Skip to main content
Camel sitting in sand against night sky.
Main content

Protocol for the Modern Diplomat

Minister of Defense Boro Vucinic and USS Emory S. Land (AS_39) Commanding Officer, Capt. Jeffrey M. Hughes, exchange gifts during a reception on board the Emory S. Land to celebrate Montenegro's first year of independence.
Minister of Defense Boro Vucinic and USS Emory S. Land (AS_39) Commanding Officer, Capt. Jeffrey M. Hughes, exchange gifts during a reception on board the Emory S. Land to celebrate Montenegro's first year of independence. Emory S. Land is the third U.S. Navy ship to visit Montenegro since the United States began diplomatic relations with the country in August 2006. The purpose of the visit is to promote goodwill and friendship between the United States and Montenegro. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Samantha Stark

Protocol is a means by which people of all cultures can relate to each other. Whether you are an employee or spouse, have few representational responsibilities or are running your post’s protocol office, this booklet produced by the State Department is a good starting point to prepare. 

What is Protocol?

Protocol is, in effect, the frame for the picture rather than the content of it. American casualness is sometimes interpreted as rudeness in other societies. What does it say if the representatives of the world’s most powerful nation are indifferent to the appropriate respect owed to representatives of other nations, or to ranking members of their own staff abroad? This can be taken as a personal or national insult.  The necessary respect is expressed most visibly through spoken courtesies. Below are some tips on how to address and introduce diplomatic representatives.

Addressing Others

Although guidelines exist, proper forms of address vary greatly from culture to culture. Be sure to check local customs, but a few general rules follow. The spirit of formality among diplomatic representatives usually means not addressing others by their first names as quickly as is done in the United States. One should rely on courtesy titles until invited to do otherwise. Socially, one can refer to a spouse by his/her first name or as "my husband" or "my wife" rather than as "Mr. /Mrs. Smith." When dealing with household employees however, you should still refer to your spouse as "Mr. /Mrs. Smith." Ambassadors are addressed as Mr. /Madam Ambassador or Ambassador Jones. Only by special invitation or long friendship should one address an ambassador by first name and then only when not in the public eye. In indirect address, refer to the ambassador as "the ambassador", with his/her spouse as "the ambassador and Mr. /Mrs. Jones," or if the ambassador's spouse is a woman who kept her maiden name after marriage, "the ambassador and his wife, Ms. Smith." An ambassador of the United States may continue to be addressed as "Mr. /Madam Ambassador" after retirement or after returning from his/her duties abroad. In some French-speaking countries, the wife of the ambassador may be referred to as Madam Ambassador. Therefore, in those countries, refer to a female ambassador by her last name (Ambassador Jones) to avoid confusion and ensure that she receives her due respect.  Those of rank below Ambassador are addressed as Mr., Ms. or Mrs., if marital status is known. As references to America can be ambiguous, especially in the Western Hemisphere, avoid using terms such as "American ambassador" or "American citizen." Similarly, to be clear and to avoid offending others by suggesting that the U.S. constitutes the entire continent use "United States" in all references to this country.


For a formal occasion, the traditional "Mrs. Smith, may I present Mr. Jones?" is used internationally. For less formal occasions simply stating the two names, "Mrs. Smith, Mr. Jones," is acceptable. Making personal introductions (i.e., introducing oneself) is perfectly acceptable and encouraged. Adding context about yourself and your role is helpful. For example, "Hello, I'm Jane Smith, Vice Consul at the United States Embassy." In English, the accepted, formal response to any introduction is, "How do you do?" Informally, a smile, "Hello," or, "It's nice to meet you," are fine. Other languages have very particular phrases, so be sure to learn them upon arriving at post. When making introductions, honor is recognized by the name spoken first. Courtesy gives honor to those who are older, higher in rank, titled, have a professional status, or are female. To make the introductions more pleasant, tell each individual a bit of information about the other. This encourages the conversation to continue. As they do when a woman enters the room, men should rise when being introduced to a woman. In some countries, a man kisses a married woman's hand. Men also rise when being introduced to another man. Women should rise when being introduced to another woman for whom she wishes to show great respect, such as the hostess, a very distinguished woman, or much older woman. In some countries, women rise when introduced to all others. Throughout the world, greeting and leave-taking customs may include handshakes, salutatory gestures or other specific expressions.


Further Reading

Protocol for the Modern Diplomat



Want to learn more about culture and cultural training in the Department of Defense (DoD)? is here to help!  We are a public resource to discover specific information about various cultures and also training on cross cultural competence or general concepts that affect all cultures.  If you are in the military, or support the military, or are thinking of joining the military, we welcome you to check it out!  Some of our Department of Defense (DoD) oriented material is restricted to government ID holders, or password protected, but our goal is to provide you with some training that is easy to access.  Cultural competence is important to military missions, the Department of Defense (DoD), and for all those who support those missions.  Learning about specific cultures will help you accomplish challenging tasks in a culturally complex environment.  Being ready for any cultural challenge in an important aspect of military readiness.  For more information on culture readiness and training, be sure to check back to

Townscape of Uchisar, Cappadocia, Turkey