These are serious, strained times between the United States and the Federal Republic of West Germany. It seems that Chancellor Helmut Schmidt isn't quite sure he can support the American economic sanctions against Poland and the Soviet Union. This doesn't please the Reagan administration.

And so Washington being the consummate dinner party town, it was time last night for an embassy soiree so the differing parties could start their dealings face to face. German Ambassador Peter Hermes invited the chancellor and some Washington friends to dinner at the official residence. The guest list of 21 included only two women: Schmidt's wife and daughter, Hannelore and Susanne.

Despite the impressive guest list -- which included Secretary of State Alexander Haig, presidential counselor Edwin Meese, Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige, Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kan.), U.S. Ambassador to West Germany Arthur Burns and Treasury Secretary Donald Regan -- the pre-dinner hour didn't inspire political chatter.

The high point of the cocktail reception seemed to be a rather loud discussion on greenery between several of the men sipping scotch and bourbon in the ambassador's living room.

"I haven't figured out the difference between evergreen and everglade," Schmidt told Haig, Dole and Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker. "Where do the words come from?"

"We need a dictionary," called out Volcker, at which point several of the men started yelling to Hermes for a dictionary. A Webster's, they all insisted.

The chancellor, however, soon was distracted from the evergreen/everglade controversy and by the time the dictionary arrived, he was off in another part of the room discussing his workload and his new heart pacemaker. The chancellor recently acquired a new battery for the latter, which he dutifully reported to Haig and Regan.

They moved on to shop talk and discussed workloads in the kind of baritone voices usually reserved for serious matters. "I could be chancellor for another eight years, and it wouldn't be enough to get all the work done," Schmidt said. "The work keeps increasing."

"Maybe, we're just getting more productive," smiled Haig.

"The number of letters coming in is 100 percent greater than it was 10 years ago, and we still try to answer them all," the chancellor said of constituent mail. "But back then, a lot of them were answered by hand."

"And we probably all made a lot less mistakes," said the secretary of state. Everyone laughed a knowing clubhouse laugh.

And then it was time for the cameramen and reporters to be herded uptairs for the "photo opportunity."