they mean it, and they won’t think less of you for not bringing one. (Besides, as many etiquette mavens have said over the years, a gift is never obligatory.)
Don’t make your kid be more polite than mine. When I decide to act like a jerk in public, there’s no benevolent force who shows up to convince the people I’m being a jerk to that it’s OK. That’s a valuable thing to know! So when my daughter, almost 3, decides while monopolizing playground equipment that her near-fluency in spoken English doesn’t extend to the phrase “it’s that boy’s turn now,” don’t tell your son that he just has to let her keep playing. He doesn’t, and if he wants to tell her in typical preschool vernacular that she’s not being nice to him, let him—after all, she’s not. —Mike Madden
The District’s population is 52.6 percent female and 49.5 percent black. Which, apparently, means some African-American women here have to deal with men who have hangups about dating us. Don’t be one of those guys; follow these rules.
DON’T: Call me “chocolate,” even if you preface it with “Godiva.” Black women are not food! “Complimenting” me on my complexion, particularly with a food metaphor, is a) annoying, b) ignorant, and c) kind of cliche, on top of it all.
DON’T: Immediately tell me I am the first black girl you have ever gone out with. What does that even mean? Do you need to bone up on hip-hop videos or The Cosby Show? I like pizza just like everyone else.
DO: Just treat me like any other woman you’re interested in. I only want a fair chance to be wanted for my awkward personality.
DON’T: Write an essay for Gawker about why you only date white girls.I hear this all the time. It’s incredibly annoying. You’re so different and weird, and for some reason, “black girls don’t give you any play.” Perhaps it’s because you’re always bitching about how only white girls understand you.
DON’T: Ask me if you can be my slave. Seriously, you guys on OkCupid and Tinder, stop asking me already! And good luck meeting any woman, of any ethnicity, who wants to date someone whose fantasy sex life is so racist. —Carey Jordan
Ever since my first introduction to street harassment as an eighth-grader—a textbook honk-n-holler from the window of a pickup truck—I’ve argued my throat sore about catcallers with anyone who’ll listen. “Take it as a compliment,” male relatives advised. “Ignore them; they’re just trying to get a rise out of you,” friends told me. But unsolicited sexual attention makes me feel unsafe and uncomfortable, not flattered, and my years spent raging against the patriarchy have nixed silence as a viable option. Whether it’s a “Hey, look at me!” remark or an explicitly sexual advance, street harassment is never appropriate, and you have the right to respond in a manner as rude as the comment flung your way. Don’t lose face or confidence—talk back and turn a degrading moment into a verbal kick in the gut.
Sorted by ick factor...
1. “How you doin’?”
This one gained popularity with one of the insufferable characters on Friends, and it’s easy to write off as a friendly courtesy to neighbors on the sidewalk. But if I’m walking quickly, using my phone, not making eye contact, or stopped on my bike at a red light, it should be clear that I’m wrapped up in my own business and not in the mood for a chat. Would the caller make the same grab for my attention if I were a guy? If not, I’d mark it on the low end of the harassment spectrum. A simple “Hi” is fine, but if you’re busy or not in the mood to engage, there’s no need to acknowledge him. You don’t owe anyone your time or attention.
2. “Hey, baby.”
Straightforward: “Hi. My name’s not ‘baby.’” (Ditto for honey, darling, shorty, or any other diminutive pet name.)
Sassy: “Hey, creepy stranger.”
3. “You got a number?”
Straightforward: “Yes, and I’m not giving it to you.” If he asks why: “I don’t have phone chats with strangers who hit on me on the street.”
Sassy: “Nope, I only communicate via carrier pigeon.”
4. “Smile, sweetheart!”
Straightforward: “No, I can handle my own facial expressions, thank you.” Or, “Why should I?”
Sassy: Get up in the dude’s space and make the ugliest, most contorted, repulsive face you can muster.
5. “I like that tight skirt.”
Straightforward: “Did I ask for your opinion?”
Sassy: “Thanks, I just finished washing out the blood of the last dude who harassed me.”
6. “You’ve got a great ass.”
Straightforward: “You’ve got a dumb-ass pick-up line.”
