Staniszewska A. The development and cultural significance of diplomatic etiquette and protocol in Europe

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УДК 395:341.75(4)



Staniszewska A.

The paper studies the historical and cultural foundations of the development of diplomatic etiquette and protocol in Europe. The author considers diplomatic etiquette as an important component of European civilization’s cultural heritage. At the same time it is noted, that the basics of diplomatic protocol were formed under the influence of national cultures of European peoples. The ceremonial norms have formed centuries-old customary traditions and they have established themselves in practice of diplomatic relations between states, being today an important component of European diplomacy.

Keywords: etiquette, diplomacy, diplomatic protocol, diplomatic etiquette, Europe, international relations.




Станишевская А.

В статье исследуются историко-культурные основы развития дипломатического этикета и протокола в Европе. Автор рассматривает дипломатический этикет как важную составляющую культурного наследия европейской цивилизации. При этом отмечается, что основы дипломатического протокола формировались под влиянием особенностей национальных культур европейских народов. Церемониальные нормы сформировали многовековые традиции обычного права и утвердились в практике дипломатических отношений между государствами, являясь сегодня важной составляющей европейской дипломатии.

Ключевые слова: этикет, дипломатия, дипломатический протокол, дипломатический этикет, Европа, международные отношения.


Etiquette is a special cultural phenomenon. It is an important and significant achievement of the European civilization which for many centuries developed in various directions and areas. Therefore, it is also one of the foundations of Europe’s cultural unity. The concept of etiquette can be considered philosophically, as it is difficult to find a term that fully embraces this multifaceted phenomenon [1, p. 33].

The study of diplomatic etiquette formation and development can be found in the researches of such Polish diplomats as Julian Sutor [21; 22], Tomasz Orlowski [13], Edward Pietkiewicz [17; 18; 19], Jan Piekarski [10]. These questions are also mentioned in the works by A.W. Bortnowski [3; 4; 5], M. Pierzchała [16] and J. Modrzyńska [12].

Cambridge Dictionary contains such meaning of the word “etiquette”: “the set of rules or customs that control accepted behaviour in particular social groups or social situations” [7].

As for the basic, encyclopedic meaning, the concept of etiquette means the general rules of appropriate behavior in the higher realms. We can say that etiquette is a fixed and binding way of behaving in certain environments (at a monarch’s courts, in diplomatic circles, etc.). The notion of etiquette should also be understood as a defined order (system of rules) defining particular forms of behavior, convened conventions, or manners. It was adopted especially in exclusive environments, such as royal courts (hence “court etiquette”) and circles of state authorities and diplomacy (diplomatic etiquette) [21, p. 29].

Etiquette as an obligatory method of behaving in public life has accompanied mankind from the beginning of civilization and has had a definite impact on its development. Etiquette rules have formed and evolved over the centuries. Its development is particularly due to the flourishing of court etiquette on the European continent, including etiquette and ceremonies with the reception of foreign ambassadors and deputies. It is especially evident in the Italian states and the French court mainly during the reign of King Louis XIV. As such, etiquette in its modern understanding is an important component of European civilization’s cultural heritage [21, p. 25-28].

The integral part of the etiquette is personal culture (savoir-vivre). One cannot properly follow the indications, rules and diplomatic protocol when one is deprived of personal culture. It is the result of many years of work on oneself and is a source of everyday conduct [11, p. 20]. Personal culture – a permanent trait, is acquired throughout a lifetime and characterizes the behavior of each person regardless of time, place, and circumstances. This concept also includes knowledge from many different fields, for instance the level of personal education and how to deal with everyday life. Elements of each person’s personal culture are: compliance with coexistence norms (i.e. correct behavior towards other people in every place, situation and time), familiarity society (expressing, for example, the ability to comply with the principle of precedence), kindness, compliance with punctuality and keeping to the word, care for the external appearance, supplement personal knowledge and striving to create a good atmosphere in one’s surroundings [5, p. 8-11].

The behavior of people in mutual contacts is regulated by legal, moral and ethical norms, which have changed and do change with the development of civilization. The concept of personal culture includes compliance with all of these norms; it also includes information about these norms and the ability to properly communicate with other people. The etiquette is most frequently associated with moral norms. These include everyday behavior, such as greeting (introducing, styling, receiving guests, etc.), appropriate behavior in the surroundings, the ability to conduct a conversation (as well as table behavior, home furnishings, workplaces etc.), care for personal appearance (clothing, cleanliness, and hygiene), the ability to control reluctance and prejudice, not revealing bad humor, and to act in accordance with such features as discretion, listening skills, punctuality, verbosity, modesty, courtesy, etc. [3, p. 120-121]. The term “personal culture” is associated with participation in cultural life (visiting exhibitions, watching theater and movies, listening to music, studying valuable books). As a result of these habits, we assimilate the cultural achievements of past generations and the achievements of contemporary artists and gain the knowledge acquired in this way can be used in everyday life. By participating in culture, we become more sensitive people, broaden our interests in various manifestations of life, and express our thoughts intelligently and correctly. The most important element of personal culture is also the attitude to common social tasks, taking care of social goods, performing the tasks set before him, and compliance with norms of coexistence with others [18, p. 12-13].

