Book Review: An Experts’ Guide to International Protocol: Best Practices in Diplomatic and Corporate Relations

I first learned about the existence of protocol offices when covering, as a freelance journalist, the state visit of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland and conversing with several Department of Foreign Affairs staff members whose job it was to plan, in minute detail, the various ceremonies that the Queen and Duke were to attend.

Since then, I have had the privilege to attend quite a few diplomatic functions held by Irish diplomatic missions and UN agencies — and to witness, again at first hand, the careful choreography and planning that precede even a brief international working visit at the ministerial level.

These experiences, besides imbuing in me an anorak’s interest in diplomacy (and flags!), have left me with an understanding of the underappreciated importance of protocol and etiquette in both our everyday and professional lives — but especially when encountering other cultures and doing business internationally and particularly so when those meetings take place on the diplomatic stage.

I didn’t have a clear learning objective when buying An Expert’s Guide to International Protocol: Best Practices in Diplomatic and Corporate Relations, jointly authored by Messrs. Gilbert Monod de Froideville and Mark Verheul — two protocol experts and leading international educators in the field. However, it seemed like the best non-country-specific guide to protocol out there. And I’m certainly glad that I did.

Despite its somewhat academic look and feel (it reminded me a little of the dry tomes I have rarely picked up since university days), the text is in fact both highly accessible, full of valuable information, and well-written.

In conveying that protocol is as much an ever-evolving art form as it is a slavish adherence to the arcane rules of precedence that many associate it with, the authors include several interesting interviews with noteworthy protocol experts from governments and multilateral institutions around the world — explaining some of the creative thinking that has helped them avoid causing unintentional offence at international summits and other global fora.

More broadly, the book covers, in comprehensive detail, practical matters little understood outside the world of diplomacy but which can certainly be applied in corporate life or by anybody involved in international relations or multinational business: The arrangement of national flags, understanding orders of precedence, seating arrangements, modes of address in formal writing, and the mostly unwritten but highly interesting rules regarding the exchange of gifts between different cultures and represetnatives of state.

Granted, much of the information conveyed is almost exclusively applicable within the framework of inter-state meetings (such as the typical seating arrangements at state dinners!). But even if, like me, you work in the private sector, the information at the very least will give you pause for thought before planning your next business lunch or dinner — even if the pomp and ceremony does not quite match that of the G20 and your guests arrive in taxis rather than at the helm of motorcades.

Even if I may never need to remember where to place the host country’s flag when displayed in a U-shaped semi-circle, or have to remember whether to start a speech in a foreign city by addressing its mayor or police chief first, having read this volume, I feel very well-equipped to navigate any future engagements on the international stage.

In short: highly recommended, even for non-specialists.

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