Tatler’s Guide To Diplomatic Etiquette

The Scene

June 12, 2018 | BY Chloe Pek

It is not difficult to display good manners. In fact, nearly all the rules you’ve read or heard about social etiquette simply stem from common sense, respect, and consideration for others. The consequences of bad behaviour? A discreet eye-roll from the person you have offended, getting uninvited to parties, and developing a bad cred within your business or social group.

When it comes to diplomatic etiquette, however, the stakes are much higher. It is why political figures and government officials follow a strict set of protocols, especially when interacting with their foreign counterparts.

With the North Korea–United States summit taking place on our sunny island today, we take a look at the basic rules of etiquette that diplomats today observe, in an effort to avoid sparking off a trade war or a nuclear conflict.


Titles and address 

No matter how well two politicians know one another, they should always address each other by the right titles and last names when they are representing their office, instead of using first names. Presidents should be addressed as Mr. President or Madam President, and in the case of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Chairman Kim.

Tatler’s Guide To Diplomatic Etiquette


Communication and cultural barriers are unavoidable between two foreign delegates, which makes protocol all the more important. If the two diplomats do not share a common language, an interpreter should always be on hand to correct mistakes and misunderstandings. Three things you should never do when conversing: one, imitate your company's accent when they speak in your native language; two, use profanities or racial slurs; and three, make jokes, because humour can be very language-specific.


Social media

According to Twitter’s verified list, there are 64 world leaders who tweet. The social media platform is a great medium for policymakers to hold conversations with citizens, and engage with foreign publics. What it is not good for, however, is tweeting fake news, engaging in Twitter spats with foreign political figures, and retweeting videos that promote racist beliefs.

Tatler’s Guide To Diplomatic Etiquette

Attending diplomatic functions

Different occasions dictate specific dress, so respect the dress code your host has outlined for the event. Punctuality is also of the utmost importance, so take note of the local concept of social time—arrive early and leave at the appropriate time, without overstaying your welcome. Leaving too early can also be seen as a snub, unless you have excused yourself beforehand with good reason.

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