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The pageantry of Biden's first state dinner with French President Macron

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

When the White House hosts a state visit, there's obviously politics, like President Biden saying yesterday he wouldn't rule out a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Ukraine. But there are also certain traditions to keep - a 21-gun salute on the South Lawn, a meeting in the Oval Office and the glamour of a state dinner. NPR's Deepa Shivaram reports on President Biden's first state dinner with French President Emmanuel Macron.

DEEPA SHIVARAM, BYLINE: In a large glass pavilion on the South Lawn, more than 300 invited guests took part in one of the oldest traditions at the White House. State dinners go as far back as 1874, according to the White House Historical Association. But they took more shape in the 1950s and '60s when the first lady in the White House social team started planning elaborate invitations, menus and floral arrangements. And this week, with French President Macron in town, it was no different. Here's first lady Jill Biden earlier this week.

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JILL BIDEN: It's an expression of welcome and friendship, a way to connect through a language that sort of transcends words. As each dish comes to the table, so too does the meaning behind it.

SHIVARAM: The dishes on the menu incorporate ingredients from all over the United States. There was poached lobster from Maine, cheeses from Oregon and Wisconsin and wine from Napa Valley. The decor for the dinner was meant to show the longstanding ties between the U.S. and France. The Statue of Liberty, a gift from France to the U.S., was displayed on the menus and inside the pavilion on the South Lawn. The flowers had connections to France, too. The arrangements had irises, the national flower of France, and piano roses because of Macron's love of the piano. Attending the dinner last night were celebrities like comedian Stephen Colbert, singer John Legend and actress Jennifer Garner. And some guests, like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, took the opportunity to show off their French.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: I took a course in high school called (speaking French), ALN. They taught you to read French exquisitely. So I can go, (speaking French), but I don't know what the hell it means.

SHIVARAM: As traditional as state dinners are, it's not common that they're held during A holiday season. In a short time, White House Social Secretary Carlos Elizondo and his team made arrangements for the president's granddaughter's wedding at the White House, the Christmas decorations and a state dinner. But as Elizondo told reporters earlier this week, we're not tired. We're just full of caffeine. Deepa Shivaram, NPR News, the White House.

(SOUNDBITE OF AVER AND MOVE 78'S "MIDDLING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deepa Shivaram
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.