Sassy: “You’ve got a tiny dick.” I realize that this is problematic for all kinds of reasons related to masculinity, sexuality, and body shaming, but I won’t deny its effectiveness. Bonus points if the caller’s got friends around who’ll take it as an opportunity to give him grief. Extra bonus points if you can fart on command.
7. “That mouth would look nice with my cock in it.”
Straightforward: “Would you want someone talking to your sister like that?” Or, “You’re disgusting, and that line’s not going to work on anyone.”
Sassy: “Aw! I’m so sorry that you can’t find anyone who’s willing to have sex with you, so you’ve reduced yourself to blurting out your fantasies to random strangers. I hope you find someone as desperate and unlovable as you.”—Christina Cauterucci
Forget asking someone their occupation. No question is more freighted with judgment in the District than asking where someone lives. Somehow this one query combines evaluation of your income, bravery, and cultural taste. For millennials, a tony District address can even raise questions about parental rent help.
You wouldn’t ask someone how much they make, but a question about where you live and a significant glance can do that just as easily.
When I lived in Fairfax County, one aspiring boho Washingtonian who visited said he could never live so far out, as his people were the junkies and the hobos. (He lived on H Street NE, so make of that what you will.) It’s time to hang this question up—or at least the weight attached to it. Not everyone who lives in Silver Spring is a would-be suburbanite, just as not everyone in Clarendon is a day-drunk in Chubbies. —Will Sommer
You’ve had a long, beer-soaked night out on the town. Metrorail has already gone to bed for the night, so you call an Uber, climb inside, and—bottled water! Lots of it! Just what you need to stave off a long night of the cotton-mouths. But, hold up, is it free? How much can you take? Should you ask first?
Officially, free water has nothing to do with Uber. The company’s drivers aren’t obligated to provide passengers with anything but a ride. According to a spokesperson, drivers provide water for the comfort of their riders (and probably to bolster their reviews). So, free? Yes. But how much should you drink? It can be tempting to slam three or four bottles on the way home, but it’s not exactly proper to do so. Treat downing water bottles like you’d treat gobbling snacks at a party: Once? Definitely. Twice? Maybe. Three, four, or five times, and you’re probably pushing the generosity of your host.
Like party snacks, there’s no need to ask before you indulge. The drivers put it out for you, after all. But be sure to thank your driver, and don’t forget—Uber drivers can also rate you. Who wants to be secretly known as the “water bottle burglar?” —Tim Regan
The new popularity of sharing cars, bikes, and apartments brings with it both flexibility and etiquette dilemmas.
Take a relaxed view on Zipcar cleanliness. Of all the villains in the new sharing economy, none is worse than Zipcar users who complain about a few crumbs left behind by the previous driver. (OK, maybe the guy who throws sex parties in an Airbnb rental is worse.)
Turn a busted Bikeshare seat around.What’s worse than hauling a Capital Bikeshare bike out of a dock only to find out that its brakes don’t work or there’s some similar glitch? When you discover a broken bike, turn the seat around to warn the next rider.
Call your Uber driver before getting in. The rise of amateur taxi services like Lyft and UberX has created a new phenomenon of people confusing cars on the street with their rides and hopping in anyway. To avoid spooking someone who’s just idling in their car, call your driver first and ask him or her to flash the lights. —Will Sommer
Are you rude on the Metro? Read on to find out!
You’re taller than 5’8” on a crowded train, and you are holding onto a pole instead of one of the hanging hand grips.
Rude! You are tall and already enjoy plenty of privileges in our society, including good views at concerts and an increased likelihood of winning the presidency! Leave the pole for shorter folks who cannot reach those hand grips.
You spy an attractive person on a train and approach him or her with an innocuous “What are you reading?”
Not rude! If more people approached individuals they found attractive, the novelty of morning Metro commutes would explode. Just be prepared to hear, “The Goldfinch. Now fuck off,” in response.
Your SmarTrip card doesn’t seem to be working. You keep trying to swipe it, despite the line of rush-hour riders behind you.
Rude! Don’t swipe more than three times. Try another turnstile or see the station manager.
You place your backpack or purse on the open seat next to you, in hopes that someone will not sit down.
Possibly rude! If you transfer your bag promptly to your lap without sound effects, not rude; if you scoot it over one inch and sigh heavily while doing so, rude.
You are leaning on, wrapped around, or otherwise monopolizing a pole.
