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Protocol Reference

  • Forms of Address

The proper honorifics, titles, and spellings of names are very important when addressing guests.  Confirm all are correct before finalizing written materials such as programs, schedules, engravings, envelopes, place cards, or media announcements. For an individual or dignitary in question, it is best to reach out to their office or staff to confirm their preferred form of address, rather than assume a format. Common references may include:

The President of the United States:

An envelope is addressed as:
The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

The salutation for a written greeting is: Dear Mr./Madam President
The salutation for an in-person greeting is: Mr./Madam President

The Secretary of State

An envelope is addressed as:
The Honorable
[Full Name]
The Secretary of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

The salutation for a written greeting is: Dear Mr./Madam Secretary
The salutation for an in-person greeting is: Mr./Madam Secretary

  • The Honorable

In the United States, government officials who have been elected to public office or are appointed by the President of the United States with the advice and consent of the Senate are afford the courtesy title of The Honorable.  These positions include, but are not limited to, the President, Vice President, members of the Cabinet, Assistants to the President, Deputy Assistants to the President, Special Assistants to the President, deputy and under secretaries of executive departments, assistant secretaries, American ambassadors, governors, and mayors.  Courtesy titles are not salutations and are used only in writing before the full name of a person.  Additionally, it is custom in the United States for a person who has held the title of The Honorable to continue to be addressed as such after leaving a high-ranking position, unless they are removed from office or leave in disgrace.

  • Receiving Lines

The most traditional receiving line consists of the host, the guest of honor, the partner or co-host of the host, and the partner of the guest of honor, in that order.  One person from the host’s staff typically facilitates the order and gives instructions to the guest (i.e., please give your name and your spouse’s name upon greeting the host).  The direction that guests enter into the receiving line can vary, but the host should be the first person to receive the guests, followed by the guest of honor.  Announce cards, used in place of nametags, can be used to assist the host in identifying guests.  Depending on the event, a photographer may be requested for candid or posed photos, at the determination of the host.  A purse-runner can assist with holding bags as guests go through the line, and a table can be set for guests to place their belongings, depending on the configuration of the line.  Special amenities to consider include hot towels, hand sanitizer, and a waiter with a tray to collect drinks before guests greet the host and guest of honor.

  • Dietary Restrictions

If food is a key component of an event, it is especially important to determine the preferences and allergies of the guest of honor.  It is especially important for seated meals, that offerings take into account the dietary restrictions and allergies of guests as well. Even at a reception, when food allergies may be unknown to the host, it is helpful to have a variety of items such as vegetarian and gluten free options.  Allergies and preferences can also extend to event components such as flower arrangements. Some individuals are sensitive to fragrant flowers, so it is best to refrain from placing overly aromatic arrangements in the venue.

  • Religious Sensitivities

Religious customs should be considered when scheduling and hosting an event.  When scheduling an event, consult a religious calendar to view upcoming holidays and remain mindful of the cultural customs that might surround guests’ religious beliefs or practices. These practices may also include dietary restrictions.  In addition to holidays, consider any birthdays, celebrations, or anniversaries on or around the event date during event planning.

  • Invitations, Menus, and Place Cards

Formal Invitations

Formal invitations for luncheons, dinners, receptions, and meetings are worded in the third person, on behalf of the host’s position.  Rarely should you include the host’s given name.  The preferred lettering style is script and all wording is spelled out without the use of acronyms.

 

Menus

Menus are developed with consideration of all guests, to include those with cultural or religious restrictions. Of course, the host is responsible for determining the menu and their own personal considerations should also be consulted when confirming the options. One should also confirm with guests ahead of time whether they have any dietary restrictions or food allergies.

Place Cards

Place cards assist guests in identifying their assigned seat for an event.  Basic guidance is to write the name as it is spoken in formal conversation (Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr., last name).  Courtesy titles and post nominal letters are not typically included.  For offices in which only one person at a time holds the title (for example, cabinet members and ambassadors to diplomatic posts), or only one person holding the title is at the event, the title is used on the place card in place of the person’s name.

  •  Seating an Event

Working Events

For a non-social event held for business or diplomatic purposes, such as a working lunch or dinner, the guest of honor is typically placed across from the host/hostess.  The next highest places of honor are to the right of the guest of honor and to the right of the host/hostess.  Typically, spouses or partners are not included in working events, including lunches and dinners, but this is left to the host’s final determination.

