DC has 177 foreign embassies, the largest number of embassies in the United States, yet most of them are not normally visited by the public. Because of this, DC residents can miss out on important experiences, such as connecting with a new culture and meeting new people. Each year in the month of May, embassies open their doors and welcome the public to participate in dozens of cultural events. With open houses, street festivals, performances, exhibitions, and workshops, Passport DC invites visitors and residents to enjoy different countries and immerse themselves in another community.
Though the event takes place during the entire month of May, different festivities happen each week. I went on opening day, Saturday, May 5, for the Around the World Embassy Tour. This year, there were 53 participating countries. Later in the month, different embassies hosted exhibitions such as the the European Embassies’ Open House and the Embassy Chef Challenge.
Some popular tourist destinations are the Korean, Moroccan, Japanese, Chinese, and Brazilian Embassies, with lines that often stretch down the block. The best time to arrive is around 9:00 a.m. (festivities start at 10:00 a.m. and end at 4:00 p.m.) to avoid the crowd. If you do get caught up in the lines, don’t fret. There’s most likely a food truck nearby, and most of the food trucks stationed offer delicious ethnic food native to that country. It’s also not unusual to see a random ensemble appear seemingly out of nowhere and break into a traditional dance or song. But the real magic happens when you enter the embassies.
One embassy that I visited was the Embassy of Uzbekistan. Located in Georgetown, it’s a building I’d passed dozens of times before, but I’d never stopped to see what’s inside. When they opened their doors for the embassy tour, I knew it was something I just had to see. Out of all the embassies that participated in the events, Uzbekistan was not the most popular. So when I visited, there was no line (most of the people in the area were watching a steel drum group perform at the neighboring Embassy of Trinidad and Tobago). The inside of the embassy was extremely elegant–during the event, most embassies have their nicest items on display to showcase to the public. I loved that I got to walk into each of the rooms and be greeted with a warm smile from each embassy worker. Every floor was covered with a beautiful oriental rug that complimented the decor and the style of the rooms very nicely; their design was impeccable. Aside from what the inside looked like, workers gave guided tours throughout the entire building, which helped the visitor learn more about that country. I walked out of there knowing more about Uzbekistan than I’d ever known before.
I’ve been going to the embassy tours for years, and this year was by far the largest turnout that I’d seen. Almost every embassy had a line, but one of the longest was for the Embassy of Barbados. Tucked away in a little neighborhood off of Massachusetts Avenue, the Barbadian Embassy is always one of the loudest. Each May, Barbadians celebrate the Barbados Celtic Festival, a grand showcase honoring Celtic heritage in Barbados. Many of the performers come to DC to celebrate it here, which is a ton of fun to watch. They also have some of the best food and much of it is free! You could try small samples of some of the food or buy a plate for $7 and get as much as you wanted (which I personally believe is the much better deal). Some of the food offered was fried flying fish with spicy gravy, “pudding and souse” (pickled pork with sweet potatoes), and cou-cou (cornmeal and okra).
Overall, Passport DC is a great way for people to get to know other regions of the world that they may not have been introduced to before. Not only does it allow for cultural immersion, it is also a fun way for parents and kids to travel “around the world” while staying here in DC.