What to say, what to wear and how to act are always top of mind, especially around the holidays, and our impeccably perceptive Ms. Modern Manners Sharon Schweitzer, JD, is to the rescue with the best insight.

Dear Ms. Modern Manners,

I received and accepted an invitation to attend a reception honoring an ambassador from Mexico who is visiting the United States. How do I address him in conversation and when I introduce others to him?                                  

Diligent Diplomat

Dear Dutifully Diplomatic,

When engaging the ambassador in conversation, refer to him as Mr. Ambassador, Your Excellency or Sir.  If the ambassador is a female, address her as Madame Ambassador or Your Excellency.  When making introductions of another person to the ambassador, state: Mr. / Madame Ambassador, may I present Ms. Sally Smith from the Governor’s office? Ms. Smith, his/her Excellency is the Ambassador of Mexico. 

Dear Ms. Modern Manners,

My husband is considering hosting international business guests during the November and December holidays this year. How do we seat the guests of honor for these holiday dinners? 

Holiday Hostess

Dear Hostess With The Mostest,

The seats of honor are those to the right of the host and hostess. The second most important seats are to their left.  At a family dinner, traditionally, the eldest relative is given the seat of honor, a grandmother, grandfather, mother, father, or an elderly aunt or uncle.  When both parents and the in-laws are seated at the same table, the mother of the hostess sits to the right of the host, and his mother sits to his left.  The father of the host sits to the right of the hostess and her father sits to her left.

If the event is not a family dinner, the seat of honor is assigned to a visiting international guest, a houseguest, or a first time guest in the home. Depending on the country, at dinner, a high-ranking individual (head of state, president, prime minister, royalty) may be seated at the head of the table. The hostess is seated to his or her left, which honors the dignitary and acknowledges their prestige by seating them to the hostess’ right.

Current and former government officials and their spouses are accorded the seats of honor.  Both husbands and wives are granted the status of their spouses.  For example, if a woman is prime minister, her husband is seated according to his wife’s rank. The same protocol applies to local dignitaries and clergy. The seating may differ by country. For example, Japanese and Korean etiquette places the honored guest in the middle of the table, facing the door. So research the customs of your international guests.

Ms. Modern Manners

Dear Ms. Modern Manners,

I am trying to teach my children the finer things in life, so please help. When a lady walks into a room, who stands and who stays seated, and why?

Gentleman Jim

Dear Sir James,

Manners and etiquette evolve to meet the times. Today modern business manners dictate that when someone (male or female) walks into a room, it is appropriate for both men and women to stand as a sign of respect and sophistication. In the workplace, business manners and etiquette are gender neutral. Standing is a sign of respect, and not just reserved for women. Standing is especially important when meeting and greeting someone older than you, senior to you in business, an elected official or diplomat, a priest or member of the clergy, a new acquaintance, or an authority figure because it brings you to the same level or ‘eye level’ with that individual. In social circles, when a lady walks into a room only the gentlemen stand.

In social circles, and when teaching your children, stress that standing brings them up to the same level and is an act of respect. When you remain seated you remain ‘lower.’ It makes a positive first impression both in social and business settings. Have them follow your stellar example.

Dear Ms. Modern Manners,

Our holiday travels are taking us on a European river cruise where we will delight in culture and devour goodies while wandering through holiday markets. What is the best way to politely barter while attending these markets?

Packed Passport

Dear Packed & Ready,

Ensure you do your research on the specific cultural norms in each of the countries that will be in attendance on your cruise. Learn if bartering is indeed culturally appropriate in particular provinces. If so, incorporate the three P’s into your bartering strategy: personable, polite and private. Don’t give away too much about how much you can spend, be friendly and always utilize kindness. Respect is universally understood.