The applied etiquette, i.e. the rules of everyday behavior in a certain environment passing to the protocol level, was called “professional etiquette”. It is the skill of tactful, professional and elegant behavior in the professional plane [15, p. 7]. At the level of national cooperation, they should also be aware of those cultural differences that may affect the quality of relationships. Everyone arriving in a foreign country is required to familiarize themselves with local business customs and practices [9, p. 86]. For example, there are cultural and conservative divisions in the business world which may be categorized as pro-partner, pro-transactional, ceremonial and hierarchical, non-ceremonial and egalitarian, polychronic, monochronic, restrained and expressive cultures [9, p. 131]. There are two rules in international business that can also work in other areas: the first is that the seller is expected to adapt to the buyer; and the second is that the newcomer must follow local customs [9, p. 16]. Compliance with moral rules avoids misunderstandings and conflicts, which is why knowledge of them (and especially compliance with them) is always important in every place, time, and situation [4, p. 179].

The contemporary development of communication technologies and increasing relationships via the Internet has also evoked the concept of “netiquette”, i.e. a set of principles of decent behavior on the Internet, a kind of etiquette applicable on the web. Netiquette also plays an important role in the process of international relations and diplomacy. For example, in the event of a high-profile event, a consular or diplomatic mission must notify the residents of its country on its official website of the event and associated recommendations. In addition, electronic correspondence is also used, which is subject to the specific rules in this area [12, p. 150]. The last type of communication takes the name “email etiquette” [13, p. 7-8].

The practical use of etiquette is already on the border of the concept of “good manners”, which refers to the ability to behave, self-presentation and communication with other people [23, p. 19]. The practical etiquette, often appointed, is more rigid and requires the implementation of certain rules of the surrounding society or environment. Another type of etiquette is savoir-vivre (“etiquette for the people”), which is intended for the general public and incorporates the principles of good tone (i.e. the ability to behave and behave in relations with other people in accordance with the social rules prevailing in that country, in a given culture or the environment). Savior-vivre pays more attention to aspects of everyday and social life: age, gender, family and friendship, social prestige, religious affiliation, party, etc. [21, p. 53].

Diplomatic etiquette has its origins in the olden days of developing relations between state units, cities, provinces, etc. Etiquette in the diplomatic aspect is associated with ceremonies used at royal courts and aristocracy, serving to strengthen the authority and power of the rulers. It has always been extremely important to be able to welcome foreign MPs and to make a good impression on them, and conversely requires them receive this honor properly and be able to behave appropriately in the environment. If at one time all diplomacy measures and ceremonies revolved around the royal heads of state and expressed their honor, then today the diplomat is a representative of the entire country, and therefore carries the responsibility of holding its image.

The development of diplomatic etiquette is immediately associated with “court etiquette”, that is, on the basis of the rules prevailing at the royal court. During the reception ceremony of representatives of foreign countries (or rulers), a “parliamentary ritual” has developed. Many courts had special recipes that set out the rules for etiquette and ceremonial events [21, p. 25-27]. The messages came on behalf of their rulers to form alliances, ask for peace, or offer dynastic marriages. The manner in which they were adopted resulted from court customs. The first source of rules for the reception of foreign deputies was a treatise “On the ceremonies of the Byzantine court”, which was prepared by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus. The splendor of the imperial court and its audiences, along with its banquets and gifts, is intended to ultimately convince MPs of the invincible power of their hosts. This court ceremony has become a foreign policy tool, which today has become protocol. Byzantine traditions lent a direct start to Venetian diplomacy, which in turn formed modern European diplomacy [14, p. 24-25].

Due to the fact that diplomatic positions were usually, in the past, occupied by aristocracy, “salon diplomacy” was the usual mode until the 20th century. It was only after World War II that there were major changes on the international arena and, as a result, in diplomatic relations, where significant democratic changes took place. The rules of diplomatic etiquette have also been simplified. All ceremonies have been reduced to the indispensable minimum. They serve to emphasize the importance that states attach to their mutual relations and so create a positive image of the state and society, by their worthy and competent representation on the international forum [21, p. 20-28].

