This weekend I volunteered at a Passport DC table, and I thought I’d write about my experience. I helped as a favor to some former colleagues at the Arab League at the Embassy Row Hotel in Dupont. However, the event is city-wide, causing all the road mayhem that one would associate with something spanning DC. More than 70 embassies open their doors to the public and over the course of the month and it’s estimated that nearly 300,000 participants attend.

In my opinion, it’s an interesting event that can promote cultural awareness, but with the caveat that the embassy controls that image. At the Arab League I heard all manner of comments, including that it was the Arab Legion, that it was simply Saudi Arabia, shock that Iraq (pronounced I-Rock in this case, was Arab at all), and that it was the sole display for all the Arab countries, which surprised some guests who assumed all the Arab countries would have had their own embassies… etc. But there were also interested guests discussing their opinions of regional affairs, comparing the food of neighboring countries, some who came to learn and left stuttering out a few phrases of identifiable Arabic, and inevitably one or two tourist who ran out with all the baklava they could carry (I will find you…)

With a mix like that, it’s hard to pin down one outcome or make a succinct finding, but what is more interesting is that I was able to see the rank and file event this year, while I have some past experience at the classier cousin of this event, the embassy chef challenge, which while the best thing ever, is highly exclusive. So there is still a tiered system and some elitism to this annual practice that mitigates the intention of opening the world’s representatives to the nation’s capital.