Archive for December, 2010

My question is: how do I address a military colonel who is also a prominent psychologist? I am emailing this person for the first time, for a research project on psychologists. My hunch is to go with “Dear Colonel _____”, but since my questions pertain more to psychology, I wondered if “Dear Dr. ______” would be more appropriate.

— Richard Wilkins

Dear Mr. Wilkins:
Military personnel of any functionality … doctors, lawyers, engineers, cooks, fighter pilots, motor pool drivers. commanding officers, security guards …. officers and enlisted …. leaders and followers  …. are always addressed by
rank + name.
It’s not impossible that in conversation … during an examination or consultation you might not say “But Doctor …. ” but it will seem completely normal to him for you always to address him as Colonel ______.
It’s part of their culture that rank is the preferred “honorific” that is used in address … no matter the content of the conversation.
In continued conversation … after first use of the rank + name … the tradition is to switch to “Sir” when addressing someone higher in rank … and to switch to “(surname)” when addressing someone lower in rank.
Since you are not in the service, just use Colonel ______ all the time.
– Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info


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My fiance has a friend who is a medical doctor who is also on active duty with a rank of Captain in the Air Force, where he practices medicine.  How should we address the wedding invitation?  
— Carol B.

Dear Carol B.:
All active-duty armed service personnel are addressed as: 
(Rank) + (Name)
For a written address, there are different forms for “official” and “social” correspondence: I cover that in detail in my chapter on Forms of Address for US Armed Services in my book.  Here’s the answer:
On official correspondence (contacting him on business related to his official military duties) you would include his branch of service … which for most Air Force personnel would be simply USAF … but for an medical doctor would include a post nominal for the Medical Service Corps, and end up as:
Captain William Blake, USAF, MSC
On social correspondence post-nominal abbreviations are not used … thus leave off the “USAF, MSC”
A wedding invitation’s mailing envelope uses the social form:
Captain William Blake
If you are using inside envelopes, the form is to use you would call him, and most formally that would be:
Captain Blake
It’s not impossible that one might address him as “Doctor” during a medical exam, or he might identify himself as “Dr.” as he enters an exam room where the patient sits in a backless paper gown … But in the military, the etiquette is that one’s rank is the most important information … and exactly how one serves is important but is of secondary importance.
– Robert Hickey

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I’ve purchased your book, but still have a question related to how list the names of the following people for table tents, who are visiting our corporate office the end of this month. I’m confused about the title “Acting Head of Mission.” I’ve read about it in your book, but it seems to me that the title is equal to that of being a consul. I’d appreciate your assistance in this! Here is what I think is correct:
His Excellency Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria
Mr. Nikolay Mladenov
Consulate General of the Republic of Bulgaria in Los Angeles, Acting Head of Mission
Ms. Julia Tzerova

— Monica

Dear Monica:
Great question!
Head of Mission is the same as a Charge d’Affairs … the person in charge at an embassy, consulate, or general consulate when the ambassador, consul or general consul isn’t around. The US uses the term Head of Mission, but most other countries use Charge d’Affairs. An acting head of mission is just that.
A consul is head person at a consulate which is a business office of a foreign country in a city where there’s no ambassador … thus there’s an ambassador & embassy in Washington but a consul & consulate in, say, Atlanta.
A general consul is in charge of a general consulate which is just a larger business office / larger version of a consulate in a bigger city …. like Los Angeles …. that offers more services.
His Excellency .. the courtesy title …. precedes a name .. never an office
It is the person who is “Excellent”
Ambassadors, heads of state, heads of government and ministers when outside their country are addressed as “Your Excellency” whether or not they are addressed that way at home. Heads of Mission are not “Excellencies”
His Excellency Nikolay Mladenov
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria
Mr. Julia Tzeroz
Acting Head of Mission, General Consulate of the Republic of Bulgaria

Does that answer the question?  Let me know.
— Robert Hickey

Thank you for your quick reply! My understanding was that for foreign countries (not the US), the country name and title precede the person, because they are there on behalf of the country. So, just this last week, I had a table tent for
Ambassador of Mexico to the United States
Arturo Sarukhan

and also had (in reverse order)
Michael Rich
Executive Vice President, (Company Name)

I had found that in the book “Protocol 25th Anniversary Edition.” But you list the person first, then country. Ah – the confusion! Is there a hard and fast rule related to listing of country names, titles, and people for table tents?
— Monica

Dear Monica:
You could do it office first … name second …. … but I would not agree that its a protocol among foreign countries. Either is O.K., as long as you are consistent.
However ….. there is a tradition in a formal introduction, like you are introducing a guests from the podium ….
When the name is first it would be the full version of the name is given ….
His Excellency Arturo Sarukhan, the Ambassador of the Mexico to the United States
The Honorable James Smith, Secretary of Smithsonian Institution
Dr. James Wilson, Administrator of Mercy Hospital

and when the office is first … a shortened form of the name / conversational version is used.
The Ambassador of the Mexico to the United States, Ambassador Sarukhan,
The Secretary of Health and Human Services, Mr. Smith
The Administrator of Mercy Hospital, Dr. Wilson

But you should get his name complete and correct  … His Excellency Arturo ….
And most formally it should be “Ambassador of the United Mexican States ….. .

– Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info

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I am an American citizen residing in Zurich, Switzerland. My husband and I received an invitation from the American Ambassador and his wife to attend a Christmas Celebration at the American Ambassador’s residence in Bern and I am uncertain if it is customary to bring a host/hostess gift on such an occasion. I have actually been to the residence before and have met the Ambassador’s wife, who invited a group of us from the American Women’s Club of Zurich to lunch. At that time we presented her with a gift from our group, so individual gifts were not a question. This Christmas Celebration is certainly not going to be an intimate affair, but it will probably not be an extremely large gathering either as the residence wouldn’t accommodate a huge number. I would normally without question bring a gift to someone’s home when being invited to a party, but I am in a quandary as to what to do in this case. Any guidance on this would be greatly appreciated.
— Maxine Rogers

Dear Ms. Rogers:
Your note somehow went into my spam folder … so I didn’t see it until today.  My apologies!
The standard practice is to write the hostess a thank-you note within 24 hours after the event, thanking her for the hospitality and asking her to extend the thanks to the host.
But, Europeans do like to arrive with flowers or a present … so arriving with a small gift is never incorrect.
Since it’s not going to be a tiny group … the host and hostess will be busy when guests arrive. I suggest you tie a card to the outside of the gift stating TO and FROM …. and alsoinclude your card in inside the package so when it’s opened the next day they cannot mistake that it was from you. I can’t tell you how many times at events … the source of gifts ends up being a mystery.
— Robert Hickey

How kind of you to answer my email inquiry. It’s come a couple of days after the party, but no matter as a friend of mine who was also invited told me she was going to bring the Ambassador’s wife a small hostess gift, so that is what we both did. I wrapped mine and put it in a gift bag, with a card enclosed, so hopefully it does not suffer the fate of being that mysterious source! However, it appeared as though we were among the very few who did show up with a hostess gift, if not the only ones, but I felt very correct in doing so since that was the advice given by the protocol office at the Embassy.
It was an outstanding party, conceived by the American Christmas campaign of one of the Swiss German Department stores, Globus, which prompted the Ambassador’s wife to contact him about her idea of hosting this party at the residence. What a treat it was to be greeted at the door by American Xmas music and find such familiar treats inside as eggnog and a weather-appropriate cocktail, Dark & Stormy … oh yes, and the food was good too!
I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my email, and if I find myself with any protocol questions in the future I will know who to ask.
– Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info

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Can a foreign national anthem be played if their flag is not present? We have a Belgian officer being promoted and would like to play his national anthem but he does not have a flag to post (and neither do we) at the location of his promotion ceremony.
— Tammy L.

Dear Ms. L.:
I checked with my colleague at The Protocol School of Washington for the answer on this one. Diane Brown suggested the following based on her experience doing protocol at the Pentagon. I never doubt anything Diane says:
It is customary to have the flag when the national anthem is being played … but I wouldn’t hesitate playing his anthem. You could always project his flag on a screen in the background and then have the US flag displayed in the same manner for the anthem.
Tammy … I hope that helps and thank you, Diane!

– Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info


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I have a question that you would be the best person to ask.  We are writing to Lord Peter Goldsmith, who was formerly the Attorney General under Mr. Tony Blair’s administration.
I need to know which is the proper way of addressing the salutation, is it Dear Lord Goldsmith, or His Excellency, etc.?  I know you know the correct answer.
— Christopher Kaplan

Dear Mr. Kaplan:
I cover that in my chapter on British forms of address. He is correctly addressed in the salutation by his personal rank:
Dear Lord Goldsmith,
He’s a baron … but “baron’ is never used in direct address. In conversation, in a salutation, or on a place card he is always “Lord.”

– Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info

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Robert, how would you address a group of senators, governors, police officers, etc.?  Would it be generally like the plural of “sir” and “ma’am” — “ladies and gentlemen,” or “assembled guests” for instance? Or do I mention the top ones?
Jim Sternberg

Dear Jim:
If you have a wide variety of officials the challenge is to figure out a natural place to stop mentioning them by name so you don’t spend your time picking out certain people in the audience … and end up overlooking others.
Here is the standard approach: The speaker will briefly acknowledge those on the podium then go on to acknowledge everyone else generally.
E.g., The President at the State of the Union Message is on the podium with just theSpeaker of the House of Representatives and The Vice President ... so he begins his speech with those officials in precedence order:
Madame Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Distinguished guests, and the American people …. etc.
If no one is on the podium with you … you can thank just the person who introduces you … so it Thomas Smith is the master of ceremonies …
Mr. Smith, distinguished visitors, and ladies and gentlemen …
Then end with just: Thank you … not directed to anyone in particular … and sit down.
– Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info

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