Rude! Not only have you failed to share, but you’ve transmitted all your body juices to the pole rather than just the oils of your hand. Gross!
You are sitting in a handicapped seat, despite a lack of handicap.
Somewhat rude! Law requires that these seats be made available to those requiring it. If you sit in one, despite not having a handicap, are you willing to tear your eyes from your smartphone or Kindle every time the train doors open to see if someone requiring the seat is boarding? Are you that confident in your ability to discern from a person’s appearance if she is pregnant, has a minor foot injury, or a dizziness condition that requires a seat on a train? Do you want to force a person to interrupt your game of Candy Crush to say, “Excuse me, may I have your seat?” Leave the seat empty, stand, and be grateful for your ability to do so.
You are standing left on an escalator.
Not rude! You’re probably new in town and just don’t know any better. (But pay attention.)
You yell at someone who is standing left on an escalator.
Rude! Don’t yell at strangers.
You are sitting window-side on a train and exiting at the next stop. You ask your seatmate to let you out—before the train has come to a stop.
Rude! Do not ask people to stand up on a moving train. There is abundant time for you to exit your seat once the train comes to a complete stop.
You are on a crowded train, and you don’t smell very good.
Not rude! Shower or don’t shower, wear perfume or not! You’re on the Metro, not the pageant circuit.
You are sitting on a full train when a possibly pregnant woman or individual in advanced middle age boards. You loudly offer your seat.
Somewhat rude! Do not draw attention to someone’s age or potential pregnancy. And do not draw attention to yourself with an unnecessarily showy “May I offer you this seat?”—simply stand up and grab a pole! If the individual wants to sit, he or she will.
You push, push, push your way onto a crowded rush-hour train at Metro Center, even though another train is less than three minutes away.
Beyond rude! Also—not very smart! You don’t understand physics or space and time. And if you don’t stop pushing onto that train until you cause an offloading, then you are a sociopath and beyond the help of any etiquette guide. —Jenny Rogers
Ride your bike courteously and conscientiously. Try to hold yourself to behavioral standards of which your grandma would approve. Assuming that the grandma doesn’t condone road rage or your being a total jackass.
Don’t block the crosswalk. Ever. Think of pedestrians as bicyclists who were forced to leave their bikes at home. That’s sad. Don’t make their day even worse by obstructing their way across the street.
When hosting guests, assume that some may arrive by bicycle. If possible, offer secure, covered bike parking. If guests are arriving via Capital Bikeshare, consider spending a few hours before they get there biking the nearby CaBis across town to ensure that your guests are able to securely dock at the closest station possible. Do not, however, put a velvet rope in front of the open docks to reserve them. That’s not allowed. And really, why do you own a velvet rope?
When you get to work, do not sit around the office in your bike attire. Your cohabitants and loved ones may have to abide your après-bike visage (and/or odors), but your colleagues shouldn’t. If you need to change clothes, do so promptly. And please, not in the shared office kitchen.
Never lock your bike to someone else’s bike. Don’t lock your bike to a tree. Don’t lock someone else’s bike to a tree. Be careful with the whole locking and unlocking process. If you jostle someone else’s bike, right it. If you jostle a tree—don’t do that. Just leave trees alone, OK?
If you see a fellow cyclist by the side of the road, ask if he is OK. Say, “You OK?” Be prepared to stop if he says, “No,” and help as best as your talent and spare equipment might allow. He’ll probably wave you off, and even if you stop, it’s likely nothing worse than a flat tire.
Learn how to fix flat tires.
Pass on the left. When on trails, do not pass if someone is quickly approaching from the opposite direction. You’d think this would be obvious. It is obvious. And yet, here we are. Give as much room as practicable. If you cut off the person you just passed, you did it wrong.
Treat your local bike shop well. Don’t just ogle and paw and size and test their wares and then go order the stuff online. It might cost more, but if you expect the shop to be there for you, you need to support it. With money. Thank your mechanic copiously, especially when she fixes not only the original problem, but all the other stuff you screwed up when you tried to fix it before eventually bringing it in.
