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.
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..."
Washington Post editors
November 20, 2009; 4:17 PM ET
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