BY JOSÉ LUCENA*
Imagine you are a guest to an official ceremony for which the invitation explicitly requested you to confirm your presence. For some reason you had not the opportunity to do it, but you decided to attend the ceremony, because it is important.
You arrive to the ceremony and you are requested to say your name. The protocol officers do not find your name on the confirmation list, but you have a print invitation. What to expect from the protocol officers? Several reactions can take place. Having in mind all my experience in these kinds of situations I will give you some examples of how, normally, protocol officers tend to find an adequate solution.
First situation: You are a guest with an official position in the state precedence list.
The protocol officer in charge of the seating plan reserved some empty places as s/he foreseen such a situation and s/he might have a seat available for you;
Although you have an official position in the state precedence list, the protocol officer in charge of the seating plan reserved some seats until a certain position on the precedence list that is higher than yours. So, guests with lower precedence are seated in accordance with their order of arrival in a reserved zone. In this situation, normally, there are more seats than guests;
The protocol officer coordinating the ceremony, assuming that you want to assist the event, invites you to sit in an available place, but not in accordance to your status;
The worst situation is when the protocol officer coordinating the ceremony says to you that s/he has no place available, but considering my experience this is very rare.
Second situation: You are a guest with no official position in the state precedence list.
In this kind of situation it is very common to reserve a lot of places, nevertheless, if the ceremony or event is fully booked, it is very difficult for the protocol officer to solve the situation. Although you might be lucky if someone that confirmed his or her presence does not arrive, then you probably would have a seat available.
As a protocol practitioner and guest, my experience shows that protocol officers tend to find the best solution that corresponds to the guest expectations. When you send the invitations, it is normal to have 20% of confirmations. Thus, the primary and only responsibility of the guest is to confirm his/her presence.
*About the author
José Lucena is a Portuguese Navy Officer, with the rank of Commander. His present post is Protocol Adviser to the Chief of General Staff of Portuguese Armed Forces. Since 2010 his tasks have been related to protocol, diplomacy (Defence Attachés) and Military Ceremonies.