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Business Card Etiquette
April 22, 2005 11:14 AM   Subscribe

Business Card Etiquette. Do not play or fiddle with people's business cards - treat them with respect. A Western businessman once famously lost a big deal for picking his teeth with one of his colleagues' business cards, and was never given the opportunity to do business with the company again. (more inside).
posted by KevinSkomsvold (47 comments total)

 
I did a little research on this after being at a meeting with several Japanese businessmen. Watching them exchange business cards was a sight to behold. Consider me enlightened.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:14 AM on April 22, 2005


Man, that's a lot of etiquette to keep track of. One of the few good things about my current gig is that I don't need a business card, and I hope to keep it that way.
posted by The Dryyyyy Cracker at 11:22 AM on April 22, 2005


Since someone must, I'll bring up the priceless business card scene in American Psycho.
Price pulls a card from an inside coat pocket and holds it
up for their inspection: "PAUL OWEN, PIERCE & PIERCE,
MERGERS AND ACQUISITIONS." Bateman swallows, speechless.
The sound in the room dies down and all we hear is a faint
heartbeat as Bateman stares at the magnificent card.

BATEMAN (V.O.)
Look at that subtle off-white coloring. The tasteful thickness
of it. Oh my God, it even has a watermark...

His hand shaking, Bateman lifts up the card and stares at it
until it fills the screen.

He lets it fall. The SOUND RETURNS TO NORMAL.
posted by Aknaton at 11:25 AM on April 22, 2005


They missed a few.
  • Do not print your business card in brown ink on toilet paper.
  • During a meeting, do not sling the business cards you've been given into the wastebasket, raising your fists over your head and mouthing "score" each time one goes in.
  • Do not use a business card to snort coke off the conference table during the same meeting in which it was presented to you.
  • Do not hand anyone a business card on which you have doodled pictures of knives and hangmen during a telephone conversation
  • Do not scribble unflattering physical descriptions of a person (e.g. "Buck teeth, bad suit") on his business card as an aid to memory
I sincerely hope this helps someone.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:34 AM on April 22, 2005


Great link, thanks.

I was in an akward, spur of the moment, card exchange with some people from Japan once. Awful feeling when you know that you're not operating on the right etiquette level. It was almost ceremonious the way they presented their cards. I had to dig through my desk for one of mine before handing it over way-too-casually.
posted by 27 at 11:37 AM on April 22, 2005


I've heard advice like this before and employed it last year when receiving a business card (I took it in both hands, examining it briefly but carefully, nodded a polite acknowledgement and smiled and put it carefully in a suitably-sized pocket in my wallet.) The Japanese guy kind enough to give me the card seemed pleased I had done so (implying my response was unusual.) Seems a simple but useful piece of ettiquette to learn: you'll no doubt do something wrong but if you demonstrate that you are aware that business cards should be treated with respect then you at least showing you have the manners to try.
posted by alasdair at 11:48 AM on April 22, 2005


I have to ask...
Is there anywhere in the world that believes picking one's teeth with a foreign object during a business meeting is acceptable behavior?
ew. ewewew.
posted by Kellydamnit at 11:57 AM on April 22, 2005


Do not scribble unflattering physical descriptions of a person (e.g. "Buck teeth, bad suit") on his business card as an aid to memory.

That is such a good idea, I would go one further and have unflattering physical characteristics printed on my own business card.

Lurching drunk, often insists that you "smell this real quick", ludicrous comb-over.
posted by Divine_Wino at 11:58 AM on April 22, 2005


I suppose drawing bitter, sarcastic, biting comments on the back is right out?
posted by cm at 12:25 PM on April 22, 2005


We actually learned most of those rules in my 100 level college Japanese class.

At first I thought it was just one of those things they do to teach us about cultural customs and make the classroom exercices more organized. Much later I discovered that this really is something that is followed pretty strictly.
posted by p3t3 at 12:27 PM on April 22, 2005


A Western businessman once famously lost a big deal for picking his teeth with one of his colleagues' business cards.

Who knew picking your teeth in a meeting could have such disastrous repercussions? I can still scratch my crotch, though, right?
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 12:31 PM on April 22, 2005


I didn't see it directly mentioned, but in Japan, don't keep your cards in your wallet if you keep your wallet in your back pocket, and don't put received cards in anything that you store in your back pocket. Your best bet is a business card case that you store in the breast pocket of your jacket. Your cards go on one side, and received cards go on the other.
posted by spacewrench at 12:32 PM on April 22, 2005


My friend went to Japan knowing the importance of business cards. He wanted his to be "special" so he chose the round cut corners. It wasn't until his last day that someone pulled him aside to tell him that round cut corners are the sign of a prostitute.

Or so the story goes. Can anyone confirm the rounded corner thing?
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:35 PM on April 22, 2005


"Since someone must, I'll bring up the priceless business card scene in American Psycho."

