By Guest Blog Post Author David Grebow on behalf of VistaPrint.com
Using a business card correctly in a global economy takes some knowledge about the way other cultures use their cards. Here’s a short primer on business card do’s and don’ts
Doing business in a flat world means you will be doing business with people from other countries. Whether you are traveling to a meeting in another country, or the people from another country are coming to meet with you in the U.S., etiquette is etiquette. It is important to show that you know the proper way things are done in their country.
As it happens everywhere, the meeting usually begins with the passing of the business cards. I said usually, but we’ll get to that. First, the general rules of playing international business cards.
In most countries, with the exceptions being North America and Western Europe, the exchange of business cards is a ceremony of great importance. Let’s begin with some general tips.
The current universal standard has not changed in many years. The business card still needs to include the name of the person, the company name, a company logo, if applicable, and the relevant contact information, including:
- Street address
- Postal code
- Telephone and fax numbers with country codes, and
- Email addresses
Traditionally, black ink is used on white card stock. The typeface, usually serif, should be legible and professional-looking. The international standard for card size is 85.60 x 53.98 mm (3.370 x 2.125 inches).
Business cards are an internationally recognized means of remembering who was at the meeting. Make sure you have enough clean cards and that they contain the most up-to-date contact information.
Here are more tips on the card exchange:
- When you are presented with a business card from anyone, make a point of looking at it and asking any questions you might have about the information printed on it. Do not just slip it into your pocket.
- Business cards are generally exchanged at the beginning of the first meeting and not at any followup meeting unless new people are in the room, and then only they exchange business cards.
- Do not carry your cards loose in your pockets or allow them to become bent or dirty. Invest in a small, discreet card case.
- Never write on your card or on any card you receive unless directed to do so.
- In North America and most of Europe, it is acceptable to have a simple statement or selling point about your business or service. However, it’s not such a good idea when presenting the card outside those geographical regions.
A few words about words. It is good etiquette for any meeting with businesspeople from another country to also print your contact information in their language on the back of the card. It is also good business etiquette to present the card so the recipient’s language is face up and facing them so they can read it as you hand it to them.
Hire a professional translator or agency and make sure your title indicates your position in the company hierarchy. 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.
Now for the fun part: Other countries and other business-card presentation etiquette. Here are a few of the key tips to remember:
- Business cards are considered an extension of your business and are exchanged with great ceremony. (That’s why this list of proper etiquette is so long.)
- Invest in quality cards using a better card stock than you would normally choose.
- Always keep your business cards in pristine condition.
- Treat the business card you receive with great respect.
- Make sure your business card includes your title since the Japanese place emphasis on status and hierarchy.
- Business cards are always received with the right language facing the receiver using two hands holding the card by the corners.
- When receiving a card, bow out of respect and read the card as if to memorize the name and title so you can match it to the person later.
- 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.
- Never present a business card during a meal.
- During a meeting, place the business cards on the table in front of you in the order people are seated.
- When the meeting is over, put the business cards in a card case or a portfolio, not in your pocket.
- Have one side of your business card translated into Cantonese or Mandarin and printed in gold ink.
- Your business card should include your title.
- If your company is the oldest or largest in your country, that fact should be highlighted on your card.
- Same basic presentation rules listed above for Japan also apply to China. Hold the card in both hands when offering it and bow, and carefully read the card when you are on the receiving end.
- Present your card before you ask for one from the recipient.
- Never write on someone else’s card unless so directed, since it is considered a sign of disrespect.
- If you have a university degree or any honor, put it on your business card.
- Always use your right hand to give and receive business cards. Note: This practice should be followed with businesspeople from any Islamic country as well as from many parts of Africa.
- Business cards need not be translated into Hindi as English is widely spoken within the business community.
- In India, business cards are exchanged even in non-business situations, generally after the initial handshake and greeting.
- Always present the card in a way that the recipient may read the text as the card is being handed to them.
- When you receive a business card from a Korean, simply nod your head as a gesture of respect and thank the person for the opportunity to meet with them. No need to bow.
- Unlike in other Asian countries, it is appropriate to put the card away immediately in a simple card holder. 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.
- Again, present your card with both hands, Korean text 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 you.
- Language, again, is important. When you conduct business with a Brazilian, have business cards printed one side in English and the other in Portuguese.
- Distribute these to everyone present when they arrive, making sure the Portuguese text is facing up.
- If you arrive first, present your cards right away.
Here are a few general rules for other countries, as well:
- In Iran, only senior-level individuals exchange business cards.
- In other Arabic nations, like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, cards are given to everyone you meet.
- In Hungary, on the translated side, your surname should precede your given name.
- In Spain and Turkey, the business card should be presented to the receptionist upon arrival.
As you can tell, every country has its own way of conducting business and its own business card etiquette. Make sure, aside from learning the above rules, that you talk with someone who does business with the country you want to learn more about. Use the library or go online. Contact the Department of State or the country’s embassy. What you do — or do not do — will set the tone for your entire meeting.
For more information, visit: http://www.ats-sea.agr.gc.ca/exp/3754-eng.htm#g.
Guest Blog Post Author
David Grebow is a freelance business journalist who writes for Vistaprint, a global leader in marketing products and services for small businesses. David is a writer, editor, and author of many books, including “A Compass for the Knowledge Economy.” He holds an MBA from Harvard, and his work has been published in Harvard Business Review and The Economist.
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