Rome, 11th April – Wednesday 6th April 2016, Rome. The King of Norway Harald V was officially received at Palazzo Chigi by the Italian Head of Government Renzi. In the courtyard of honour: red carpet, soldiers in formal uniform, trumpets and honours.

After the military display, the Prime Minister Renzi promptly stretched out his hand, confident because of his young age and because of the sumptuous and formal welcome organized for the guest.

His self-confidence, though, was met by an unexpected reaction by King Harald, who did not shake his hand but left it hanging in the air. Prime Minister Renzi tried to hide his embarrassment by immediately inviting his illustrious Guest to take a photo for the official meeting.

Journalists criticized Renzi’s behaviour and his mistake in the “Ceremonial”, while fortunately, Palazzo Chigi was able to avoid the broadcasting of the “accident” on TV.

In reality, just a few minutes before, getting off the car, His Majesty warmly shake hands with Renzi. So what happened in the courtyard was probably only a second of regal distraction. But as it often happens the media emphasized on the smallest detail making it look like a mistake.

However, what is expected from the ceremonial in these circumstances?  Who made a mistake and why?

The ceremonial rules that it is always the “highest” in title who has to offer his salutation first, to which the interlocutor has to respond. This means that you do not stretch out your hand to a king, a queen, a president of the republic, but you wait for them to do it.

Consequently, Renzi, ignoring the rule, made a mistake. The king, though, made a greater mistake. In fact, he should have gone beyond formal rules to respond to the salutation of his host, who is the Head of the Italian Government.

Moreover, in favour of Renzi, in this kind of events, the personal status of the two participants is less important than their role. And in this case, in a bilateral meeting, each one was the representative of his nation.


“Click on the picture to watching the video”

Prime Minister Renzi, then, had some valid reasons to give his salutation to his guest. Let’s forgive him.

Let’s forgive the King too. Indeed, even if the member of the royal family, a small distraction during a long demanding and articulate visit may happen to anyone.

Journalists are the only responsible for this misinterpretation, and they are the only one to blame, as they just pretended to have witnessed a mistake during a positive and friendly meeting.

by Massimo Sgrelli
Former Head of State Ceremonial Department
Accademia del Cerimoniale