On Being Entertained at the White House

Did you know that an invitation to the White House cannot be refused?  No previous engagement, trip out of town, family wedding or christening is an excuse!  The only legitimate grounds for refusal is an absence in a far-off place like Europe or Africa or a severe illness or the death of a close relative.  So for those of you lucky enough to be invited to see the President and Mrs. Obama, all signs point to R.s.v.p!

When you are invited to the White House, you'll most likely receive an invitation just like this one, made by Crane & Co. and hand engraved with your name.  White House guests must arrive promptly and check in at the White House gate.  Guests will be escorted indoors and butlers will arrange their coats (and, in a gentler era, hats) and indicate where they should wait.  When all of the guests are assembled, the President and first lady will make their rounds and greet each person in attendance.  The correct way to greet the President is, by men, "Mr. President" or "Sir."  Women should use "Mr. President" exclusively; a woman only uses "Sir" when greeting royalty (a fact I'll have to remember when I'm scolding my next taxi driver for taking the wrong route).  The first lady should be referred to, for example, as "Mrs. Obama"; there is no other special form of address for a president's wife.  When the President and first lady enter a room, all guests are expected to stand.  And when shaking hands, men should bow and women should incline their heads, but without great ceremony.  Guests should remain standing as long as the President and his wife are standing.

If you've been invited to a formal dinner at the White House, remember that guests typically enter the dining room in order of rank.  Men should step back and allow women to enter before them.  If you've been invited to an official reception at the White House attended by a great many guests, your only obligations are to appear on time, shake hands with the President and first lady in the receiving line, and to stay at the reception until all guests have been greeted.  Nothing more is expected of you!  At a smaller dinner, no one may leave until the President and first lady have said good-bye and left the room.

I wish desperately that I'd been alive in 1962 and chic enough to have an attended an event hosted by the Kennedy White House.  The Times Style Magazine made me so nostalgic this weekend when I read their cover story on Lee Radziwill, Jackie's sister.  I'll have to admit.  As enamored of the Kennedys as I am, Lee seems like the cooler sister.  I'd have loved to be friends.

See?  President's Day isn't all about sales!


Jack & Jackie

A guest acting just on-point during a Kennedy receiving line.

A photo of the White House from 1962