What do you do?

I’ve been doing a lot of D.C-related research over the past few weeks and it’s been interesting. Some of you out there received an unofficial D.C survey from me…thanks to all of you who responded!

As I go through everybody’s responses, one of the biggest things that’s jumped out at me is that many people, whether they still live in D.C or they’ve moved elsewhere, say that the first thing a D.C resident/D.C metro area resident wants to know is what do you do? And it’s true. Whenever I meet someone, whether it’s at a bar, on a date, at a new group I’ve joined, a party, a small get together — whatever it may be — the first thing people ask me is what do you do? I’ve thought about answering this question by saying, I enjoy hiking, riding my bike, dancing, listening to music, going on scenic road trips, knitting scarves, discovering new places, hanging out with friends and family, traveling, Googling all kinds of things, eating summer rolls, drawing, blogging, watching movies, etc, but I don’t think this is what people mean. What they mean is what’s your job and more importantly, what kind of person does this make you? Are you an idealistic non-profit type? Are you a wannabe politico? Are you making big bucks as a government contractor? Are you yet another D.C lawyer? Are you driven by money, power, ideas or (very unlikely in this town) art?

Apparently, this isn’t the first question people ask in other cities in the U.S. I wouldn’t really know because I’ve lived in the D.C area my whole life except for my four years abroad. When I lived in Bogotá, the first question people had for me was where are you from? because it was obvious from my accent that I wasn’t from Colombia. If I was north of Calle 65 and people learned my family was Colombian, the next question out of their mouths was what’s your last name? Because in certain Colombian social circles, it’s all about your last name. Your last name tells people what neighborhoods you probably live in, what high schools and colleges you likely attended, what kind of job you might have and most importantly, your historical and economic social class.

Your last name isn’t quite the same powerful categorical tool here in the States, but I suppose every society and culture has its ways of sizing you up. Here in D.C, it seems like who you are is very closely linked to what your job is. And I guess this says as much about the city as the people who live in it. I was talking to my sister about this, because neither of us define ourselves by our job. I like my job well enough, I don’t dread going to work and it’s rewarding in its own way, but I would never think to define myself by what I do from 9-5 most days of the week. I define myself more by what I do and  what I think about when I’m not working. I guess part of me would like to find a job I love so much that it forms a significant part of my identity (maybe if I could become a bloggerista extraordinaire this would be the case) but for now, I’m perfectly happy having my job be a relatively small part of who I am.

Any thoughts?



Categories: D.C, D.C Culture, The Urban Anthropologist Files

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