There’s no need to evangelize your bikey lifestyle. Do not tsk (or worse, silently judge) people for not bike commuting. It works for you, but it might not work for them. Carrying on about how great/green/healthy/money-saving bicycling is can be fatiguing and is more likely to earn you snide remarks than converts. (Plus, it may make Courtland Milloy think you deserve to be run over.) The benefits are apparent, and people will ask you about them if they have questions or are curious. Be honest. —Brian McEntee
Washington has its fair share of residents from other states and countries, and with them come pre-existing professional sports loyalties. But D.C.’s teams field some great players and storylines. It’s easy to be won over by Ryan Zimmerman’s classiness at Nationals Park, the Wizards’ frontcourt duo of the Polish Hammer and Nene, and the feverishness of United and Capitals fans.
So once you’ve been here a while, it’s OK to retire your hometown sports tchotchkes, like that Phoenix Suns Steve Nash jersey. (Nash did, after all.) You might have thought your stay in D.C. would last about as long as graduate school did, but here you are, years later. This is your home now. Not to get too Zen about it, but the more comfortable you are here, the better your life will be. And the sooner you observe, appreciate, and, yes, root for your new hometown, the more rewarding the whole experience will be. And please, for the love of Jayson Werth’s beard, please don’t root for a team you have no hometown connection to. If you went to grad school in Philly, it’s just not cool to continue as a Phillies fan once you’ve left that city long behind for Washington. If your ex-stepmother gave you an Edmonton Oilers commemorative hockey puck, great. But don’t cheer on an Alberta-based team because of it.
Sure, sports loyalties can be complicated, particularly if you grew up in a sports dead zone that had to adopt a team like the Cubs only because your cable provider supplied WGN. But that’s in the past. You have teams right here in your new city. Mind what’s in front of you, not in back. Stay awhile. Abide. —Jason Dick
Bench-pressing twice your weight is hard. Being polite at the gym is easy. Here are some tips from Devin Maier, managing director, and Ben Wiedemer, manager, at Balance Gym.
Apply the same level of courtesy you apply to the rest of your life. The gym is not some sort of vacuum that entitles you to act like a caveman. Follow Balance Gym’s #1 rule: Don’t be an asshole.
Don’t spread your stuff out (both gym bag components and genitalia) in the locker room. Also, don’t linger in there, and put your camera phone away.
Personal trainers are like strippers or bartenders: They may enjoy your company, but they are not your friends. Stop Facebooking them, and don’t ask them to help you move.
Don’t be the stinky guy. Wash your gear, and have more than one set of workout clothes. People notice these things. Cologne only makes it worse.
Don’t offer unsolicited advice to your gym mates. Approaching a stranger about their form is never a good idea.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. This includes making loud grunting sounds while working out. You’re not one of the Williams sisters, or you’d have your own personal gym to be noisy in. —Laura Hayes
There’s no better way to show the world you support statehood—forever—than by inking it into your skin.
Embrace your tattoo’s complex meanings.
What you love about the District is invariably different than what your neighbor or your boss loves. But unlike that tat of your mom’s favorite flower or a very nice bird, a D.C. flag tattoo carries collective meaning. For some, the flag represents D.C.’s punk scene; for others, it’s the struggle for representation. Regardless, the three stars and two bars are bound to elicit something from fellow residents. So brushing up on your city history and learning more about D.C. can be a good idea if you’re walking around with a symbol of a rich and complex cultural history on your forearm.
Be polite to strangers who want to talk about your tattoo.
Friends, family, random people at bars: For better or for worse, if you’ve got a noticeable tattoo, people want to talk about it. A D.C. flag tattoo invites a conversation about the city, so take people’s interest as a sign that you’re living in an engaged community. Your tattoo also means that you represent D.C., so don’t be a jerk—it makes the rest of us look bad.
Get it in D.C.
This should be obvious. Get it from the people who know it best. Even if you’re not planning on getting too creative, most D.C.’s tattoo artists have done more than a few, and can help you figure out what you may want to do with the flag.
But get creative.
It’s a good lookin’ flag, and that’s a fact—D.C.’s was voted the best city flag in 2004 by the North American Vexillogical Association, a group that takes flags very seriously. That doesn’t mean that you can’t mess with a good thing; a little creative appropriation has worked well for famous subcultures, D.C. sports fans and, uh, local delicacies. If you’re looking for inspiration, check the D.C. flag tattoo blog run by the D.C. Flag Tattoo Day organizers. —Maxwell Tani
You live in Washington, where your out-of-town friends once traveled to in middle school and boy, they sure would like to come back! Welcome them! They’re your friends and you chose to live here. Be accommodating. You may find yourself one day living in a Cleveland suburb and wanting to stay with a friend in the nation’s capital.
