The Rules of Interning

Ah, summer in DC. That time right after the cherry blossom tourists leave and before school trip tourists arrive. A singularly sweaty, smelly, stuck on the Metro time when interns flock into the city to take care of all the little tasks no one else wants to do.

Interns, I’ve been in your position. I’ve worn a suit while lugging jugs of water in 90 degree weather. I’ve spoken with some of the less than lovely folks who feel an urge to participate in the civic process by screaming at someone, anyone who works in a congressional office. My point is, I’ve taken the abuse. And I’d like to help you avoid some of the humiliations that mark the typical DC summer internship.

First tip, people don’t care too much about what you’re doing. Yes, you have an exciting internship and everyone back home is very proud. But keep in mind that whomever you’re talking to in DC is fighting for the most important cause on the planet. If it wasn’t, why would they do it? When someone asks you what you do, keep it short and simple. Maybe throw in an anecdote about a time you were particularly embarrassed. Self-deprecation makes people feel better about themselves and if they feel better about themselves while talking to you, they’ll like you. And we all just want to be liked, right?

Here’s something you’re going to hear about a dillion times: Stand Right, Walk Left. That’s in regards to the filling order on Metro escalators. God help you if you stand on the left. The range of punishments go from a terse swear word in your direction to a violent drop kick aimed at your head. I didn’t really need to tell you this one, because people from DC love saying it. If living in DC was a secret club, this phrase would be the password. The official DC motto translates to Stand Right Or Die. (Disclaimer: I speak only one phrase in Latin. Sancti Navis = Holy Ship!)

If you aren’t being paid, never forget it. Do your work, and do it well, but don’t forget that you are doing it for free. Keep tabs on the briefings, hearings, panels, etc. that have free meals. There should be more than one a week on the Hill and some downtown too. And if you get sent out of the office, take your time. Have a nice stroll, see the sights. DC is a lovely city.

That’s what I’ve got for you. I could remind you not to be an idiot, but you should know that already. I don’t have to say things like “don’t brag about how much you drank last night in front of supervisors” or “if the Congressman asks you to meet him at his home at 3 AM, it’s for sex or murder or both.” You’re a smart kid. You got the internship, didn’t you?

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