View of Washington DC mall

Washington, DC: close enough

Growing up it was pretty easy to assume my small town of Berryville was basically the center of the universe. As a little kid (well, even now) its sometimes unfathomable that there’s a big, wide world beyond your little front yard. In time and with travel it became pretty clear pretty quick that wasn’t actually the case. Most people outside of a 30-mile radius had never heard of my sleepy throwback town.

So when I travel – either out of state or abroad – my response to the ever-present “where are you from?” usually becomes something like “close to Washington” with a careful point to not use DC as many foreigners aren’t familiar with that. Over the years, Washington became the big catch-all when describing my background, instilling in me far more street cred and cool than my small town roots deserve.

But in a way, I do consider Washington, DC my home. DC has always been my unofficial first choice for US life. When I was in college, I was always gearing up to return to the city with some impressive-sounding job. Even now when the Russky and I contemplate living in the States, DC is always number one. I can navigate the (infuriatingly slow) metro system. My friends are there. It’s the nation’s capital, for god’s sake! When I think of settling down in America, I’m thinking of the busy streets of DC, not the sedate pace of country living.

So no, Washington, DC is not my home. But for all intents and purposes: close enough.

House on the Mall

Cherry blossoms

Vietnam Vet Memorial

Flowers at the Botanical Garden

Capitol Building

  • Amye Mae

    I do the same thing with my “hometown” Philadelphia…until I determine if someone is familiar with the region, and I can get more specific!
    Thanks for the mention that “DC” isn’t familiar to most foreigners. I’m about to spend some time in France and I’ll had to remember to just say Washington. Does that ever confuse people with “Washington State”?

    • Polly

      I’ve found that if people don’t get the DC part, they usually don’t even know there’s a Washington state. “You know, that one above California?” is usually met by blank stares :)

      • Joseph

        This kills me, I’m from Washington state, and I will even say I’m from Washington state, and they still think it’s DC. The worst part is that I’m from Vancouver, Washington, which adds even more confusion to it. So I usually just say Portland, which you know, adds street cred :)

        • Jacqueline

          I am from WA too and can so understand this. I just say Seattle now. When people don’t know that, I move to Portland. When people don’t know that, I move to San Fran and then they think I live two states away.

          • Polly

            I’m a little surprised that people outside of the states know San Francisco. I know most Russians only have a tenuous grasp on LA!.

        • Polly

          Vancouver, Washington?! Oh no, that’s the double-whammy.

  • Kaelene @Unlocking Kiki

    I need to visit Washington DC, it looks so beautiful.

    • Polly

      It’s nice as long as you avoid the swampy summer months!

      • Kelly

        Like today! Ugh… Glad my office is an icebox…

  • Sara @ Bristol In My Pocket

    I haven’t been to DC in YEARS! Beautiful pictures!

    • Polly

      Thank you. It can be really lovely at the right time of year!

  • Amanda @ Rhyme & Ribbons

    One of my best friend’s from college grew up in a similar situation, at school she just always said she was from the “Maryland side of DC” x

    • Polly

      Close enough. Unless – god forbid – you’re around someone who lives in DC and then they’ll give you so much crap. (Though what they usually fail to mention is they’re a transplant that just arrived a year ago!)

  • Stanislava

    Well, I like it from your photos!

    • Polly

      It really is a good town, you’ll have to take my word for it!

  • Katrina

    I live two hours south of D.C. but we still end up telling our European friends that we’re within a drive of it. Because most people don’t know anything about my small hometown either! Great little post – enjoyed it!

    • Polly

      I guess in the scheme of the whole wide world, a two hour drive isn’t much anyway!

  • Van @ On the Road again

    Berryville is such a cute name and definitely resembles small-town America….I come from a little village myself and always answer that question with the “next nearest” big city too although most foreigners only know Berlin and Munich and none of these are exactly close by 😉

    • Polly

      Seriously. They could not have picked a more “small town” name. I admit, I could nod and smile if you told me a large German town but I’d have no idea where it was! If I haven’t been there, I probably can’t remember the geography from school.

