When in Rome: Business Card Etiquette
Posted on November 30, 2016
Here in the U.S., we often have a casual approach when it comes to business cards. We give and accept each other’s cards unceremoniously, viewing them only as a future source of contact information. Some Americans view business cards as archaic, preferring to connect and share details through social media. Elsewhere in the world, the business card has a much larger role than just being a 3.5 x 2 inch piece of paper, it’s an extension of its owner. To get a better idea of just how important this small item is, the NDTO has collected different approaches to business cards from around the world.
Business cards are arguably the most important in the country of Japan. Within Japan’s hierarchical culture, everyone has their role and status within the group. It is thus imperative for potential business partners to know where you stand within your company. This is achieved by presenting your company and an accurate job title on your business card. You may initiate the presenting of business cards by bowing your head slightly and holding out your card with each hand holding a corner of the card. The Japanese translation side should be face up with the text facing its recipient. Your card should be given to the highest ranking person in the vicinity first, which is usually the oldest person. It is believed your card is a representation of you. Consider purchasing a higher quality card stock for international travels.
When receiving a card in Japan, be sure to accept the card with both hands, using your fingers to grab the bottom corners of the card. Give a slight bow as you take the card and study it momentarily before putting it into a card case. Making a comment or clarification of the information is considered polite. Don’t put it into your pocket, write on it, or absent mindedly play with it in front of your counterpart.
China’s business card etiquette is similar to Japan’s. One side of your card should be translated into the dialect of Chinese that is applicable to the region you are visiting. It is polite to initiate the presenting of business cards by holding out your card with both hands, text legible to the recipient. Study all received business cards before putting them away. Titles are also important in China and yours should be clearly written on the card. Gold is a lucky color in China, and can be an auspicious touch when used in moderation.
Further south, Australians have a similar, yet less formal process when it comes to business cards. Cards should be exchanged face up during introductions. When receiving a card, be sure to comment or clarify the information on the card before putting it away.
Moving west to another Asian country, India is slowly embracing the exchange of business cards. You do not need to translate your card into an Indian language as most business and government officials speak English. Senior executives may not reciprocate with a card of their own if you initiated contact with them as they believe you already know how to get in touch. Including any university degrees or honors on your card will add credibility. Use your right hand when offering or accepting cards. In India and many other countries, the right hand is seen as the clean hand while the left has been designated as the dirty hand, used only during bathroom activities.
Brazilians have an interesting way to personalize the exchange of business cards. Before handing over their business card, they will often bend a top corner of the card in order to individualize it for you. The presentation of your business card with a Brazilian Portuguese translation face up will go over well with your counterparts.
A translation will also impress in South Korea, where you should present your card with both hands, Korean side face up, while slightly nodding your head. Business cards should be studied briefly upon receipt, but looking too long is considered rude. Business cards are generously exchanged so bring many.
You won’t have to worry much about business card etiquette in the United Kingdom. The rules, or lack thereof, are similar to the United States. You may ask a British businessperson for their card, although they may not carry any. It is not necessary to study a person’s card; it may be put in your pocket or carrier right away.
Other tips to keep in mind are that Muslim countries adhere to the right hand rule – use your right hand when offering a card, or both hands together. Using only your left hand is considered insulting. Use your right hand to present your business card in Algeria as well, though business cards are not common and it’s likely you won’t receive one in return. In Italy, Turkey and Spain you should offer your card to everyone you meet, including the receptionist during a company visit. In Western Europe, do not pass out your business cards as though you’re dealing a deck of cards; nor should they be stacked on the table at reception. In Hungary, your last name should proceed your first name on the translated side.
In general, keep in mind that your business card represents you when doing business internationally. Spend the extra time and money to present a quality, well designed card. International partners may form a first impression simply based on the appearance of your business card. The extra effort you put into your card equates to the extra effort you put into your business, in the eyes of a buyer.