State Dinner for François Hollande a Lavish Success
The dinner at the White House hosted for French President François Hollande served as a re-establishment of the friendship between both historic allies, as well as a reminder that the U.S. can still throw a good party. This state dinner is the first since 2011 – which was with the South Korean President, Lee Myung-bak. The two political leaders toasted each other, and according to the BBC, they both indicated that privacy breaches, spying, and the French disagreement with the U.S. over the Iraq war was all water under the bridge. “We wanted to fight against terrorism, but we also wanted to meet a number of principles,” Hollande said, according to the BBC, adding that, “We are making headway in this cooperation. Mutual trust has been restored.”
“To our friends and partner President Hollande, to all our friends from France who are here today — Vive la France, God bless America, and long live the alliance between our great nations,” toasted President Barack Obama Tuesday, joking about previous visits from the French that went worse than they had hoped due to the lack of wine and poor food choices.
President Hollande followed after, toasting both nations by speaking in English and, for a short time, switching to French with a translator. “Our two countries share universal values, and we have feelings for one another,” he said, joking that, “We love Americans, although we don’t always say so. And you love the French, but you’re sometimes too shy to say so.”
“We share the same universal values — freedom, democracy, respect for the law. These principles guide our actions,” said Hollande, moving on to address the two nations’ partnership going forward with Iran, Syria, and climate change.
If past visits failed for gastronomic reasons, it’s doubtful that such a problem could have been repeated this time. According to the White House menu, the dinner party of 300 were served caviar, quail eggs, rib-eye steak, and salad from the White House’s own garden. For dessert, the guests were served “Hawaiian Chocolate-Malted Ganache” and “Vanilla Ice Cream and Tangerines.”
Included among the guests were Bradley Cooper of The Hangover franchise and more recently Silver Linings Playbook; Mindy Kaling from The Office; Steven Colbert; Julie Louise-Dreyfus; and JJ Abrams. Musical guest Mary J. Blige sang after the meal.
As is par for the course, this state dinner was accompanied by critical outcry at the cost of hosting such a lavish event. The last state dinner in 2011 rung up a bill of $203,053.34, according to CBS. This was a considerably cheaper event than the first, and the most expensive official state dinner hosted by Obama back in 2009 — a dinner with Prime Minister Manhmohan Singh of India, which cost $572,187.36.
Expensive state dinners are certainly nothing new. Back in 1969, President Nixon hosted a state dinner for the Apollo 11 astronauts, costing around $50,000, according to NBC News. This would calculate out to roughly $308,819 when adjusted for inflation. President Grant hosted a state dinner for King Kalakaua of Hawaii in 1874, which served not one, not two, but thirty courses, according to NBC. Let’s not forget the lobster mousse Reagan served to Princess Diana and Prince Charles, alongside John Travolta, Neil Diamond, and Clint Eastwood in 1985.
As with many state dinners, there was an element of awkwardness, as President Hollande arrived unaccompanied following the end of his relationship with partner Valerie Trierweiler, the result of a scandal involving an affair with an actress. He was seated between President Obama and his wife Michelle Obama to account for the change.