As I did in Dhaka, Bogota, Lima, and Rome, I will write a couple of articles about the good and not so good things about living in the Washington, DC, area. First, some of the good things.
Free drinking water. You can drink the tap water.
High speed internet.
International cuisine. I will write more about this later, but in the DC area, one can get good Vietnamese, Ethiopian, Korean, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Salvadoran, Japanese… you get the idea.
International people. Many embassies are located here.
Public transportation. Between the train, bus, and light rail, you can get many places for 3-10 dollars.
Availability of things – Amazon is sometimes delivered the next day or faster, and some shops are open 24-7.
Free museums, free concerts, free meetings, and free libraries. The Smithsonian is a collection of 21 museums and almost all (I think only the one in New York charges an entrance fee) are free to enter.
National Airport (DCA). Having an airport on a metro line and within a mile of DC is gold. Dulles is also on the metro but 25 miles away.
People like dogs. Oh, wait, that’s not just here. But I still think it’s a good thing about being here.
Homeless people and beggars. This is a stain on American. Quite a shock to the tourists as well.
Prices. Things are pricey.
Price of going out to eat. I am now cooking, if one can call it that, at home.
Housing prices. Gawd. Half a million dollars for one bedroom apartment!
Shootings and crime. Over 200 homicides in DC this year (as of October).
Preservatives in the food. Read the label. It is a bit scary.
Skunk smoke. Both DC and Maryland (or they will soon) have made it legal to consume marijuana. The stuff that smells like a skunk is low grade — so I am told. I wish they would switch to non smelly kinds.
The weather. George (Washington) did not choose this place for the weather (I think he wanted short commute). The weather is humid and hot in the summers and the winters are not spectacular. But, there is air conditioning so if I can avoid going outside from May to October…
However, I am still thankful for the overall quality of life in the DMV.
One can tell that modern day Serbia was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, not only in the architecture, but also from the food.
There seemed to be a bakery or sandwich shop on every corner in Belgrade. We went to a modern one built in wood and with space to sit. Some of the ones I saw on the street seemed to be more of a walk up style.
The pastries were much like in the Viennese traditional (in Danish, danish pastry is actually called “Viennese bread” as that is where the traditional stems from). In a small town near the Hungarian border, I had a sandwich made with a simple unleavened flatbread.
There is quite a cafe coffee culture here as well but the local coffee was topped high with whipped cream. Reminded me of that time I had Sacher Torte and had to ask for it “mit schlag” — with cream.
Every culture has a dumpling and one of the dumplings of Serbia is called a “knedle.” It is a round fried ball filled with, traditionally a plum, but now made with chocolate and anything else one could imagine. The dough is boiled first and has the consistency of a matzo ball or thicker.
I was delighted to see “potage” on the menu because as I am a bit of history buff, I had seen shows about medieval cooking where everyday the peasants at potage which was anything they could find to add to their pot. In Serbia, it was a thin delicate soup. At the place we had it, it was served in mini cast iron pots. Adorable.
We had other soups as well that were simple hearty soup that for some reason is not so easy to find in many restaurants. At least not in Rome.
Another classic food is meat stew. Served with pasta and sour cream on top. Very hearty.
They have Greek salad here, but their Serbian salad is called “shopska” (spelled differently but sounds like that) which means “hat” because the salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers, has a “hat” of shredded fresh cheese which is a bit like cream cheese.
Another food here is polenta (maize/corn) and I had it served as cakes topped with shredded meat. Before I lived in Colombia and Venezuela, I did not really like polenta or arepas or anything made out of cornmeal but now I have a hankering for it once in a while.
I like dairy products and one of the traditional types here is a cultured product that I think is made from the whey, a bit like kunefe in Turkey but more delicate. It was called “ayvar” and was served with toast and flossed pork.
As I hoped for, another local specialty is spicy pickled peppers, a bit like a banana pepper. One of the spiciest things I have tried in a while.
Then there is the rolled stuffed meat a bit like a chicken cordon bleu but this one was pork. The local slang term for it roughly translates to “a woman’s dream boyfriend” and it was about 10 inches long.
For dessert, one of the traditional items is called a snowball but it is more of a snow cloud or floating iceberg of meringue in custard.
Aside from traditional foods, Serbian food also includes pizza and gelato and all manner of international foods. More on that another time.
I expected to be surprised by America. And I am. Here are some of the things I have found surprising so far.
25 percent tip is expected on many restaurant bills.
Tip for almost everything. When paying electronically on a tablet at a cash register, the cashier will turn the tablet to you so that you can add a tip… for standing on the other side of the counter.
The prices. I ordered pizza. It cost me 60 dollars for two. But in general, the prices are high. Except on gas. Healthy food is expensive. But now even the fast food is pricey.
The smell of skunk (in DC, I’m told that if it smells like skunk then it’s a bad grade of marijuana).
Large food portions. I ate half a chicken. It sounds like it was a small chicken. No, I was SERVED half a chicken. And it was large. That said, the other day, I was surprised at the average size of my sandwich.
Music in the parking lot to keep away the homeless and the migrants. Yes, that’s true. There are some parking lots where canned music is piped out all day long. Apparently homeless people do not like it. This is one of the oddest things I’ve discovered about America and I feel like there must be more to it than this. I will admit that the music is a sort of sickly elevator style teeny bop muzak. Maybe if I remember, I’ll do a YouTube video about this.
Homeless people are everywhere in Washington, DC. Entire cities of tents — some with front yards and patios!
The relative speed of Amazon orders. I can order items to be delivered in six hours from when I order. I also live near a hub. It usually does not get delivered that fast but the offer is there so that is what surprises me.
Vocabulary. The language is different. “Stuffy” for a soft toy — what we called a doll. “Slide deck” for PowerPoint because not everyone uses Microsoft. “Coms” for communication ’cause shorta i’ betta? And don’t get me started on the acronyms!
Shocks and all, I’m enjoying it. This may have seemed negative, so I will write, as I usually do for each new country I live in, a set of pros and cons blog articles. Watch this space.