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State dinner superlatives

By Sarah Lovenheim
State dinners, banquets paid for by the government and hosted by a head of state, are held to foster relationships following serious conversations concerning foreign affairs. Many U.S. presidents have held state dinners in the State Dining Room at the White House, a room that seats 120 people. Guests typically include foreign dignitaries, members of Congress and the president's cabinet, among others. The occasion's marked by entertainment, a four or five course meal and speeches. Black or white tie dress is often required.

Former president Bill Clinton
Then-President Clinton laughs during a toast by French President Jacques Chirac at a state dinner honoring Chirac in February of 1996 at the White House. (AP Photo/St. Petersburg Times, John Pendygraft)

A peek into the past recalls some state dinners to remember. Below you'll find a list of superlatives -- these nuggets can serve as dinner table banter on Tuesday, as President Obama hosts his first.

Caught reading during dinner
President Carter once permitted his daughter Amy, 9, to bring books to a state dinner. As officials engaged each other in conversation, Amy was spotted quietly reading "The Story of the Gettysburg Address" and "Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator." A senator tried to get her to stop reading to eat her spinach, but no report indicates he had any success.

A spat between first ladies
The state dinner in 1987, held by President Reagan, was reportedly marred by tension between first ladies Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachev. Repoters, eager to find out why, presed the women to answer some questions the following day. Nancy Reagan called the notion "so silly," but Raisa Gorbachev's body language suggested it was an issue. When asked about the tension, "Mrs. Reagan looked aghast. Mrs. Gorbachev merely looked at Mrs. Reagan." Nancy Reagan subsequently invited Raisa Gorbachev to tea. Gorbachev didn't RSVP for two weeks, reportedly annoying then-first lady Reagan further.

Finger food and Protesters
At a state dinner for Chinese President Jiang Zemin, White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier served marzipan panda bears. Fresh marzipan candy, made mostly from finely ground almonds and confectioners' sugar, used to be sold year round at Washington-area pastry shops and enjoyed at parties in the 1950s by the District's elite. The hand-formed and hand-painted almond confections by some reports "were almost too pretty to eat."

As officials enjoyed the declicacy, humans rights protesters outside the White House bitterly picketed the celebration with Zemin inside.

First ruling monarch attends
The first ruling monarch to attend a state dinner at the White House was King David Kalakaua of the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), hosted by President Grant and his wife Julia in December of 1874.

Couldn't keep his food down
In January of 1992, Former president George H.W. Bush reportedly threw up at a state dinner in Japan, into the lap of Kiichi Miyazawa, then-Prime Minister of Japan. Bush's spokesman, Marlin Fitzwater, said after the episode, "that Bush had the kind of gastroenteritis commonly known as intestinal flu." Fitzwater insisted afterwards that Bush was "feeling fine," although he acknowledged that during the dinner, Bush had been in what he called "a faint condition."

Danced with the queen
After a meal of cold salmon, roast beef, artichoke salad, Brie and mousse, President Ford and Queen Elizabeth danced at a state dinner of July 1976, in honor of the Queen and Prince Philip at the White House. Although no footage of the dancing exists today, C-Span offers a video of Ford toasting the queen that night here.

First peformance of the U.S. Marine Band
1801 marked the first year the Marine Band, upon an invitaion by President Adams and his wife Abigail, played at the White House. The Band, whose primary mission is to provide music for the President of the United States, has attended several state dinners since.

So bold as to wear busines suits
Did the right to wear a business suit to a state dinner disappear with the Soviet Union? As officials arrived in clad tuxes to state dinners in 1959 and 1987, Nikita Khrushchev and Mikhail Gorbachev -- guests of honor at the respective occasions -- sported business suits. A Washington Post reporter, remarking on Mrs. Gorbachev's decision to overdress for a visit to the White House one morning, said, "Poor Mrs. Gorbachev... is married to the leader of the proletariat and doesn't get a chance to dress up very often. This is a man who wore a business suit to a state dinner..."

By Washington Post editors  |  November 20, 2009; 4:17 PM ET
 
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Comments

fr itscc721:

>...Maybe he will find some room at his table for them TERRORISTS at GITMO that he feesl so sorry for. AND I CAN'T WAIT TO SEE WHAT MUCHELLE WILL BE WEARING, SURELY NOT VERA WANG. I have never seen a first lasy dress so ridiculous in my life. She onces wore GREEN and ORANGE she looked like peas and carrots. I wish someone would help he to look DECENT. So many times...

