Etiquette on Greeting Foreign Dignitaries

Should you be greeting the queen any time soon, brush up on your etiquette in advance to avoid a gaffe more memorable than the meeting. Foreign dignitaries always require something more formal than a hello and a handshake; in fact, neither may be permitted when proper courtesies are observed. "Excellency" is the correct greeting for most foreign heads of state, a term that includes presidents, premiers, prime ministers, cabinet officers or ambassadors. If making an introduction, preface "Excellency" with "His" or "Her" as appropriate and follow the name with the person's official job title. Once a dignitary has earned the greeting Excellency, she uses it the rest of her life.

  1. Buckingham Palace and #10 Downing

    • The Brits are different. A British prime minister is called "The Right Honorable" and subsequently addressed as "Prime Minister," or "Sir" or "Madam." The Queen of England is fairly straightforward. Address her as "Your Majesty" and, in an extended conversation, "Ma'am." You may shake her hand if she extends it. You may not pump it up and down, air-kiss her cheek or turn your back on her, but, as an American, you do not have to bow or curtsy. The rest of the royal family is "Your Royal Highness," followed by "Sir" or "Ma'am." In every case, greeting a foreign dignitary is worth research into specific country customs and expectations so you can exhibit your own unfailing gracious good manners and ensure that a visitor feels at ease.

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