Oh, I see! moments
Travel Cultures Language

65 Countries in One Day

by Joyce McGreevy on May 2, 2017

Traditional dancers outside the Embassy of Peru in Washington, DC show why crossing cultures draws so many visitors to Passport DC. (Image © Joyce McGreevy)

Elegantly dressed young dancers perform outside the Embassy of Peru in Washington, DC.
© Joyce McGreevy

Crossing Cultures at Passport DC

Crossing cultures, collecting passport stamps—the appetite for travel is insatiable. When I heard about an opportunity to visit more than 65 countries I was intrigued. Imagine, the sheer feast of cultural heritage and traditions!

But a multi-country tour? It recalled the 1969 movie, If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium. In that screwball comedy, a busload of tourists barrel through Europe so fast they don’t know where they’ve been until they get their photos developed.

So I settled for nine countries—on a Saturday. Welcome to the Around the World Embassy Tour, an annual day of “Oh, I see” moments in  Washington, DC.

A banner for the Around the World Embassy Tour, part of Passport DC, celebrates the wisdom of crossing cultures. (Image © Joyce McGreevy)

Every year, over a quarter of million people from around the world attend Passport DC.
© Joyce McGreevy

Crossing Cultures by Crossing the Street

Every year, thousands of visitors take a global journey without ever leaving the city. It’s all part of Passport DC, a month-long “journey” during which embassies open their doors to the public. More than just a rare look inside the buildings, it’s a unique opportunity to experience each country’s cultural heritage and traditions.

Participants can travel the world as they experience the food, art, dance, fashion, and music of different countries. In the past, visitors have been treated to dance performances, storytelling, sari wrapping lessons, and henna demonstrations.

Students and a dance instructor at the Embassy of Ethiopia, Washington, DC, reflect the enthusiasm for crossing cultures at Passport DC. (Image © Joyce McGreevy)

At the Embassy of Ethiopia in DC, a dance lesson draws young enthusiasts.
© Joyce McGreevy

 “Wow” in Many World Languages

You can even get a souvenir passport to collect stamps at every embassy. This proves especially popular with kids. Broadening the horizons of young explorers is at the heart of Passport DC.

At the Embassy of Ghana, one little boy was so amazed to learn he was officially setting foot in another country that he set an unofficial world record for Most Repetitions of the Word “Wow!”

Then he asked, “How do you say ‘wow’ in Gha—in Gha—?”

“Ghanaian?” a volunteer filled in helpfully.

Turns out there are many ways to say “wow” in Ghana, from Aboko to Heezeh to Tekyoo, each word calibrated to a particular level of wonder.

Kente cloth patterns draw visitors to the Embassy of Ghana in Washington, DC, as part of Passport DC, a celebration of crossing cultures. (Image © Joyce McGreevy)

At the Embassy of Ghana, a volunteer explains that every pattern and symbol
of Kente cloth has a special meaning.
© Joyce McGreevy

 Among the most popular events are the embassy open houses. Start early enough and you could trek from A to Z—Afghanistan to Zimbabwe—in a single day. There’s no ticket required. Passport DC is free.

Omani coffee and dates draw visitors to the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center, Washington, DC during Passport DC, an annual celebration of crossing cultures. (Image © Joyce McGreevy)

The sweetness of dates balances the assertiveness of qahwa, Omani coffee.
(At the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center, Washington, DC.)
© Joyce McGreevy

Culinary Cultures

Food is a big draw and lines form early. This year, Hungary’s embassy is welcoming visitors with goulash and wines. Belgium will break out its renowned chocolates and beers. Nordic and Mediterranean cuisines are trending. And so it goes, from Nepalese nibbles to South African snacks.

A volunteer at the Embassy of Bangladesh in Washington, DC presents traditional cuisine as part of Passport DC, a celebration of crossing cultures. (Image © Joyce McGreevy)

After lunch at the Embassy of Bangladesh, explore the film, literature, music, history,
and art of this South Asian nation.
© Joyce McGreevy

Global “Show ‘n Tell”

But food is, so to speak, just the appetizer. To mark its tenth anniversary, Passport DC 2017 is presenting its most ambitious cultural program yet. More than 100 international events are on offer at embassies, cultural centers, museums, and local landmarks, including the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress.

Urban seating design in Helsinki, Finland exemplifies the creativity on display during Passport DC, a celebration of crossing cultures. (Image © Riitta Supperi/Keksi/Team Finland)

Visit the Embassy of Finland in DC to learn how this Nordic nation edged past
Denmark for 1st place in the European Happiness Equality Index.
© Riitta Supperi/Keksi/Team Finland

Spain is showcasing its architecture. Ireland, Sweden, Finland will each celebrate traditional heritage and innovative design. Malta, which currently holds the Presidency of the European Union, will reveal a wealth of reasons to visit this tiny but magnificent republic.

(Take a mini-vacation in Malta here.)

All This and Greenland, Too

And then there’s Denmark. In addition to getting your “hygge” on, tasting butter cookies, and winning prizes, you can also glean ideas from Smart Cities, Denmark’s initiative for creating sustainable urban communities.

Denmark’s Embassy in DC is also where you’ll learn about Greenland, the world’s largest island with the world’s lowest population density. As a country where 80% of the landmass is covered by an ice sheet holding 10% of the world’s total reserves of fresh water, it’s a place that affects everyone, everywhere.

(Meet Greenland’s “Pioneering People” here.)

Ilulissat Icefiord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and other aspects of Greenland are featured in Passport DC, a celebration of crossing cultures. (Image © Uri Golman/ Visit Greenland)

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Ilulissat Icefiord of Greenland is
the biggest glacier outside of Antarctica.
© Uri Golman/ Visit Greenland

Beyond Treats and Tourism

Along with food and tourism, the international programming will explore complex issues. The Mexican Cultural Institute is featuring “Bordes/Borders,” nine short films sharing one theme. The Goethe Institute presents several events about the human impact of war. Past events have taken on human trafficking, environmental issues, and the status of women around the world.

At outdoor events, viewing, not queuing, is the order of the day. The Washington DC Dragon Boat Festival is now in its 16th year. On May 20-21, the Potomac River becomes the site of spectacular races between these ornate and colorful boats.

The event is sponsored by the Taiwan-U.S. Cultural Association. Discover the poignant history behind dragon boat racing here.

Members of the Saltanah Ensemble perform Arabic Music at Passport DC, an annual celebration of crossing cultures. (Image © Joyce McGreevy)

The U.S-based Saltanah Ensemble perform Arabic music of many countries on featuring oud, ney, qanun,
violin, riqq and Egyptian tabla. Listen. 
© Joyce McGreevy

Can’t make it to Washington, DC this year? Plan on Passport DC 2018. Meanwhile, you can keep crossing cultures via links on embassy Web sites. They offer a trove of resources on travel, cultural heritage, and traditions.

These are among the best:

 Find out more about Passport DC here. Catch last year’s highlights here.

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