NYC vs. D.C.: What's the Better City For 20-Somethings?

Sinking into a soft leather chair in a SoHo salon last weekend, my long-time hairdresser looked at me sadly when I told him I’d moved to Washington. “It must have been really hard to leave,” he whispered.

When I first moved to D.C. from New York City in September, I was told by Washingtonians that The District would be “slower paced,” “more manageable,” and “less frenetic” than The Big Apple. While I agree with all of the above, there are subtler, less obvious differences that have come to my attention as I’ve settled in over the past five months.

D.C. is definitely slower paced, but I imagine if you compared any city to New York (aside from, say, Hong Kong), it'd seem like a churchyard. In D.C., people amble along sidewalks, take to the Metro platforms without the slightest hint of urgency, and shrug, not shout, when train delays disrupt workday commutes. On the subject of speed, I’ve come to appreciate the laid-back nature of our nation’s capital. People are up, about, and doing important things, but there’s a sense of calm that’s allowed me to sleep better, worry less, and control my previously ceaseless heart palpitations.

Then, there’s the Metro. I always have to correct myself. In D.C., it’s the Metro – not the subway. The subway isn’t synonymous with “an underground train;” it’s specific to New York, just as the Metro is to Washington. Unlike NYC, where you can buy a metro card at any subway stop and most newsstands – a Metro Smart Trip is only sold at certain CVS pharmacies throughout the city. Alas, the Metro’s fairly clean. I have yet to see a rat, there’s no pervasive fish smell, and Metro riders freely use their smart phones seemingly confident in its lack of crime. The Metro’s enormous arches and encased paneling are impressive and it’s continually mind-boggling how deeply underground they ride. I scale four escalators before emerging to street level in Chinatown each morning.

But surfacing from Penn Station to Madison Square Garden last weekend, I was quickly reminded of New York’s increasing madness. It is edgy, frenetic, but altogether inspiring. New York is apples, and D.C. is, well, oranges. In D.C., streets are wider, they’re less crowded, faces are less wrinkled, and everything more conservative. Resting on a Metro rail, I admire the plethora of pretty women and clean-shaven men reading the paper and settling into their routines. It feels as if I’ve time-traveled back to the 1980s and am facing my father on his way to work as a banker. In NYC, you’re awakened from your morning slumber by offensive conversations and appallingly shocking, yet enviable, outfits.

If anyone’s seen the recent “Sh*t XX Say” videos – particularly the two tailored toward NYC and D.C. – it won’t surprise you that I’m about to launch into a paragraph on happy hours, brunch, and coffee shops. Bars close earlier in Washington and street-side cafes are few and far between. There are positives to this: I’m not taking as many tequila shots, I’m spending less money on unnecessarily indulgent meals, and I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of a Sunday afternoon brunch. I’ve never eaten so many oysters, drank so many perfectly spiced Bloody Maries, and enjoyed Sundays more since moving here.

I was ready for a change and I consider myself lucky to be in Washington. A friend looked at me as if I had five heads when I launched into a monologue on the South Carolina caucus. And my brother noted how well rested I seem. Not to mention, I’ve mellowed out; I read more, I’m thinking about buying a bike, and I’m less concerned about what I wear.

There’s a lot to be discovered in D.C.: its strong music scene, unquestionably charming townhouse-restaurants, and troves of young professionals with heavy minds and provoking thoughts. The main difference is it takes more than a short stroll from your doorstep to land on something sparkling.

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons