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State Department Guides Diplomats on Sitting, Standing, Speaking

August 25, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The State Department is advising its diplomats that while they needn’t splurge on their wardrobe for overseas duty, shoes are a must.

American women going abroad, as diplomats or their spouses, are also advised to remove their gloves while eating or drinking at a formal function.

This is some of the advice in a pamphlet entitled ″Social Usage Abroad″ given to U.S. representatives to help prepare them for foreign postings.

The leaflet illustrates how protocol, that French invention which greases the wheels of statehood, can be a U.S. diplomat’s biggest nightmare. It also makes clear that proper behavior within the U.S. diplomatic community abroad is just as tricky as behavior toward officials of the host country.

The diplomat’s training begins well before departure from Washington. ″It is customary when assigned to a U.S. mission abroad to write to the principal officer (usually the ambassador) ... to express personal pleasure in the assignment,″ the guide advises. Wives (or husbands) of diplomats should do the same to the wife (or husband) of the principal officer.

A new member of the embassy staff must call on the ambassador or chief officer within two working days, according to the manual.

″An expensive or extensive wardrobe is not necessary″ for junior diplomats. ″It is advisable, however, for newcomers to bring along a basic wardrobe, including shoes, because they will often be too busy on arrival to shop for new clothes.″

As for the dress code: for a daytime ceremony, ″a woman’s shoulders should be covered.″ And in countries where gloves are worn for all daytime social occasions, ″it is useful to remember that they are always removed entirely for eating or drinking.″

Ambassadors, in addition to familiarizing themselves with treaties and other aspects of bilateral relations, must remember to take the place closest to the curbside when entering a car.

When making social calls on officials of the host country in their homes, the American’s calling card is left on a hall table ″and a caller should stay no longer than 20 minutes unless strongly urged.″ The pamphlet doesn’t explain how to judge whether such entreaties are ″strong.″

What it does do is answer every question ″ever put to us,″ said Nancy Forbord, relocation adviser for the Overseas Briefing Center. The center, run by the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute, provides extensive reading materials on conditions in foreign countries, regulations of the U.S. foreign service, etiquette, educational and health facilities, and other information.

Some 14,000 people, or about half of the Americans sent abroad last year by various government agencies, used the center in 1988, she said. The center also offers a mandatory two-day seminar on security overseas, and even a course designed to help teenagers adjust to life abroad, Forbord said.

For American hostesses abroad, the pitfalls are numerous. Making a dinner table seating plan is ″full of complexities,″ warn the authors of the pamphlet. Hostesses should check with the embassy protocol officer to ensure they have not inadvertently planned to seat together people from countries which do not maintain diplomatic relations, for example.

A proper seating arrangement requires mathematical talent. ″To seat eight, 12, 16 or 20 persons without two men or two women sitting together, the hostess sits to the left of the seat that is properly hers.″ Is that clear?

Now, if the women are served before the men, the woman on the host’s right is served first and the woman on the host’s left is served second. Try explaining that to the servants.

One also should be aware that an invitation for 8 o’clock doesn’t necessarily mean you show up at 8. In some countries, it’s a signal to turn up at 9:30.

″At official dinners in certain Commonwealth countries, it is rude to smoke at the table before the toast to the Queen.″ And speaking of toasts, ″it is a good idea to leave enough wine in the glass at the end of the meal to join in the drinking″ of such salutations.

And in case your parents neglected to tell you, the guide advises that ″before leaving, each guest should thank those hosting the party.″

Then there are ambiguities. For instance, men always rise when being introduced and when a woman enters the room. But ″whether a woman rises to be introduced to another woman is a more complicated question″ depending on age, social position, etc. The guide, however, doesn’t advise whether a woman should rise when being introduced to a man. Emily Post, help 3/8