"The President and First Lady Request the pleasure of the company of. . ." Foreign leaders come to the White House for three different types of visits, each demands different preparation. State Visits ae reserved only for the the designated head of state, who is often the king, queen, or president. Official Visits welcome the prime minister or other head of government. Working Visits include meetings with the President and Cabinet, but unlike Official and State Visits, they do not include arrival ceremonies or State Dinners. State visits are symbolic in nature. State visits are a statement about America and her place in the world and is also strategic in the welcoming of world leaders to the White House.
Every element of the visits, from meeting to meals is designated to strengthen the bonds of friendship. At the beginning of each year the National Security Advisor confers with the State Department and makes a proposal to the President, who ultimately decides which leaders receive an invitation to the White House. But plans may change as new opportunities arise.
The importance of these types of social occasions should not be underestimated. Partnerships are built in different ways, and strong personal bonds between leaders allow both parties to speak frankly, building trust and friendships between individuals and countries.
Preparations for these visits begins months in advance, as the Office of Protocol starts a conversation with the visiting country about every detail of the trip. Some issues may include the size of the delegation, the need for interpreters, and the musical and culinary tastes of the foreign leaders. There are however more items that need attention so that guests are not inadvertently offended. Before the White House Staff decide what colors or flowers to use, it's important to know that China, for example uses white as the color of mourning and in Japan chrysanthemums are the flower of death. Regarding toasts at the State Dinner, it's important to know what countries or cultures prohibit alcoholic consumption or even having alcohol consumed in their presence. Dress and attire is also negotiated. Will female guests come in national dress? What about the height of the podium? It's important to know the height and width of the podium to make sure shorter dignitaries are not over shadowed by a large podium or tall President.
The dress code for State Dinners is usually black tie with white tie reserved for kings and emperors. In the weeks leading up to the big event, the First Lady works with staff to create the right mood for the evening. When guests walk into the State Dining Room, usually they see round tables covered with colorful table clothes, White House china, and centerpieces of seasonal flowers, candles, fruit, and vegetables. When the guests sit down, they find menus (with the presidential seal) listing all the courses and wines. Often times people will pass their menus around the table for their table mates' signatures so they can take home a unique memento of the evening.
White House dinners have come a long way from the 29-coursemeals of the Grant administration. Mrs. Kennedy pared the meal down to four courses and that number has stood the test of time. For the most part distinctly American food is served but the food also incorporated elements that pay tribute to the guests.
Some of the most successful diplomacy happens not at the negotiating table but after dinner, during the evening's featured entertainment. Entertainment is also tailored to guests
Before a state dinner, the president and his or her spouse usually hold a private reception for any special guests of honor, such as visiting monarchs or heads of state. Meanwhile the other guests gather in the East Room, where beverages are served. To take a virtual tour of these rooms in the White House click here to go to the White House.
When the private reception is concluded, the president and the guests of honor join the others in the East Room. The president's spouse, and guests of honor form a receiving line, and the other guests pass quickly through. Government employees usually line up in order of rank.
From the receiving line, guests are escorted into the State Dining Room, where they are shown to their places. Until the president and guests of honor sit down, other guests remain standing.
If you were to attend a state dinner, you would be expected to change conversational partners during each course. For example, if you were talking with the person on your right during the first course, you would talk to the person on your left during the second course. During the third course, you would switch back to the person on your right.
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