Interpreting Diplomacy

  • Interpreting Diplomacy

    Interpreting Diplomacy

    I decided that the first post will not be about translation and interpreting. At least not in a direct sense as it will concentrate on diplomatic protocol, more precisely, British and Polish protocol that we could learn during the visit of the American president Barack Obama to United Kingdom and Poland last year. The topic is in my opinion  of great importance to translators as well as interpreters, since diplomacy is conducted both in written and oral communication where various languages are involved.

    Both visits differed markedly from each other as the first one was described as a ‘state’ and the second one as ‘working’ visit. So what is the difference? Let’s begin with the state visit.

    The “state visit” is a formal visit and is the highest form of diplomatic contact the main aim being to conduct bilateral talks and strengthen the relationships between two countries. A state visit in UK usually lasts 3 days from Tuesday morning to Friday afternoon. The program is discussed in written form (via notes, fax) or by telephone talks and is different for females (Piekarski and Ikanowicz 2009, 81).

    Here is the general description of a state visit in UK:

    ‘There are usually two incoming State visits each year. Invitations are sent on the advice of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

    The Queen acts as host to the visiting Head of State, who stays either at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle or, occasionally, The Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh.

    Visits normally begin with a ceremonial welcome attended by The Queen and other senior members of the Royal Family. If the guest is staying at Buckingham Palace, the welcome takes place on Horse Guards Parade.

    After inspecting a guard of honour, the visiting President or Monarch then travels with The Queen in a Carriage Procession back to Buckingham Palace.

    On the evening of the arrival day, the Head of State will attend a State Banquet in his or her honour.

    Before leaving, he or she will occasionally host a Banquet or other return hospitality at an alternative location.

    During the visit, the Head of State will meet the British Prime Minister, Government ministers and leaders of the main political parties.

    The visiting Head of State will also attend a Banquet hosted by the Lord Mayor and City of London Corporation, when he or she will meet leaders of commerce and industry.

    When Heads of State visit Britain less formally, they are nearly always received in audience by The Queen. (source:

    This was not the first time that president Obama met the queen. They had chance to meet personally during a private meeting before the G-20 talks in 2009.

    They also exchanged the presents. The queen  with her husband received the personalized iPod containing the video of her visit to Virginia, Washington, in 2007, Obamas, on the other hand, a signed photograph of the royal couple in silver frame.

    The custom of diplomatic gift giving has a long tradition. In a nutshell, formerly the rule was strictly observed that the guest gives a present and the host returns a favour. And the present itself should be rather symbolic.

    To be continued…

    Image: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza, London, April 1, 2009.

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    Hanna Gembus

    Hanna Gembus is a professional Polish English and Polish German translator and communication specialist based in the United Kingdom providing translation, content, interpreting and market research services to small, medium-sized and large companies and organisations. She specialises in business, marketing and e-commerce, using linguistic and cultural knowledge to help both start-ups and established companies improve their presence on the market and increase sales.

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