Social Events

For a social event, as opposed to a working event, the guest of honor is typically placed to the right of the host/hostess.  If the host has a co-host, this person could sit directly across from the host.  This ensures guests feel properly attended, especially at a round table.  The next highest place of honor is to the left of the host followed by the right and then the left of the co-host if there is one.  Many times men and women are alternated; however, much like the placement of a co-host or ones’ guest, this is a question of personal preference.

  • Domestic Workers

The Office of the Chief of Protocol is responsible for oversight of foreign domestic workers employed by foreign mission members. Please find general program requirements and circular diplomatic notes below.   If you have further questions, please contact us at domesticworkers@state.gov.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Courtesy of the Port

Q: What is a Courtesy of the Port?

A: A Courtesy of the Port, or Port Courtesies, is an expedited clearance through customs and immigration at the first port of entry into the United States for Foreign Government Officials and their official entourage members traveling on official business. This program is managed by the Department of State’s Office of the Chief of Protocol in coordination with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Secret Service (USSS), Diplomatic Security (DS), and Consular Affairs. For more information on the Port Courtesies Program policies and procedures, please review the Port Courtesy Handbook. For more information on the Port Courtesies Program policies and procedures, please review the Port Courtesy Handbook in the resources tab.

  • National Anthem

Q: If both the U.S. national anthem and the national anthem of a foreign country were being played at an event in the United States, which one would be played first?

A: It is standard practice for the visitor or guest of honor’s foreign national anthem to be played first, followed by the host nation’s.  In the United States, the national anthem of the foreign country should be played first, followed by the U.S. national anthem.

  • Flags

Q: What is the order of display for the U.S. flag and a flag of a foreign nation?

A: The two flags should be on separate staffs. Both flags should be the same size and flown at the same height. The U.S. flag is flown in the place of honor, which is to the viewer’s left.

  • Foreign Visits

Q: How is a meeting between a foreign leader and the President of the United States arranged?

A: The President, working with the White House staff, schedules meetings with foreign chiefs of state and heads of government. The country’s Ambassador in Washington, D.C. works with the President’s National Security Advisor and his staff to set a date. When the date is set, the Office of the Chief of Protocol coordinates with the foreign Ambassador to the United States and the American Embassy overseas to make all of the arrangements from arrival through departure.

The Office of the Chief of Protocol coordinates approximately 350 visits per year by foreign leaders, foreign ministers and other high-ranking foreign dignitaries to Washington, D.C.

  • Chiefs of Protocol

Q: Is the United States the only country with a Chief of Protocol?

A: No. There is a counterpart, usually called the Chief of Protocol, in almost every country.

Diplomatic protocol is a very historic profession dating back to the Babylonians who initiated the first recorded exchange of envoys with other kingdoms. The word “protocol” is the combination of two Greek words: “Proto,” meaning first, and “colon,” meaning glued. The “glued” portion of the word is derived from the Greek diplomatic tradition, or protocol, requiring that any diplomatic dispatch have a content summary glued to the outside of its case so that it could be read first and quickly.

  • Blair House

Q: What is the Blair House?

A: The Blair House is the building officially known as The President’s Guest House. It is located on Pennsylvania Avenue across the street from the White House and its principal use is as a guest house for foreign chiefs of state and heads of government visiting the President.

It is named the Blair House after the Blair family who owned the residence and lived there from 1836 until 1942. In December of 1942 it was purchased from the family by President Franklin Roosevelt for use as a guest house for foreign leaders. The Blairs were the nearest neighbor of every President from Andrew Jackson through Franklin Roosevelt. A great deal of American history occurred in the house when the Blairs lived there. The term “kitchen cabinet” was born in the house when Andrew Jackson’s friends and advisors would gather in the Blairs’ kitchen.

For more information and an interactive tour, visit www.blairhouse.org 

  • Security

Q: When a chief of state, head of government or foreign dignitary from another country is in the United States, does the Secret Service provide all security or is the home country’s protection used or a combination of each?

A: When a foreign chief of state or head of government visits the United States, the Secret Service provides security for them from entry in the United States through departure. This includes not only Washington, D.C. but anywhere in the United States they may travel.

A foreign minister may be provided security by the State Department’s Diplomatic Security (DS) Service. DS may also provide security for foreign dignitaries who are not foreign ministers. These requests are handled directly through security organizations.

U.S. Department of State

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