What do you do and where do you stand?

It’s a beautiful morning here in DC. I’m heading back to the city this afternoon, but I’m enjoying the sun streaming in through the living room window of my best friend’s apartment. She and her man are still asleep and I’m just having a relaxing morning with a cup of tea and my freelancing. It’s mornings–and weekends–like this that make me wish I lived in the District. I have a lot of friends here, far more than I have in New York, or at least far more that I’m close to. But moving to DC  just isn’t an option right now. Aside from the obvious fact that I just signed a lease on a new apartment, I love my job. Where else will I find a job that I like that much right now? Hard to say.

One thing I can tell: Men in DC are much more attractive and interesting than men in New York. No offense, New York Boys, but you’re considerably more shallow than the men here in DC. Maybe it’s just that the guys here are more my type.

My friends and I had an interesting conversation last night at a house party over our plastic cups of cheap keg-pumped beer: What do people say to each other when they first meet? (Note: I’m speaking for my age-group here and not, generally, for anyone over 35.)

"DC is the girl who will flick her eyes judgmentally at you and then spin around on one heel..."

In DC, the first question your average twenty-something would ask or be asked in a social gathering is “What do you do?” or “Where do you work?” This question is usually the second or third question posed when meeting someone in New York. In my experience, this question can be somewhat off-putting when asked right away–almost like asking someone’s salary straight-up, even though your financial standing and the category of job you have determines your place on the social ladder (or in someone’s mind). In DC, it’s more a question of power than money. It’s “Where do you work?” and “What do you do?” rather than “How much do you make?” Nearly everyone I know in DC works for the government, for a non-profit, for a lobbying group, or is in some way affiliated with politics. The only exceptions is my friend who runs her own photography business.

In New York, one of the first things people ask is “Where do you live?” (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens? Westchester? Long Island? New Jersey?) and then “What part of ___?” In the New York social scene, a first impression is formed about you depending on how you answer this question. It doesn’t matter if you have five roommates, your neighborhood can give you the thumbs up or thumbs down right away. Trust me, I know: I’ve lived in Spanish Harlem for five years and have faced endless bastardly mocking from many guys and certainly a fair share of raise eyebrows from girls.  Living in a good neighborhood (99.9% of the time) indicates your salary and, in a lot of ways, your social status.

The next question is often “Where are you from?” After determining that, your basket of preconceived notions about this person is formed. The third question is the determining factor: Will you be granted access to the ladder? Or will you be knocked back into the street?

“What do you do?” Finance? Fashion? Television ad sales? Real estate? Unemployed? There are myriad answers to this question and they often leave me scratching my head, thinking, “I don’t know what that is,” but nodding and smiling and pretending to care anyway. That’s the scene.

"New York is the girl who will raise an eyebrow, purse her lips, look you up and down, and sneer at you until you feel so awkward that you back away."

High finance and fashion are, I think, the top tier, followed by any industry involving celebrity directly, and then jobs involving celebrity by association. If you’re a guy from Westchester, living in Murray Hilly, and working at Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse, or PWC, you’re in damn good shape for a young person. If you’re a girl from New Jersey, a buyer for Saks or an a personal assistant for some big-shot producer or designer, and living on the Upper East Side (even with roommates), you’re on the ladder and swiftly moving up. But if you’re a girl from Indiana, living in Washington Heights, and working for a non-profit, or if you’re a guy from Florida, living with three roommates in Green Point, and working as a paralegal, you better just go ahead and spend your time in tacky Irish pubs.

Both DC and New York social scenes revolve around the desire to continue climbing socially, to be better than the person you’re talking to–even in tacky Irish pubs and PBR-soaked dive bars. In DC it’s about control and governance over something. In New York your financial situation determines your place in young society–your level of glamour, if you will. Power through money or power through job: they’re both similar, both considered, but have different statuses in both places.

The overall tone of DC is vastly more high-brow intellectual than New York. DC is more subtle in its snobbery, not as blatant as New York, where money and power share a bed with pricey flash and glamour. DC is the girl who will flick her eyes judgmentally at you and then spin around on one heel; New York is the girl who will raise an eyebrow, purse her lips, look you up and down, and sneer at you until you feel so awkward that you back away.

So, subtle snobbery, or blatant bitchiness? Which would you prefer?




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