When Israel celebrated its 67th year of independence, the Miami Herald wrote about the consulate (general) greeting guests. But it’s the consul (general) – in the person of Chaim Shacham – shaking hands with one of them.
Pop quiz: what is correct in the above, the consulate or the consul?
For those of you who are familiar with my book the answer is easy. Congratulations! You know the former is the office and the latter is the person. So, you know the caption under the picture should have read, …”greeted by Consul General Chaim Shacham…” (the C and G are capitalized as a title followed by the name).
An easy way to remember the difference between a consulate and a consul is by comparing its use with how we talk about other professions, such as that of a lawyer or doctor. You wouldn’t say someone was greeted by “the law office” or “the doctor’s office” when the hand-shake is between two real, named people.
If this seems irrelevant to you, consider the situation of invitations. If you are a consul wanting to invite your lawyer or doctor to one of your events, you must address the invitation to “Mr. Jones, Esq.” or “John Smith, M.D.” If you actually want to invite the whole staff of the office, the invite goes to the “law offices of Mr. Jones” (like “Consulate of Ruritania”). Make sure you know what you want.
Even consuls have been known to make mistakes. I recall one event where the poor hosts were faced with a much larger-than-intended number of guest, all due to a misunderstanding, or ignorance, of the wording of an invitation. Even though it was correctly addressed to the Consul General of Ruritania (with or without name of the person doesn’t matter for our purpose here) the consul general showed up with an entourage of several vice consuls and spouses, as if the consulate was invited.
Pop quiz for bonus points: Why did I put “general” in parenthesis in the first paragraph?