Own an air mattress. If you’re a lucky individual that has a guest room with a guest bed, awesome, let’s be friends. If you’re living in an apartment or group house, own an air mattress. Your couch may be the most comfortable couch you’ve ever lounged upon, but people are tall. Or short. Or allergic to whatever is on your couch. The air mattress is also for you: If you’re tired, begin to blow it up. The message will be clear.
Put clean sheets on the air mattress with your guest. Your simple gesture will convey thought and effort. It’ll also serve as a bonding exercise. If you have cats, it’ll make your cats seems like they’re super fun super furry friends, instead of the things that will most likely wake them up at 6 a.m.
Have coffee available. Not tea. Tea is nice, but coffee is great. It’ll allow you to begin the day at a normal hour and lets your guest know that it’s not OK to lounge around the house all day. It’ll also come in handy after a long day of sightseeing.
An extra set of keys is mandatory. Whether your guest is your very fragile elderly family member or a teenager who’s driving mom and dad crazy, they need keys. They may not use them, but don’t make them feel tethered to you. If you have a Bikeshare fob, consider giving that along with the keys.
Do not complain about going to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. They want to see Fonzie’s jacket. Go see Fonzie’s jacket. You go, what, once a year? This is your regional responsibility. It’s free. Stop complaining. It’s better than a trip to the Empire State Building or Willis Tower or the Hollywood Hills. —Brandon Wetherbee
Between Twitter, Instagram, and sketchy neighborhood ranking app SketchFactor, smartphones are perfect for killing time. But they’re also the most technologically advanced way to ignore people, effectively announcing that Pinterest updates are more interesting than the person in front of you. When is it it acceptable to amuse yourself with a phone?
• In line alone
• At a meeting with at least 20 people
• In line with friends
• As the sole passenger in a car
• At a bar or dinner with people
• When ordering at a fast-casual restaurant
• On the Metro with friends
Do you really pay a cover charge, plus whatever your bar tab amounts to, for background music?
Somewhere along the line, that came to be the mentality of patrons at D.C.’s jazz clubs. Perhaps it’s because the music is acoustic and minimally amplified, or that it tends not to have singers. Or perhaps it’s just misplaced entitlement that says that if you can be heard over the music, you should be.
But jazz isn’t there to provide the accompaniment for your chitchat: It’s what everyone else came to hear, and they’ve paid cash for it. And yes, that includes sitting at the bar—unless you’re ordering, nobody wants to hear you there, either.
There are plenty of places in town where you can converse all you want, for free. Some even provide background music. Some of that background music may even be jazz! Hell, in your living room, you can pick out whatever music you want, or even none at all if it’s getting in your way (as so often seems to be the case).
But at a jazz club? It’s right there in the name. The club is for jazz, for playing and listening to it.
When the music starts, shut the fuck up. —Michael J. West
If you’ve been to a concert in D.C., chances are, you’ve seen Bob Boilen. The creator and host of NPR’s All Songs Considered hangs out at local shows almost every night (he’s hard to miss in his brown fedora, round-frame spectacles, and smashing bolo tie). Counting opening acts, Boilen saw 665 bands play last year—enough time spent in general-admission crowds to qualify him as an anthropological expert in the field of concert behavior.
One of Boilen’s chief beefs is with the well-endowed, vertically speaking. He dreams of convincing a club to host a “Height Night,” where the shortest members would stand in the front and the tallest in the back. “I know some small people who’ve never really seen a show,” he says. The barely raised stages at venues like DC9 and Rock & Roll Hotel, in particular, make the floor a visibility battleground. At NPR’s Tiny Desk concerts, Boilen always reminds lanky listeners to move toward the margins. Lacking a scolding from a radio host, it’s perfectly fine for short people to ask the person blocking their view if they can step in front; still, the impetus should be on tall folks to check behind them and make sure there’s no face buried in their lower back. But what if your showgoing partner’s a giant, and you can barely see over the bar? Get as close to the stage as you want, but keep toward the edges. Same goes for those with a bulky backpack in tow—or better yet, ask a staff member if there’s anywhere you can leave it for later.