  • ladyofthecakes

    Berryville – LOL! Sorry, but that says it all. Am from a village close to a small town close to a big town (Munich), and I always refer to the latter when asked where I’m from, so I can sort of relate.

    Love the second picture! Well, all of them, but the second one especially :)

    • Polly

      I know, I know.

      Oh, and we ventured into the Botanical Gardens the last time we were in town. So beautiful, I’m sure you’d be the snap-happiest!

  • Amy @ Amy and the Great World

    I need to visit D.C.! Especially for those cherry blossoms.

    • Polly

      Definitely! We got super lucky this year as the cold weather made them bloom later than usual. It’s so magical.

  • Erin

    When I lived in the Washington, D.C. area, I actually lived in Bowie, Md., and later Alexandria, Va. But, to my friends and family in Michigan, I lived in “D.C.” I stopped calling it Washington when I realized one of my (American, btw) friends thought I lived in Washington state. So, I understand what you’re saying, Polly. It’s like everyone from where I grew up, a suburb of Detroit, claims to be “Imported from Detroit” since Chrysler released that Super Bowl ad with Eminem a few years ago. Close enough seems to work for us Metro Detroiters too!

  • Annie

    one day. one day we’ll make it to DC and figure out what all this hype is about 😉

    • Polly

      Do it! Maybe I’ll even be around to give you the grand tour :)

  • Marielle

    I did the same with my hometown – usually had to describe Pennsylvania as “below New York.” And then they thought I lived close to NYC. But occasionally the most random foreigners knew Pittsburgh because of sports or the random Hindu temple outside of the city. Lovely photos! I miss seeing cherry blossoms :/

    • Polly

      At some point it gets to the “eh, close enough”.

  • bevchen

    I know what Washington DC is 😉 And my grandpa came from the “original” Washington (as he always liked to call it), in England.

    I tend to tell people I’m from “near Newcastle”. There’s no point in getting more specific… most English people won’t have heard of the small town my dad lives in (plus I would never want people thinking I’m from there! I only lived there from age 13 and it’s a dump!).

  • Sammy Dorn

    I know what you mean. I sometimes find it’s easier to just tell people that I’m from Brisbane.. and in a way it feels like home because I spent 5 years living there for Uni!

  • Kelly

    Polly, Love your blog and am grateful that you and so many others are willing to share your story. Being a Virginia girl who has only lived in VA (grew up horseback riding in Loudoun, hiking the Blue Ridge, and antiquing in places like Purcellville or Middleburg) or DC, it’s fun to live vicariously! Welcome back stateside. Wish you and the Russky the best in your latest adventures.

    • Polly

      Thank you! And it sounds like we have plans to do a lot of what you did growing up while we’re here!

  • Jessica @ Independent Travel Cats

    I am from a small town in Ohio so I just say Ohio which is generally enough for most people, although then you sometimes have people name everyone they know in OH and ask me if I might somehow might know them, haha. Same with our current place as we live near but not inside San Francisco.

    • Polly

      Haha, I have definitely got the “you’re from Washington? Do you know X Y or Z?” from people abroad and stateside alike…

  • Anna

    I think I’m in love with your camera…

    I too called DC my home for a long time: I lived in DC or DC-adjacent while in middle and high schools, and then 3 years in college. I was absolutely POSITIVE I was gonna stay there after graduation, and then moved to NYC almost overnight when I got The Job (which, in the end, wasnt, but oh well). I do miss certain things like crazy – Jefferson Memorial, Kalorama Circle neighborhood, Zed’s in G-Town, all the fluffy pink blooms that are not cherry blossoms and magnolias in the spring…

    • Polly

      Ugh! Zeds! Whenever anyone even mentions eating in DC I have to shout “GO TO ZEDS!” So good!

  • Polly

    I love how when you’re on the road and *do* run into someone who knows the DC area, the inevitable narrowing-down happens. First I’ll say “close to Northern Virginia” and then “the Shenandoah Valley”. I met a couple in Brazil who knew Front Royal!

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