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
their 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.
The purpose of making introductions is to exchange names between
people so that a conversation can follow. 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. However, women
are introduced to ambassadors, heads of state, royalty, and
dignitaries of the church. 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. If there is such a tradition, use it with host country
nationals, foreigners and fellow staff members. Failure to abide
with tradition may be interpreted as rudeness or a lack of respect
The best and most courteous way to handle recognizing someone
without recalling his or her name is to mention your name again. For
example, "Good evening, I'm Jim Smith. We met recently at the
ambassador's home. I'm pleased to see you again." More than likely,
he/she will reintroduce himself/herself. Starting from the
assumption that he/she may also not remember your name could save
both of you potential embarrassment.
Forms of address for foreign government officials and people
holding professional, ecclesiastical, or traditional titles vary
among countries. The correct local usage can be verified at post.
Following are titles for US and some foreign officials that are
widely used in both spoken and written address. It is appropriate to
begin letters and refer to others directly and indirectly with the
Chiefs of Mission
- Mr./Madam Ambassador (this also applies to an ambassador with
a military title), or Ambassador Reed.
- Sir Richard - British ambassador who is a knight (Sir
Richard's wife would be addressed as "Lady Smith".)
- Lord Montgomery - British ambassador who is a baron
- Mr./Mrs. Douglas or Ms. Williams - the ambassador's spouse
Chargé d. Affaires
Ministers and Others
Although the US does not use the term, "Excellency", some
countries do when referring to ambassadors. Even if the host country
uses the term "Excellency", American chiefs of mission in those
countries are addressed as "Mr./Madam Ambassador" by US citizens.
Foreign chiefs of mission who are accredited to the US are also
referred to as ambassadors.