WASHINGTON (AP) - With the tent ready and the tables set for Thursday's big state dinner at the White House, hostess Jill Biden took her French counterpart and fellow teacher on an outing to a language museum to highlight their mutual interest in learning and their growing friendship.
"We are friends," Brigitte Macron, the wife of French President Emmanuel Macron, said as she and Biden clasped hands at Planet Word, a museum dedicated to words and language.
"We are friends," Biden repeated before they repeated that they are friends.
The declaration of friendship fit in with the occasion. A state dinner is a high diplomatic honor, one the United States bestows only on its closest allies, like France, one of America's oldest.
Biden and Brigitte Macron had their museum outing while President Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron held talks at the White House. Brigitte Macron is a former French literature and theater teacher; Jill Biden continues to teach English and writing at a Virginia community college.
More than 300 invited guests were to begin arriving at the White House as the sun starts to fade, dressed to impress and looking forward to saying they played a small part in history -- the first state dinner hosted by the Bidens.
Butter-poached Maine lobster, beef with shallot marmalade and American cheeses are on the menu for the red-white-and-blue themed dinner. Dessert is orange chiffon cake with roasted pears and crème fraiche ice cream. American sparkling wine will be served for the toasts.
Guests will dine on rented tableware because place settings from the White House china collection are not allowed to be removed from the executive mansion.
"The design of this dinner was inspired by the shared colors of our flags, red white and blue, and our common values, liberty and democracy, equality and fellowship," Jill Biden said Wednesday. "These form the bedrock upon which our enduring friendship was built."
The glitzy party celebrating U.S.-French relations is being held in a heated pavilion on the South Lawn. Guests will ride trollies down from the White House and be seated at a mix of square and rectangular tables with dark blue silk cloths, red candles and arrangements of red, white and blue flowers, including white irises, the official flower of France.
After-dinner entertainment was being provided by Jon Batiste, a Grammy Award-winning New Orleans native and most recently the bandleader and musical director of "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert." Batiste tweeted Thursday about his role.
The White House has not held a state dinner since September 2019, largely because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which put a damper on gatherings with large numbers of people.
But entertaining is back at the White House.
Thursday's dinner follows the wedding last month of Biden's granddaughter on the South Lawn with 250 guests. And during December, tens of thousands of people will stream through the White House, including tourists and others invited to nearly a month's worth of holiday receptions.
White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford said 200 live Maine lobsters were delivered on Tuesday. Some conservation groups are calling out the White House for serving lobster from Maine, citing concerns about the threat to rare North Atlantic right whales from the fishing gear used to trap lobsters. Entanglement in gear is one of the biggest threats to the whales.
The White House had no immediate comment on the environmental concerns.