Passport DC Kicks Off

Gary Tischler

What works for baseball works for embassies.

Someone had the bright idea of finally bringing a baseball team to Washington after many years of absence, based on the idea that if you build it, people will come. “It” turned out to be a very expensive stadium, and sure enough, people came, and probably more will come when the Washington Nationals get better, which could even be this year.

Something of the same principle has begun to work for Washington’s unique community of international embassies. Several years ago, the European Union nations decided to throw open the doors of their embassies and ambassador residences to the public in a kind of spring-like gesture of welcome to the Washington community, throwing in exhibitions, person-to-person meetings, music, culture and food.

The response — they called it Passport DC — was amazing. Thousands showed up for a day of cultural exchange, soaking in new things, residents and tourists alike.

In fact, things were so promising that Cultural Tourism, working with embassies and ambassadors and other partners, expanded the idea the following year, including many of the rest of the embassies in Washington. This year, Passport DC is a month-long event, with special events during the week, but comprising mainly four weekends of major inter-cultural festivities and contact.

Things began May 1 on the hottest day of the year in Washington so far with the Around the World Embassy Tour, in which some 30 embassies and some ambassadorial residences threw open their doors along Massachusetts Avenue’s Embassy Row, at International Court off Connecticut Avenue and various other sites.

Thousands turned out again to experience a new (and free) event in which they could literally travel the far-flung corners of the world simply by standing in line and walking through a welcoming door. Embassies and sites as varied as Japan, Zambia, Colombia, Mexico, Australia, Indonesia, Croatia, Haiti, Bangladesh, Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Ethiopia, to name a few, welcomed families, visitors, tourists and residents. One woman, a recent transplant from Florida waiting in line for a calligraphy work at the Embassy of Korea, said that she had made it to eight embassies. “Pretty good piece of travel,” she said. “We don’t have things like this in Florida.”

A huge line snaked up to Massachusetts Avenue near the Dupont Circle Metro at Q Street, all people waiting to get into the Embassy of Colombia. Outside, a Colombian band played hips-don’t-lie kind of music and couples danced. Everywhere, there were lines of various lengths. They handed out green grocery bags at the Australian embassies and calendars at Kazakhstan. “We had about a thousand people here by two o’clock,” an official at the old, regal building of the Embassy of Zambia said.

The process will be repeated this weekend when the European Union Embassies’ Open House Day (May 8 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), called “Shortcut to Europe,” kicks off the 2010 Europe Week (May 9-16). All the EU nations will be represented, including Great Britain, where you might get to chat election results with the ambassador, Sweden, Spain, Greece (don’t ask), France, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Belgium, Ireland and others.

On Saturday, May 15, it’s time for the Meridian’s fourth annual International Children’s Festival at the Meridian International Center near Adams Morgan from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This one charges $10 admission, a fair price for a nearly-all day festival of music, booths, performances, food, artistic, and craft demonstrations, with over a dozen embassies participating.

On May 22, it’s the fifth annual Asian Heritage Festival and the Fiesta Asian Street Fair on Pennsylvania Avenue.

For a complete schedule of events, exhibitions, performances and list of embassies, visit www.culturaltourismdc.org.

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