When the people want to mosh, the people will mosh, so if that’s not your style, get out of the way and don’t ruin the fun. Still, there’s a certain threshold of respectability that even the brashest thrashers should abide. Boilen was standing outside the pit at a recent show and got whacked by someone flailing about in the quiet between songs. Not cool.
Want to take pictures? Practice self-awareness. Dim the brightness on your phone, and try not to stick it in the air for more than the few seconds it takes to snap a photo or record a short video—the people around you should understand. “If you’re standing next to someone and they block you for 15 seconds, and that gets you bothered, then don’t come to a concert,” Boilen says. But if you’re trying to film an entire song, do it from chest level or not at all.
A prolific Instagrammer, Boilen believes that bands should always let fans take photographs at shows. “I think people can listen and look at the same time,” he says. “What they can’t do well is talk [and listen].” If you must chitchat with your crew, do us all a favor and sit at the bar. And for the aggrieved neighbor of a loud gabber: Don’t be embarrassed to advocate for your ears. Just turn around and say, “Hey, this is my favorite song. Can you give me a minute to listen?” —Christina Cauterucci
It’s tough to avoid crowds at the District’s many museums, which means more need for etiquette tips: Ample people jostling to see an exhibit leads to ample opportunities for rudeness.
Put the cameras away.
Whether you’re holding an iPhone or a DSLR, taking a photo of Dorothy’s ruby slippers at the National Museum of American History or Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party” at the Phillips Collection likely involves bumping into those around you. Buy a postcard instead.
Speak softly (if you must).
Tall ceilings mean echos. Few people want to hear your thoughts about the National Gallery’s Lichtensteins and where you’re going to lunch. Keep the conversations quiet or save them for later.
Look at what’s around you.
You’re captivated by The Spirit of St. Louis that’s hanging in the National Air & Space Museum, but you’re so focused on what’s above you that you end up walking into something or someone. When moving, keep your eyes pointed ahead.
It’s great that admission to many museums is free, but that doesn’t mean the museums are free from budget worries. If you’re impressed by what you see, toss in a few bucks on your way out. —Caroline Jones
We’ve all seen them—drunk patrons listing over a DJ’s laptop, drink dangling menacingly, scream-pleading for their favorite throwback jam. As both DJ nights and on-demand music services grow ubiquitous, it’s easy for partygoers to forget that DJs are hired for their specific expertise in setting the right mood or keeping the party poppin’. So the next time you have the overwhelming urge to approach the decks, remember:
DON’T: Treat the DJ like your personal servant or the DJ booth like your house. The DJ is there to do a job, not charge your phone, watch over your coat, or proffer her vinyl for use as your personal drink coaster (and if you spill PBR on her equipment, there will be hell to pay).
DO: Pay attention and be prepared if you’re making a request. And don’t pull a theme faux pas; if it’s an R&B night, the DJ will not indulge your request for “Work B**ch,” no matter how hard you pout. “If you have a request, give me a title and/or artist,” says local DJ Alex DB of Frikitona. “‘Play something I can dance to!’ is not a song or genre, and chances are you can’t dance if that’s your request.”
DON’T: Play the birthday card. It does not make you a unique snowflake—DJs get the “special day” request many times a night, and often, it’s a lie. “I don’t care about anyone’s birthday, engagement party, work happy-hour, or any other unrelated event,” says Alex DB. “Unless you are a ghost attending your own funeral reception. I’d play any request for a ghost.”
DO: Remember the DJ is a human being doing a job, not your Spotify account. Pay attention to his style, wait for him to look up from his work before bombarding him, treat him with common courtesy, and you’ll likely hear that track you wished for. Consider leaving a tip for requests, too. “I used to think this was weird,” says DJ Shea Van Horn of Mixtape, an alterna-queer dance night. “But if you’re going to treat a DJ like a jukebox, then put in a dollar or two.” —Deb Greenspan
If you want to dance, go see a DJ. If you want to scream at the performer, go to a punk show. If you want to dance and scream at the performer, go to a karaoke night. If you want to listen and laugh but not talk to anyone for long periods of time, go to a comedy show.
Laugh out loud.
I’m one of those people who goes on stage and attempts to elicit laughs. While it’s quite nice when a kind word is said to you after a show, it’s much nicer to hear a nice laugh during it.
