Editor’s Query: Tell us about a time when something funny, embarrassing or remarkable happened at a Washington dinner party
We asked readers to tell us about a time when something funny, embarrassing or remarkable happened at a Washington dinner party. Here are a few responses:
The royal kiss
In 1994, long before Kate Middleton had appeared on any royal radar, Sarah Ferguson was a one-woman, redheaded, royal wrecking crew. I was working as a cater waiter and would occasionally find myself rubbing up against royalty. This particular evening I found myself at a dinner for Fergie’s organization Children in Crisis, which was being held at the apartment of the mother of Sen. John McCain.
Sarah burst through the door about an hour early, and, as it was a warm, early spring evening, had a bit of a thirst about her. Vodka was produced, and rather than acting like the stodgy, dusty old-landed gentry from which she had descended, she was refreshingly, pores open, in-your-face charming.
The other guests arrived, and the dinner went off without a hitch. As the evening ended, I stood near the door, hoping to give her a wave goodbye. However, Sarah had other ideas and planted a huge kiss on my mouth, which was caught on camera.
It was deleted per her handlers’ orders. I guess it was not to be.
Greg Boyd, Washington
Perils of parity
When Ronald Reagan was running for the Republican presidential nomination in the mid-’70s, I was at a fancy dinner party in a fancy house where the conversation, of course, was about politics and Reagan. I said I didn’t think Reagan was as knowledgeable about certain things as he should be. A guest politely asked me for an example. Well, I said, Reagan was recently campaigning in Iowa and he didn’t know what agricultural parity was.
Another guest, by then red-faced and angry, said, “What the hell do you know about parity?” I replied that I was born in South Dakota, raised in Iowa, and I knew more about parity than Reagan evidently did. I gave a short definition.
“You don’t know anything!” the other guest shouted, and stalked away.
“Who was that?” I asked the people remaining by my side. The answer: “That was Reagan’s agricultural adviser.”
Yvonne Callahan, Alexandria
Pamela and Averell Harriman once hosted an event at their beautiful, art-filled Georgetown home for then-congressman Wayne Owens (D-Utah). The “sparkly” for the event was Robert Redford, who shared Owens’s concern for the environment. The actor proved to be a huge draw, and hundreds attended the backyard party.
Guests went through a receiving line. First up was former governor Harriman, then Pamela Harriman, then Lola Redford, then the star of the night, Robert Redford, to whom I’m certain I muttered something totally idiotic when he said, “Hi. I’m Robert Redford.”
Finally, I got to the guest of honor, Rep. Owens. “Hello,” he said, extending his hand. “I’m old what’s-his-name.”
Jean Jensen, Alexandria
In the mid-1970s, the cultural counselor at the French Embassy hired me as his assistant because of my degree in European studies and fluency in French. As a recent German immigrant, I thought myself lucky to be working in such a prestigious place.
On Bastille Day, all employees were invited to an afternoon reception at the French ambassador’s residence on Kalorama Road. As I entered, my boss told me that I was not properly dressed (I had worn a knee-length black corduroy skirt, striped blouse and heels; the other female guests wore chic outfits). He indicated that I should stay near the door and not circulate. Shocked and embarrassed, I did as he said, freezing in place. I did not dare join the receiving line to greet the ambassador and his wife.
After a few moments, however, the ambassador and his wife graciously remedied my sartorial faux pas — by leaving the receiving line and walking over to greet me. I was able to tell them in French that I, a German citizen, was pleased to represent the French government in the United States of America.
Marlies Backhaus Murphy, Bethesda
Thirty one years ago, my husband and I, both 21, married and immediately moved to Northern Virginia. We were originally from small towns in Maine, and culture shock can’t begin to describe our experience as we learned to navigate the streets, deal with traffic and face the wall of heat that hit us every time we left our apartment.
My first job as social worker was with a local nonprofit. One of the supervisors — known for her cooking and entertaining skills, as well as her beautiful house in McLean — hosted a dinner party for her co-workers and their spouses.
The dining room table was laden with delicious-looking entrees — some of which I could not recognize. In the buffet line, I turned and whispered to my husband, “I wonder what that is?” I was discreetly pointing to a dish of moussaka, something I had never seen.
From behind my husband came a very aristocratic British voice that said, “Oh, you don’t want that; it has nose droppings in it.” We turned around to meet the host’s husband, who went on to say all of the food had “extra ingredients.” You can imagine the looks on our faces. How does one respond to that?
Carmen Pierce, Oakton
Just a sip?
I was “elected” to host a surprise birthday party for a friend. I had the menu down, but was not sure what beverage(s) to serve. I asked what the birthday boy preferred and was told champagne. I ordered a case of mini champagne bottles — too cute.
Though I had never had champagne, I thought that, as the party organizer, I should toast the guest of honor. After taking a sip of champagne, I felt light-headed. I darted for the bathroom and locked the door. Then, I passed out on the floor, with my head against the tub, and my outstretched legs and feet jammed against the door.
Long story short, they had to take the bathroom door off the hinges to get in. Because I was so close to the tub, they just plopped me in there and turned on the shower using cold water, which woke me real quickly.
I was the evening’s entertainment, but I haven’t taken a sip of champagne since. Turns out I’m allergic!
J.J. Orlando, Washington
My husband and I were invited to a dinner party being held in honor of a long-ago co-worker, who was in town with her new husband. The dinner was elegant and lively, and the food was delicious.
At the table, I was seated next to the husband, whom I’d never met. Eventually, we discovered common ground: He was a headmaster at a private school in Massachusetts, and my sister-in-law had recently taught at such a school. As we continued chatting, it suddenly became clear to both of us that he was the new headmaster who was responsible for my sister-in-law losing her job.
It’s probably not a coincidence that we haven’t been included in that social group in the ensuing 15 or so years.
Jean Kaplan Teichroew, Silver Spring