Gads, grow UP and quit whining that YOU didn't get an invitation to the dinner.

Oh, and it's Michelle, not "muchelle". You are like the neighborhood bully who demands that the kids play the way HE wants, or he'll take his ball and bat and go home, so mommy will play the way HE wants.

Posted by: Alex511 | November 24, 2009 8:00 PM | Report abuse

While our President and First Lady, foreign diplomats, and others of the Washington elite charm each other and dine on the finest China, hopefully they will remember the men, women and children in every state of this country who are gratefully acknowledging a warm meal on Chinet at community soup kitchens. Happy Thanksgiving.

Posted by: mpwynn | November 23, 2009 9:33 AM | Report abuse

With the economy and our Government is such a tight and difficult condition right now, why not restrict the State Dinner to a smaller number of participants to those mostly involved in fostering the relationshp between the US and India ( and limit the number of spouse attending). It probably costs $500 to $1000 per head for food, planning, and security for the event. Having 400 participants will cost the US taxpayer $200,000 to $400,000; this sounds like too much money right now.

Posted by: dcornforth | November 22, 2009 12:05 PM | Report abuse

I would love to have an invitation to the State Dinner! I,m 75 years old and have seen a lot of U.S. Presidents.

MR. PRESIDENT YOU ARE DOING A GREAT JOB...YOUR APPROVAL RATING WITH ME IS 99.9%, IF IT GETS ANY HIGHER YOU WILL BE WALKING ON THE WATER. YOUR POLITICAL CRITICS ARE JUST THAT POLITICALLY INCORRECT.

MRS OBAMA, OUR BRILLANT BEAUTIFUL FIRST LADY, YOU MAKE AMERICA PROUD.

THANK YOU MR. PRESIDENT AND FIRST LADY.
PLEASE HAVE A MOMENT OF SILENT PRAYER FOR
PRESIDENT JOJN F. KENNEDY HE DIED 46 YEARS AGO TODAY...WHAT A DARK DAY. I STILL CRY.
PEACE AND LOVE, REBEKAH

Posted by: followtherainbow | November 22, 2009 7:16 AM | Report abuse

I can just see the GUEST LIST/ OPRAH/JESSE JACKSON/THAT BIG MOUTH BUDDY OF HIS Mr. (THE POLICE ARE RACISTS).GATES. Maybe he will find some room at his table for them TERRORISTS at GITMO that he feesl so sorry for. AND I CAN'T WAIT TO SEE WHAT MUCHELLE WILL BE WEARING, SURELY NOT VERA WANG. I have never seen a first lasy dress so ridiculous in my life. She onces wore GREEN and ORANGE she looked like peas and carrots. I wish someone would help he to look DECENT. So many times the putfits she wears really makes her back side look like a VOLKSWAGON.
I hope for once OBAMA won't need a tele prompter to tell him what to say word for word.
AND THEY SAY SARHA PALIN MAKES A FOOL OF HERSELF, LMAO.

Posted by: itscc721 | November 21, 2009 5:53 PM | Report abuse

Oh no!!! another oppurtunity for the Obozos to embarrass America. I can hardly wait to see what kind of clown suit Michelle is going to wear. I'm sure it will be as tasteless as she is classless. The joker in charge may show up in his Chinese peasant jacket. I wonder what Mr. Teleprompter will be wearing? At least they've perfected the bow. There will be some dignataries there whom he hasn't bowed to yet. What a loser. Shame on those who voted for him. How' that hopey and changey thing working for you lately??

Posted by: egoetz1 | November 21, 2009 3:10 PM | Report abuse

Believe the Left on Global Warming too?

From Yesterday's NY Times-

"In several e-mail exchanges, Kevin Trenberth, a climatologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and other scientists discussed whether a string of recent years of relatively stable temperatures undermined scientific models that predict long-term warming.

“The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t,” Dr. Trenberth wrote."

Looks like Al Gore's profits are in jeopardy- no problem for Al: he's already a multimillionaire from this panic.

Posted by: thecannula | November 21, 2009 9:50 AM | Report abuse

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