Do not tell your friend that this person is or isn’t funny.
It’s distracting. If the person is horrible, you will remember their awfulness and can discuss it with your companion following the show. Same with tweeting. No live tweeting. Do that during @midnight.
Feel free to avoid shows with horrible artwork.
Would you eat a restaurant that looks dirty and potentially unsafe? No. So why go to a comedy show that has a flyer that looks like it was made in 1984 by a very untalented teenager?
If it’s offensive, leave.
It’s OK. Sometimes the act is bad. If you’re at the Drafthouse or Improv or any smaller club, they want you to leave with a smile, not receive a justified angry email the following day. If you hear something that’s unforgivably sexist, racist, homophobic, etc., feel free to get up, tell the manager, get your money back and never see that comic again. Which leads us to the next point.
Do some research.
Live comedy is one of the few art forms that attracts people with one word. Comedy. No one that I’ve ever met has gone to a concert because the word “music” appeared on a poorly designed flier.
The Improv does a fantastic job booking a diverse array of comedians, but you will most likely not enjoy every performer. Just because it’s a comedy show doesn’t mean it’ll suit your taste. With YouTube and On Demand and podcasts, there’s no excuse to not know who you’re going to see at any given show.
Open mics are not billed shows.
An open mic is an open mic, not a show. It’s a risk. You’ve been warned. —Brandon Wetherbee
Some D.C. beer gardens get so crowded that they might as well have a bouncer outside, which means snagging a spot at a communal picnic table can involve navigating some sharp elbows and seat hoarders. The first and most important rule of beer-garden seating etiquette? Don’t be shy about asking if part of the bench is available. “It always upsets me when people walk around and it seems like there’s not some sort of obvious opening, and they leave,” says Garden District owner Tad Curtz. “That’s not the point. You’re supposed to be social and squeeze into a table and strike up a conversation.”
Dacha co-owner Dmitri Chekaldin also sees newbies looking for completely empty tables rather than saddling up with strangers. “People come from suburban areas where they got used to having a lot of private space,” he says. This isn’t high school, where the cafeteria tables represent social hierarchy; at a beer garden, seating is socialist. “You have to trust your neighbors. You have to take a chance and be social and talk to be people,” he says.
If there’s genuinely nowhere to sit, feel free to hang out near a table—so long as you’re not coming across as a dreaded hoverer. “A beer garden is not a restaurant,” Chekaldin says. “In a restaurant, you are locked to one table, and you must sit at it.” In a beer garden, you can wander around, or stand up, or go back to the bar. As a result, people don’t necessarily camp out in one place. “Have a little bit of patience,” Chekaldin says. “Just hang out at that table—in 20 minutes, you’ll most likely have more space, probably for all of your friends, because people do rotate.”
There’s also nothing worse than a person who hogs an entire table for their friends who haven’t arrived. If you absolutely know your friend is on the way, Curtz says, you can hold a spot for 20 minutes, but not longer. Also: One person shouldn’t save a seat for a huge group if the place is busy. “Maybe half of your party needs to be there to establish the other half is on the way,” Curtz suggests. “If four people are at a table for eight and their friends are on the way, that seems reasonable.” But if one person’s saving a table for eight? Not so much. —Jessica Sidman
You ordered a drink. It came. You can’t stand it. Do something about it.
There’s nothing wrong with sending a beer back so long as it’s a beer you’ve had before, says D.C. beer writer and DC Brau brewer Michael Stein. “If you trust the brewery and have had the beer you ordered before (especially if it was tasting different at another restaurant), you have every right to send it back.”
Speak up immediately. “Should your beer be delivered in an unacceptable condition, the best practice is to immediately notify your server or bartender,” says Greg Engert, beer director of Neighborhood Restaurant Group, which owns Birch & Barley, ChurchKey, Bluejacket, and other spots. “It is best to invite the staff member—and/or the manager on duty—to taste the beer themselves and see if they agree, rather than dismissing the beer out of hand.”
But be humble about it. “I know that my palate has certainly had its off days, making a second opinion all the more necessary,” Engert says. “I’ve also watched as a few beers, though off-putting at first, have settled into a flawless state upon subsequent sips.”