And since someone must, I'll bring up a scene from a movie that doesn't suck: the bit in the awesome Shaolin Soccer where Mighty Steel Leg, the homeless kung fu master, presents his sodden business card to Fung. He does it just like these sites describe, with both hands, and carefully. However, it's pretty dirty, as he's a street person who collects trash for a living. As an added joke, he takes back the card once Fung's done with it.

Now the whole scene makes more sense to me, and is funnier. (Of course, this isn't a Japanese movie, but the same cultural idea seems to apply.) Thanks, Kevin.
posted by koeselitz at 12:38 PM on April 22, 2005


More Japanese business etiquette presented in bizarre Flash animation at How to Bow. Also discussed on MeFi.
posted by zsazsa at 12:48 PM on April 22, 2005


round cut corners are the sign of a prostitute.

And knowing it is the sign of a john.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:53 PM on April 22, 2005


Handing over a business card with a roach missing doesn't tend to go down well in some circles. Taking a business card, glancing at it, exclaiming 'HA!' and chucking it over your shoulder neither.
posted by i_cola at 1:03 PM on April 22, 2005


Rounded corners are not (AFAIK) only used on prostitutes' cards, but the story as I have it is that they are only used on women's cards (the round corner thus becomes a quick way of identifying the cards that men can ignore). I've seen some counter-examples though (round corners on men's cards), so take that with a grain of salt. And of course, there are plenty of women who carry square-cornered cards. Cardstock thickness also can be an indicator of importance within an organization.

The other Japanese card-etiquette trick--which actually makes a lot of sense--is that after you do the obligatory meishi-kokan (exchange of cards) between everyone at the beginning of a meeting, you leave the cards in front of you, arranged around you in the same order as the people at the meeting are seated. That way you've got an easy reminder for their names.
posted by adamrice at 1:09 PM on April 22, 2005


Another bit of useful advice. When pitching your company to a venture capitalist, don't clip your nails.
posted by Nelson at 1:13 PM on April 22, 2005


What a useful thread. Wish it'd happened a week ago.
posted by absalom at 1:18 PM on April 22, 2005


Anybody stupid enough to pick their teeth with someone else's business card in a meeting is too stupid to do business with.
posted by caddis at 1:31 PM on April 22, 2005


GeorgeSpiggott. Another useful tip:
Never pull out your stack of business cards, don a Las Vegas dealers cap and start dealing cards out while yelling in a booming voice "Low spade in the hole splits the pot!"
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 1:31 PM on April 22, 2005


I've read and followed these bits of advice to good effect. I apparently committed a faux pas when I pulled out my cards before the leader of the group visiting from Japan pulled out his; he sort of panicked and pulled his cards out as fast as he could. I felt like I'd inadvertantly embarrased him.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:33 PM on April 22, 2005


Same thing here MrMoonPie. I was called to join the meeting about halfway through and came ambling in. They all got up and handed me their cards with both hands, bowed and backed away for the next one. I stood there like a dope for a few seconds, got out my stack and started handing them out. It was awkward but they were cool about it.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 1:39 PM on April 22, 2005


Once, when handed a business card by someone whom I knew but did not particularly like, for a business I knew I would never use, I nearly handed it back to him after cursory examination. I caught myself, though, and tucked it into my pocket, where it stayed until he was out of sight, and then it hit the garbage can.
posted by AdamJ at 1:46 PM on April 22, 2005


Is there anywhere in the world that believes picking one's teeth with a foreign object during a business meeting is acceptable behavior?

Here maybe.
posted by DeepFriedTwinkies at 1:54 PM on April 22, 2005


Hmm, yes... I like to fold them into tiny paper animals for my tiny paper circus, even though it really isn't the same since that rogue tiny paper elephant kicked over a tiny paper oil lamp last year... the dying screams of the tiny paper clowns still haunt me... running around in tiny paper circles, tiny paper wigs aflame...
posted by naomi at 2:23 PM on April 22, 2005


It's customary among the elite New York law firms for business cards to have no indicator either of the nature of the firm or the rank or profession of the person ... a piece of false modesty, if you ask me, but neverthless a pretty hallowed tradition.

It always draws an odd reaction from Asian business people, enough so that I know at least a few people who've gone to the trouble of having alternate business cards printed up, but always kept carefully separate so that they don't appear gauche by giving them out to non-Asians.

When traveling in India I was asked for a card by pretty much every person at every establishment I visited in India. I'd no idea that would happen, and ran out of cards before the end of my trip. The looks I got when I had no card were pretty withering...
posted by MattD at 2:23 PM on April 22, 2005


I got a business card... because I wanna win some lunches. That's what my business card says: "Mitch Hedberg, Potential Lunch Winner." Gimme a call, maybe we'll have lunch. If I'm lucky!
posted by jcruelty at 2:34 PM on April 22, 2005


It's good etiquette to fold people's business cards into a depth 3 Menger's sponge during a business meeting, though, right?
posted by jlub at 2:39 PM on April 22, 2005


A fairly well-respected artist friend of mine by the name of Michael Fernandes collects business cards wherever he goes, and then stamps his own business card on the back.

