Biz cards; how to use them internationally

Biz cards; how to use them internationally

In previous blogs we’ve shared the history of the business card and we’ve looked at what it takes to create a business card.  So now that we‘ve got them, what do we do with them?  With whom do we share them, how do we share them, and what do we do with cards we receive? The simple answer is: it all depends where you are and where you are doing business.

In some countries like Indonesia you’ll want to have plenty of cards ready since you will be exchanging them with everyone you meet, even casual acquaintances. In Indonesia and in Luxembourg, even before entering a meeting room you’ll be expected to hand your card to your local associate’s secretary, if you want to be admitted at all. Then you’ll hand another card to your associate once you’re in the room. There are countries such as Nicaragua where providing a business cards is just now becoming commonplace; even if you don’t receive one in exchange, you should still provide yours at business meetings.

In some countries, the proper business card should include your information in English (even if that is not your native tongue) as well as the local language. This might mean that you will be ordering the same card over and over again with various translations depending on how many countries you are visiting. For instance, in Estonia, it’s expected that business cards be translated into Estonian or Russian; in Croatia having your business card translated into Croatian is appreciated, but not obligatory. In Colombia your business cards should be printed in Spanish (at least on one side) and you should present your card with the Spanish side facing up.  Doing business in the United States means your business card must be in English and preferably only in English; other languages serve only as distractions in some cases.

Many people are familiar with the need to present one’s card with both hands while in some Asian countries. But the exchange ritual is so much more complex than that. First of all, this is true only some Asian countries, not all. Secondly, the formal ritual only begins with the 2-handed presentation. Which side of the card is “up” and which way the card it facing are also important to executing a proper exchange. In China and Taiwan be sure to present your card so that the receiver can read your details.  Other rituals in other countries have nothing to do with the card but are no less important. In Mongolia, your sleeves must be rolled down before you present a card; otherwise you have just insulted your host.

In Qatar and Bangladesh neatly lay your counterpart’s card in front of you on the desk or table for the duration of the meeting out of respect. In many countries it’s highly offensive to write anything on someone’s card so if you must make notes, do it on a separate note pad and not on the card. In fact, in Nigeria, it’s a sign of poor manners to write on even your own card! If you need to make a change to the information on your card such as a new phone number, get new cards printed. Of course, shoving someone’s business card in a wallet and then (horror!) putting that wallet in your back pocket where you then sit on it, is the highest insult.

As you can see, when it comes to business cards there are many more do’s and don’ts then there are countries. Learn what to expect before you travel for business, or before a foreign guest visits you.

For more information about the proper etiquette surrounding the use of business cards around the world, refer to AppPropo, the mobile app that brings the world of proper business etiquette to the palm of your hand.


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