Peter Murray’s great grandmother first published the so-called Green Book in 1930. The initial volume listed the chichi of Washington, mainly so locals would know whom to invite to their daughters’ debutante cotillions. Today, Murray is the associate publisher of the book, officially called the Social List of Washington, D.C. The contemporary model includes 20,000 names of government leaders, foreign dignitaries, and other swanky hobnobbers. It also contains advice on etiquette questions like how to address an ambassador or where to seat people at a dinner party.
How do you get on the list?
By recommendations by people in the book. It takes three letters of recommendation. Then we send out a questionnaire with general questions: Who are you? Where do you live? What’s your job? What clubs and activities do you belong to? There’s nothing about race or income. Those names go before the board of governors, who make the final decision.
Is there any way to be disqualified, like if you forget to send a thank-you note or fail to serve the right wine at a dinner party?
Nothing like that. Those are usually just mistakes. Some people just don’t know to send a thank-you card, and that’s just part of the way society has been. When’s the last time you sent a thank-you card when someone took you out to dinner?
I don’t know. I don’t think I ever have.
See, that’s just a mistake. I always do. I send it out the next day. As far as how people get kicked out, that’s usually because of bad notoriety.
What does that mean?
It could mean a lot of things….Let’s say you’re having an affair, and it comes out in the paper. That wouldn’t be a good thing. Or you got arrested for somethingwhite-collar crime, or you killed somebody. It could be lots of different things, but it’s not small things.
How do you determine what is a faux pas and what isn’t?
What we’re doing is what you’re supposed to do so as not to insult people when you’re addressing or talking to them….At any function, if you make the mistake of putting a new ambassador in front of the old ambassador, you’ve got a problem.
Are you on the list?
No. We’re not allowed to be….Not to say we don’t do things with this community. It would be improper. We’re supposed to be impartial. If we were in it, we would lose that impartiality. Laura Lang