It says: Michael Fernandes - I am an artist, I have no skills.

I love it.
posted by paultron at 2:46 PM on April 22, 2005


MattD, that's SOP in a lot of places. If you're really important you don't need to advertise your position. This is a big thing, in some circles.
posted by nixerman at 3:55 PM on April 22, 2005


I hand out business cards without my name. If I have to tell them who I am, I don't want to hear from them.
posted by Slagman at 4:30 PM on April 22, 2005


Wait, wait.

So it's rude for an American to handle business cards in typical American fashion while abroad. Right, that makes total sense. I got it.

But, then, would it not be rude for an, e.g., Japanese business to continue to treat cards with reverence and ceremony while in the USA? "When in Rome...", right?
posted by Eamon at 4:51 PM on April 22, 2005


But, then, would it not be rude for an, e.g., Japanese business to continue to treat cards with reverence and ceremony while in the USA? "When in Rome...", right?

Why would that be rude? If anything, I think it might be perceived as overly deferential.

For what it's worth, all the Japanese colleagues I've dealt with (in Japan and in the U.S.) have had a lot of experience working with Americans, and they weren't fazed by my relatively informal handling of the card exchange. I think allowances are often made for foreigners....
posted by mr_roboto at 5:04 PM on April 22, 2005


I never could understand the whole business card-thing with the Japanese. You clumsy oaf! You're manhandling my soooouuul!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:47 PM on April 22, 2005


". . .something as seemingly inconsequential as the mishandling of a business card can be a deal killer in Japan. . .Arriving in Japan without an ample stock of business cards is akin to arriving barefoot, and central to card etiquette is giving and receiving the card with a proper level of solemnity. Cards should be studied, not shoved in a pocket without a glance."

. . .and they weren't fazed by my relatively informal handling of the card exchange. I think allowances are often made for foreigners....

I think they were being polite and I would be careful about thinking that allowances are made for foreigners.
posted by mlis at 5:50 PM on April 22, 2005


Eamon >>> So it's rude for an American to handle business cards in typical American fashion while abroad. Right, that makes total sense. I got it.

No, it's a matter of doing what's most polite in any given situation. Only the most narrow-minded people would find a bit of polite ceremony to be rude.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:19 PM on April 22, 2005


"most polite"?

I seem to have misplaced my Absolute World Manners Handbook. Would you lend me yours, please?
posted by Eamon at 6:24 PM on April 22, 2005


Anyone want to bet it was John Blackthorne who was picking his teeth with Lord Toranaga's business card?
posted by rolypolyman at 8:39 PM on April 22, 2005


That really sounds like a "Prince Philip" kind of thing to do.
posted by clevershark at 8:47 PM on April 22, 2005


I know a guy who upon getting hired found a whole big carton of business cards in his desk from the guy who had been fired, same job title. So he razored the guys name out of the cards and rubber stamped his underneath.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:44 PM on April 22, 2005


Civil_Disobedient : " I never could understand the whole business card-thing with the Japanese. You clumsy oaf! You're manhandling my soooouuul!"

Meh, the same thing could be said for pretty much any custom. Us Westerners with our little fetish for only shaking the RIGHT hand, not the LEFT hand, goddamnit! And firmly! Don't grab the fingers, make sure the base of the thumbs meet, pansy! And don't look out the window or shake hands while reading a book. Look the person you're talking to in the eye! And LET GO OF MY HAND, YOU'VE BEEN SHAKING IT FOR 2 MINUTES NOW!!

So, yeah, customs are silly things. Nice, but silly.
posted by Bugbread at 5:55 AM on April 23, 2005


"I like your blog." "Cut the shit and buy my stuff." As found on the back of a business card at gapingvoid. If you need new business cards, I just started a thread on AskMe on the topic: lots of suggestions in the older threads as well.
posted by fionab at 11:50 AM on April 23, 2005


picking your teeth with anyhting but a sharpened pencil is just gross.
posted by Satapher at 1:23 PM on April 23, 2005


Effort seems to be what has most meaning in international situations (both business and otherwise). A conscious effort not to be an Ugly American seems to go a long way.
posted by gnash at 9:47 AM on April 24, 2005


re: the picking teeth thing...
When I was living in Japan, I heard a story of an executive of a major company that was meeting with three people from a smaller company to discuss a deal. After the exchange of business cards, and before they got down to business, the executive took the card of the smaller companies least senior person, and used it to pick his teeth.
The spectacular rudeness was his way of showing who had the power at the meeting, and was a strategic way of setting the tone.
(This tactic is not recommended for foreigners.)
posted by bashos_frog at 9:31 PM on April 24, 2005


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