Because customs regarding forms of address vary greatly from country to country, no rules of official protocol apply across the board in the nations of the world, which number close to two hundred. However, before you leave for foreign shores help is at hand. The three main sources of information are the Washington, D.C., embassy for your country of destination, that nation’s consulate in the major city nearest you, and their mission to the United Nations in New York. All are able and willing to provide information to facilitate your communication and dealings with people in their homelands.

Here are a few guidelines for American social or business travelers who have been invited to an official reception or ceremony and for hosts or hostesses who will be entertaining dignitaries overseas:

  • Professionals from other countries are often given titles that, out of courtesy, should be used by the American traveler. In Italy, for example, a man who has completed university and earned a degree is called “Dottore” (“Doctor”), and a woman, “Dottoressa,” out of respect for the person’s academic achievement. Likewise, a male German corporate president is called “Herr Direktor” out of respect for his position. A French lawyer is addressed formally as “Monsieur l’Avocat,” which literally means “Mr. Lawyer.” It is only polite to respect the customary titles in other countries—at least until bonds of friendship are formed and the parties invite each other to use more personal forms of address.
  • European heads of state, ambassadors, cabinet officers, and, in some countries, high-ranking members of the clergy, may be referred to as “His/Her Excellency;” they are called “Your Excellency” in conversation. In correspondence, they are addressed as “His Excellency, Giancarlo DiBernadino, Ambassador of the Republic of Italy,” or “His Excellency, Ichiro Kawamura, Ambassador of Japan.”
  • A duke and duchess are called “Duke”, “Duchess” or “Your Grace” in conversation—not, for example, “Duke Charles” or “Duchess of Kent.”
  • A prince or princess is called “Prince” or “Princess” in conversation.
  • The king or queen of a Western European country is addressed as “Your Majesty” and is referred to as “His [Her] Majesty.”
  • A prince consort to the queen is referred to as “His Royal Highness” and is addressed as “Your Royal Highness.”