And be calm. “As calm and cool as possible, tell the server/manager that you know this beer is not tasting as good as it should be,” says Stein. “If you’re willing to pay for the beer, offer that you’d be glad to reimburse for their lost beer.” —Tim Regan
You drink fancy coffee, but that doesn’t make you fancy. Here are tips from Javier Rivas, co-owner of La Mano Coffee Bar in Takoma, on keeping it real.
Stop talking on your phone when you step up to the counter. Embrace the human interaction.
Say “hello” and look me in the eye. Don’t just blurt out your order.
Don’t try to impress me with stories of your Roman vacation where you drank the best espresso. I’m glad you got to travel the world, but stop boasting.
We’re not going to hold questions against you. Ask about the menu.
Order what you like. I will never refuse to make a drink for someone—even if I don’t agree with putting a shot of espresso over ice.
Touching or asking out your barista is not acceptable. If you like your coffee, a simple compliment works. —Nevin Martell
Remember the original purpose of coffee shops? Creating a sense of community by bringing people together for conversation and caffeine? Today, they’re more like charging stations to fuel your epic YouTube sessions. Here are some tips from local shop owners and baristas—notably from the Wydown and the Coffee Bar—to make the experience pleasurable again.
Don’t swallow everyone’s bandwidth along with your latte. If a coffee shop gives you the free Wi-Fi, don’t repay them by binge-watching Orange Is the New Black.
If you’re going to camp out, try to make a purchase every hour. It’s not your home office, nor a public library.
Don’t ask strangers to watch your stuff. It makes people nervous in this lawsuit-driven country.
Encourage people to plop down next to you at a communal table. Anything that doesn’t have heartbeat (like your backpack) doesn’t deserve a seat.
Tip your baristas, especially after hour No. four. —Laura Hayes
Sometimes considered gauche, slurping is quite appropriate for eating ramen. But what else to do to avoid looking like a clueless slob? Here are former Zentan chef Jennifer Nguyen’s recommendations.
Add-ons are a matter of personal preference. Pile on noodles, menma (bamboo shoots) or toasted nori (seaweed) sheets.
Eat it steaming hot, in 12 minutes or fewer. There should be no socializing during that time; focus on the food.
Grab some noodles with your chopsticks and use the spoon to lift them up. Finish the noodles first, because they’re cooking in the broth and can get soggy.
Eating noodles is like tasting wine—you need to slurp. The slurping cools them down as they’re coming into your mouth.
If you don’t eat a piece of protein or a vegetable in single bite, submerge it back in the broth. That will keep it warm until you want to finish.
When the noodles and toppings are eaten, pick up the bowl with both hands and drink the remaining broth. Finishing everything is way of showing the chef you appreciated the time and effort put into making your meal. —Nevin Martell
The irony of so many “share plates”—the cool new name for small plates—is that they’re not always conducive to sharing. For two people, who gets the third scallop? What do you do when one person is allergic to broccoli and the other’s gluten-free? How do you split the check?
First and foremost, stop being so damn prissy. You’re supposed to share the plate, not surgically divide it into obsessively equal parts. It’s also OK if someone double dips or—gasp—your forks touch. (Cooties are not real.) If you’re actually contagiously sick, though, please be nice to your friends and skip the tapas spot altogether.
It’s always best to err on the side of generosity toward your dining companions. Don’t be a hog: If you cut something in half, let the other person choose the piece. They will then reciprocate to you. But sometimes people are too polite to take the last bite. The correct course of action is to ask if anyone wants it, and if the answer is no, don’t be too modest—go for it. Small plates are often so small (and expensive) that it’s silly to send a single morsel to the trash can.
Generally, two people is the ideal number to share a small plate. Three, and things start to get trickier. Four or more, and you should probably order duplicates. There’s nothing worse than getting three strands of spaghetti or a sixth of a meatball because the portion is divided so many ways. Also strongly consider visiting a small plates restaurant with like-minded eaters. But if you don’t, you don’t need to limit yourself to dishes that everyone at the table likes. Someone may eat more of one thing than another—and that’s OK.
When the check comes, an even split is the best way to go regardless of who ate what. There’s no need to fight over a few dollars among friends. Rest assured the karmic balance of the dining universe will repay you at some point: Next time, maybe you’ll get the extra scallop. —Jessica Sidman