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Etiquette of Business Cards: How to Avoid Offending Your Hosts?



A business card is an inexpensive, internationally recognized means of representing yourself to business associates and of conveying contact information to them. The card serves as a method of introduction and often includes a simple statement or selling point about your business or service.

The Basics of Card Layout

Typically a business card includes the name of the person, the company name, a company logo if applicable, and the relevant contact information (street address, postal coding, country, telephone and fax numbers, and email addresses.)

Traditionally black ink is used on white card stock. The typeface should be legible and professional. The international standard for card size is 85.60 x 53.98 mm (3.370 x 2.125 inches).

Business Card Etiquette in North America and the UK

In North America and in the United Kingdom business card etiquette is quite loose. Although cards should be kept clean and presentable, it is not uncommon for businessmen to carry cards loose in their pockets or to make notes on the card's back or other blank surfaces. Little if any ceremony is attached to card exchanges..

It is recommended that only one card be presented per person and that cards be handed out at the beginning of meetings (as an aid to remember names) but otherwise as long as general good manners are observed no offense will be given or taken. This is not true, however, in other parts of the world.

General International Business Card Etiquette

Business cards are internationally recognized as a means of introduction and information exchange but in many cultures they are also seen as a representation of the individual. The basic etiquette rule is to present your card in the best manner in which you would present yourself.

Always have a good supply of cards. You will be expected to present them to business contacts -- sometimes more than once in the interest of good manners. Do not carry your cards loose in your pockets or allow them to become soiled. Never write on your card or on any card you receive unless directed to do so. Invest in a small, discreet card case.

Translating Business Cards for International Use

It is considered courteous to provide a translation of the card information on the reverse side. Hire a professional translator or agency. Do not allow any embellishment of the basic information. Card recipients need to know who you are, what your title is, for what company you work, and how to contact you. Make sure your title is accurately conveyed. Transliterating titles has become increasingly acceptable in recent years but it is more important that the rendering of the title indicate your position in the company hierarchy.

Do not translate the address and make sure that numbers are arranged in the order appropriate for the country in which you will be traveling. Also make sure the correct dialect is used and that any cultural nuances are observed. For instance, foreign translations of business cards for use in China are often printed with gold ink, which is considered auspicious.

Exchanging Business Cards Internationally

Understanding the norms and values of the local culture while traveling internationally helps to avoid giving offense. Observing the appropriate etiquette communicates respect and facilitates communication. In many parts of the globe a business card carries much greater significance than a handy means to trade contact information. For the most part, the exchange of cards occurs at the beginning or end of the initial meeting although this detail should be clarified for any given nation before traveling there. Consider the following examples of foreign business card etiquette.

Japan

In Japan the business card is treated with respect and honor as an extension of the person. Consequently, exchanging cards in Japan involves the greatest degree of ceremony and etiquette of any nation. When a card is presented to you, receive it with both hands, bow, and express gratitude to the person for the opportunity to meet with them. Do not put the card away immediately as that would be regarded as rude. You are expected to carefully examine and to memorize the card. It is polite to comment on the card even if you only clarify the address. Under no circumstances should you put the card in your pocket. It should always be placed in a holder. Never make notes on the card's blank areas.

In preparing your own cards select a quality card stock -- usually a grade higher than what you might otherwise select. Make sure that your card carries as accurate a representation of your title as possible. The Japanese place considerable cultural emphasis on status and hierarchy. For the translation the Katakana phonetic writing system has become standard. The horizontal layout is appropriate but the order of the address elements should be: country, state, postal code, city, and street. There is no need to wait to be asked to present your card. You can feel free to do so at any time but never during a meal. Hold the card in both hands by the corners with the Japanese side facing up and with the type toward the recipient so the card can be read. If you are presenting cards to more than one person start with the highest ranking individual and move down according to the protocol of rank.

During a meeting it is customary to arrange the cards you have received on the table in front of you in the order in which the participants are seated. When the meeting ends the cards should be transferred to a card case.

China

In China it is preferable to present your card before you ask for that of the other person. It is not impolite to present your card before you are asked to do so. Make sure that the translation of your card in simplified Chinese characters is in the appropriate dialect (Mandarin or Cantonese.)

If your business is distinguished by being the oldest or the largest (or some similar superlative) the card should convey that fact. As in Japan, the card should be presented with both hands, Chinese translation facing up, with the type toward the recipient so the card can be read. Bow and thank the person for the opportunity to meet with them. Examine the card and perhaps ask for a clarification of some point to convey interest. Never put a card away immediately and never write on a card you receive.

Korea

When you receive a business card in Korea, nod your head as a gesture of respect and thank the person for the opportunity to meet with them. Unlike other Asian countries, it is appropriate to put the card away immediately. Looking at the card too long is regarded as ignorant and impolite.

It is preferred that you present your card to a person before asking for their card. Present your card with both hands, Korean side up, text facing toward the recipient and give a gentle nod of the head. The nodding of the head is especially important when meeting with individuals senior to yourself.

India

In India business cards are exchanged even in non-business situations, generally after the initial handshake and greeting. Always present the card so the recipient may read the text as the card is being handed to them. It is advisable to add any university degrees or honors to your card information. Present and receive cards with your right hand. (This practice should be followed in any Islamic country and in many parts of Africa.) There is no need to have your card translated into Hindi as English is widely spoke in the Indian business community.

Other Nations

Never make the mistake of believing that you understand the card etiquette in one country based on your experience in another. In Iran, for example, only senior-level individuals exchange business cards. In other Arabic nations, like Kuwait or Saudi Arabia, cards are given to everyone you meet. In Hungary, on the translated side, your surname should proceed your given name. In Spain and Turkey the business card should be presented to the receptionist upon arrival.

Conclusion

One of the greatest mistakes you can make as an international business traveler is to assume that your culture's customs and manners will be regarded as good behavior in another country. Knowing how to behave and what to say (and not to say) are vital business skills. Something as simple as presenting your card incorrectly can set a poor tone for an entire meeting or trip.

Before traveling abroad, consult your company's cultural liaison officer or talk with an associate who has traveled widely in the country you will be visiting. If these resources are not available to you, consult sources online or in your local library, speak to someone in the business department at a nearby university, or contact the Department of State or the appropriate cultural attaché. The information is available but it's your responsibility to find it -- your business may depend on it.

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