Many principles of diplomatic etiquette have now become symbols, or have gone on to become to become protocol etiquette. It should be understood as rules of behavior and conduct in relations with representatives of other countries [16, p. 125]. In modern time diplomatic etiquette is a polite form of behavior adopted by the diplomatic service in official and everyday life which applies, for example, to such moments as greetings, introducing yourself and others, during official receptions, at the table, etc. The principles of the protocol and diplomatic etiquette apply to all representatives of states, not depending on which country they represent. Therefore, they do not act in a way that does not miss the dignity of any state and so treat all official representatives on the basis of complete equality [4, p. 31].

At the heart of diplomatic etiquette lie the principles of courtesy of a dignified representation of one’s state and self [21, p. 29]. It is a complex concept, referring to different issues and behaviors, including cultural differences, moral, religious, etc. Knowing these differences and conditions is somehow inscribed in the anthology of professional diplomat, in his contacts with representatives of foreign states, representing different political systems, cultures, and traditions [21, p. 19-20].

European etiquette, in many of its features, is owed to the Christian heritage, especially in principle “love your neighbor as yourself”. The main principles of etiquette are not only the great reception of a group of important people, but also the principle of respect for the dignity of another person, as well as the sovereign state that he presents. Elements of Christian culture were particularly reflected in Europe’s cultural life and etiquette. Savoir-vivre is not only a set of rules; it is a peculiar philosophy of life and axiology, a set of principles, as well as values. This philosophy existed in all high cultures. The elites came to the same conclusions. The greatest development of the savoir-vivre philosophy took place in Europe, where a version enriched by Christianity had been created that continues to be globally applicable. The current savoir-vivre principles, etiquette, and diplomatic protocol are the result of a rich cultural history [11, p. 17-19].

There are three levels in diplomacy which are interconnected but not identical: protocol, ceremony and etiquette. The protocol regulates relations between states and their representatives. The ceremonial serves the organization of official ceremonies, especially state ones. And the diplomatic etiquette is the observance of principles of behavior and dress in public places [14, p. 24].

The diplomatic protocol is the achievements of many years of diplomacy. Undergoing development from “salon diplomacy” [21, p. 189], diplomatic protocol has now become the diplomatic service’s principles of operation [19, p. 34-35]. “The purposefulness of existence and application of the diplomatic protocol is justified historically and by the needs of today. It was and is an indispensable political tool of diplomacy and plays an important role in international relations. Many elements of the diplomatic protocol constitute norms, regulating intercourse and interpersonal relations, introducing the right climate and atmosphere for meetings and contacts at various levels and in different situations” [20, p. 9-10].

The modern definition of diplomatic protocol is “a set of rules regulating the order in official diplomatic trading”. It is especially concerned with the rules related to the organization of official visits, especially heads of state, heads of government and other representatives of the highest state authorities, various meetings and parties organized on this occasion. “Further, it addresses compliance with the principles of precedence, official greetings and farewells, as well as events organized with the participation of the diplomatic corps” [22, p. 300]. The most accurate term for this concept is: “diplomatic protocol is savoir-vivre of nations” [8, p. 11].

The term “protocol” comes from the ancient Greek word “πρωτόκολλον”, where it meant “table of contents”. It was created from the combination of the words “πρώτος” – the first and “κόλλα” – sticky. This is how the card was attached to the document and constituted a list of its contents. In the European cultural circle, Latin and French, the term came into use as a term for the working version of the document. The protocol was also called the code of good conduct. This understanding determines the semantic scope of the concept of diplomatic protocol. A Polish diplomat historian once wrote: “the protocol is considered a liturgy of diplomacy. The content behind it must be sufficiently important, and the conviction of its significance sufficiently strong, otherwise – the external manifestations of the protocol would have to seem an incomprehensible fetish to people ridiculous” [14, p. 20-21].

The concept of diplomatic protocol should not be considered synonymous with a diplomatic etiquette, as it has a slightly different, less official, dimension. It should be understood as the rules of behavior and conduct in relations with the representatives of other countries [16, p. 125]. On a historical basis, the diplomatic protocol can be treated as the property of development and the transformation of a diplomatic etiquette. Currently, it serves to systematize and organize the rules, which are used during various meetings and official communications [21, p. 15]. The diplomatic protocol, despite having a centuries-old tradition, is subject to constant changes and adaptations to the ever-changing reality [12, p. 10].

