For First Lady, Protocol Critical For State Dinner The Obamas host Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday night at the most formal of all dinners. First lady Michelle Obama said she and the president will be like swans, gliding with poise and serenity — while paddling furiously to get things right.
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For First Lady, Protocol Critical For State Dinner

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For First Lady, Protocol Critical For State Dinner

For First Lady, Protocol Critical For State Dinner

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Just outside the White House tonight in a large tent, President Obama is hosting a gala dinner for India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. More than 300 guests are there. Among them: American politicians, Indian diplomats and Hollywood celebrities, including the director Steven Spielberg and M. Night Shyamalan. They're being treated to a largely vegetarian menu. The prime minister is a vegetarian. And the entertainment is from singer Jennifer Hudson.

NPR's Andrea Seabrook dropped by the White House earlier today for a look at the grand preparations.

ANDREA SEABROOK: First lady Michelle Obama said she and the president will be like swans at the dinner tonight, gliding with poise and serenity, but just under the water - paddling furiously to get it right.

Ms. MICHELLE OBAMA: Protocol is critical. Protocol, how you stand, how you sit, who walks where � all of that is really important.

SEABROOK: The first lady spoke this afternoon in the state dining room in the White House, standing in front of two glittering tables full of nervous-looking high school girls. They're young women from the White House Leadership and Mentoring Program, and they were the lucky first to see the table settings and taste the dessert. They also gave Mrs. Obama a reason to explain her thinking on state visits that they're a way for nations to confirm their partnership in building peace and prosperity.

Ms. Obama: What we figure out from these visits is that all across the world, no matter what our religions or races are, that we are all building that future together.

SEABROOK: While the first lady spoke of lofty goals, the press corps was snapping pictures of the place settings. The tables for tonight's dinner will be draped in lush, apple-green linens. The centerpieces: a poof of purple and fuchsia. Golden taper candles matched golden silverware and set off the gilded rims of the official state china.

And every detail has meaning. Those flower arrangements of roses, hydrangea and sweet pea blossoms are meant to evoke the classic American garden, while the rich, plum color pays homage to the state bird of India: the Indian peacock. These tables will fill a tent on the South Lawn of the White House, with the walls decorated in verdant branches of magnolia, ivy and nandina grown locally and harvested sustainably. They're meant to reflect the Obamas' dedication to green and sustainable living.

But the first lady did not speak about such things. She kept today's dinner preview as lofty as the tables are glamorous and always harkening back to the country in whose honor this dinner is placed. She said when President Obama was a senator, he kept a picture of Mahatma Gandhi in his office.

Ms. Obama: Because Gandhi inspired so many people in India and all around the world with his example of dignity and tolerance and peace. And with a simple call, Gandhi would say, to be the change we wish to see in the world, we are that change. We are that change.

SEABROOK: The first lady said she hopes tonight's dinner will deepen the ties between the world's two largest democracies: the U.S. and India. And remind its citizens to be the change that each of them seeks.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the White House.

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