Etiquette on greeting foreign dignitaries

Written by erin o'hara
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Etiquette on greeting foreign dignitaries
A hand shake is often an appropriate way to greet a dignitary (hand shake image by Aliaksandr Zabudzko from

Foreign dignitaries should not be greeted by their first names, but rather a formal title. According to eDipomat, "one should rely on courtesy titles until invited to do otherwise." Dignitaries can include government officials, religious leaders and members of royal families. There are a some generally agreed upon rules for addressing dignitaries. As a sign of respect, use the right salutations for each particular figure. For example, an emperor should be addressed "your dignified Majesty."


Man dignitaries are introduced by other important figureheads at formal events. When introduced individually to a dignitary for which you do not know a specific greeting, the formal response "how do you do?" or the less formal "please to meet you" are generally acceptable. Stand when you are first introduced as a sign of respect. Introduce yourself and offer your title or a brief explanation of who you are.


Using proper etiquette is simple and the rewards are great. Greet a foreign dignitary according to the customs of her culture is interpreted as a sign of respect. It establishes trust and sets the stage for a positive relationship. Kings and queens greeted with "your Majesty" instead of by their names are more receptive to further conversation. Use proper etiquette to avoid any displays of disrespect.


There are differences between the greeting customs of various cultures. You may greet someone with a handshake, hug, kiss or other gesture, depending on the cultural customs of the dignitary. In many countries in the western world, a hand shake is an appropriate greeting. In parts of India, people do not shake hands, instead they place their hands together, bow and say "namaste." In the Indian culture, men do not touch other women when greeting them. Learn about the cultural norms of other countries to avoid any misunderstandings.


Heads of state, religious leaders and royalty are all held in high esteem. As a result, they are not treated---and greeted---the same the same way as others. Use a formal greeting for foreign dignitaries as an acknowledgement of their status. Addressing the Canadian Prime Minister "Prime Minister" recognises his role as the leader of a country. Greeting an ambassador "Ambassador" acknowledges his role as an important diplomatic representative.


What seems like rude behaviour in one culture may be perfectly acceptable in another and vice versa. For example, in Japan, a limp hand shake with no eye contact is not a display of disrespect, it is an acceptable greeting. Unlike in some cultures where silence denotes awkwardness, in Japanese culture silence is considered non-verbal communication. And while some cultures consider eye contact a sign of respect, the Japanese interpret prolonged eye contact as rudeness.

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