The historical roots of diplomatic protocol come from court etiquette and the traditions of individual countries. The protocol evolved with the development of diplomatic international relations and reached its first summit during the Congress of Vienna in 1815, when international relations took place in such proximity that they required rules. The emergence of the presidency, ceremonial, correspondence, immunities and the establishment of a diplomatic etiquette (unleashing it from a court etiquette), these are the achievements of the European diplomatic policy of the last two centuries. If once the main tools in diplomacy were such savoir-vivre principles as tactfulness, discretion, skills in negotiating, then today diplomatic etiquette and various ceremonies are components of the diplomatic protocol, which employees of diplomatic units must know exactly [21, p. 39-40]. The protocol that it became is a collection of traditions and principles derived from the cultural traditions of various countries and was regulated for the first time after the Congress of Vienna primarily as a term for presidency in political relations [20, p. 8-9]. After changing the political system in Europe and the principles of redundancy, it was again developed and included in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations on April 18, 1961 [12, p. 25-28].

Diplomatic protocol is also the name of a special organizational unit supervising compliance with the provisions of the diplomatic protocol. Such a cell exists in the organizational chart of ministries of foreign affairs and in higher business directions [17, p. 10].

One of the basic principles of the European diplomatic protocol is the principle of sovereign equality of states. This law refers to the scope of diplomatic and consular law, as well as to etiquette protocol rules. It means respecting all representatives of foreign countries independently from the role of the state in the European or global economy. It is important in this respect be applied to the symbols of the state – the flag, coat of arms, anthem, as well as protect the prestige of the head of state. This principle also applies to respect for the sovereignty of each country, which is why any violation of this principle should be met with a sharp reaction from diplomatic representatives [21, p. 61]. By the example of the European Union, its members are independent, sovereign states [2, p. 4]. Therefore, the principle of respect for national identities of the Member States operates within its area [6, p. 213].

Another important principle of the diplomatic protocol is precedence, i.e. the order of priority – ranking people according to their importance, or more precisely, the order of priority between personalities who hold state, government, local government, social, church hierarchy, etc. This is the order of priority which is applicable especially during official ceremonies, greetings and farewells, organized meetings and parties with the participation of state and local authorities, etc. [21, p. 91-92]. The priority rule determines which ranks of diplomats are higher and which are lower. Similarly, this applies to establishing the precedence of state positions or positions within specific civil, military, church, scientific, and other structures. The principle of seniority, on the other hand, sets out precedence for people of the same rank or class [10, p. 18].

Establishing diplomatic ranks and preferences is an important achievement of the diplomatic protocol, because it has caused serious conflicts numerous times in history [8, p. 25]. “The principle of priority is an important element in the contacts of all communities. In diplomatic contacts, it occurs primarily during ceremonies, greetings and farewells of guests, making speeches, bursting guests at the table and in the car, raising toasts, serving to the table, etc. The basic criteria of this rule are class and rank, duration of function and such standards as: guest before the host, guest from abroad before the guest from the country, woman before the man (applying the seniority principle), and senior before the younger. We distinguish between personal priority, mission priority and priority within the mission” [20, p. 10].

An important element of the diplomatic protocol is the ceremonial. It is a concept that defines the organization of official ceremonies and a set of rules and customs which are applicable to the preparation of various ceremonies [12, p. 31]. The ceremony, according to the dictionary, is an official ceremony or rite, according to the established plan of the people of the ritual. Usually it is a solemn act in keeping with traditional symbolic forms [21, p. 42]. The diplomatic ceremony includes all norms which are applicable to diplomatic representatives who hold official relations with the head of the state in which they are accredited, as well as the authorities of that state and the norms which are applicable to the mutual relations of those diplomatic representatives operating in the same post. The ceremonial norms have created centuries-old customary traditions and they have established themselves in diplomatic exchange between states, so that today they are one of the major areas of international law [17, p. 9].

Etiquette is a phenomenon that changes over the course of history and culture, and therefore assumes new forms and shapes. The norms of manners change over time. Social transformations, changes in culture, industrialization, urbanization, dissemination of radio and TV, Internet, mobile phones and the development of other means of communication, as well as increasingly common globalization, have caused a change in living conditions and, as a consequence, the emergence of new customs [3, p. 121]. This creates new challenges for everyone, especially for persons busy in international and diplomatic missions. It requires a good understanding of foreign cultures and a sense of tact. Knowing and practicing the rules of etiquette allows freely find yourself in a variety of circumstances and minimizes the incivility [12, p. 31].

European territories became the homeland for the creation of modern diplomatic etiquette and protocol. The development of diplomacy, close international cooperation after the Congress of Vienna and its following activities to strengthen diplomatic law have influenced the formation of the image of European diplomacy. This diplomacy can be considered as one of the prominent features of European culture.



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Data about the author:

Staniszewska Alisandra – Doctoral Candidate of Family Science Institute, Theology Faculty, University of Opole (Opole, Poland).

Сведения об авторе:

Станишевская Алисандра – докторант Института наук о семье теологического факультета Опольского университета (Ополе, Польша).