Tourists often stop us on the street asking for information about Washington, and we usually give them straight answers. After all, they are spending their hard earned dollars (or Euros or yen) in our fair city, and we want to be gracious hosts so that they continue to lay out the dough to the business owners in the neighborhood. Once in a while though, we are tempted to fib and we will shade the truth to see how they react. Once the joke’s done, we bring them in on it and have a good laugh together. (To be perfectly fair, we prank some of our family members too.)
Which ones are our favorites? We present the top five:
1. The Washington Monument has two different shadings in its stone due to the Great Patowmack Flood of 1854.
Preposterous. The stone takes on a different shading just over a quarter of the way up. That would make it a 150 foot tall flood from the bottom of the monument which is above sea level to begin with. The real reason there is different shading is that the monument was constructed in two phases with about a twenty year hiatus in between, and the stone is different in color.
2. Looking for a Starbucks? You can find one at the mall, the National Mall, which is right down the street.
Some fall for this one too easily. The National Mall is not indoors, it does not have a Starbucks (or a Spencer’s Gifts), and it is not air conditioned.
3. If you buy an FBI hat or shirt, you get a free tour. Walk through the front door with the hat on and they’ll let you check out the building.
Tourists absolutely LOVE the FBI merch and buy it with abandon. Although this fairy tale does not have a good rate of success, we have been able to pull it off a few times. Thankfully, we caught the tourists before they started down 9th Street towards the entrance and warned them not to try it. As this page on the FBI’s website plainly says, “The FBI Tour is presently closed. No date has been set for its reopening.” We actually find that unfortunate because we’re the first to admit that we’d love to take a tour of the interior of the hulking building at 935 Pennsylvania Ave NW. We understand that security is an issue though.
4. On the Metro escalators, stand left and walk right.
Tourists do this without being told anyway. In fact, they stand left AND right. We don’t need to speak this untruth. It’s in their brains by default.
5. Washington, DC, is actually a state but they left the star off the flag.
This falsehood sometimes works and we like to tell it because it allows us to point out that DC residents don’t get a vote in Congress. Americans and non-Americans alike don’t all know that DC residents have no voting representation because DC is NOT actually a state. We think the lack of voting power is a raw deal, and this is an opportunity to do a little bit of outreach.
What do you tell tourists who stop you and ask for help? What is the most outrageous fable you’ve heard about Washington?