My previous two blogs have focused on the etiquette bus cardsand rituals
surrounding (or not) the exchange of business cards in the Far East and in passing cards with cultural fluency. This blog focuses on How and when to offer your business card when you do business in the Anglo-Saxon countries.

It seems a really strange topic for someone in the UK to read/write about it because we almost don’t care and aren’t bothered – we just ‘toss’ them around and ’dish’ them out as and when required without much thought. It’s a very informal gesture – but – that informality has a MUCH deeper meaning…

I distinctly remember speaking at a conference for 800 newly appointed senior managers of an international firm based in the US. I asked “Who is carrying their business cards right now?” 90% weren’t. Why weren’t they? They didn’t think they needed to because it was ‘just’ an internal meeting. This would never happen outside of the Anglo-Saxon countries!  

You see, for us, a business card is just a function of business: a reminder to someone else of who we are and how they can contact us. In an ‘internal’ meeting, as above even with 800 people, business cards serve no purpose. They don’t give us status and they are not what give us an identity. And, anyone wanting to know contact details can look them up in the internal directory system.

In the West, business cards are strictly for networking and careful consideration must be made about if and when to proffer the card. Not least because it can also leave a negative impression. We often use the adjectives “flash” and “presumptuous” about those who dish out the card too readily. Therefore, in order not to seem too forward, we give them away very casually.

While business cards do serve an important networking function in Japan, the primary function of the meishi is to be an emissary of the owner, the body’s paper envoy preparing the grounds for exchange with the precise written instructions of how its owner must be treated. While the English term ‘business card’ is merely a bland description, the Japanese term ‘meishi’ contains two characters which literally mean ‘point at the name’. If the Western business card is something meant for future reference, the Japanese meishi is a way of smoothing communication by revealing one’s true status.

Here are a few tips on the way business cards are offered in the US, UK, and Australia. I’M TOLD South Africa is similar. 

  1. Rather than offer your card when you first meet people, wait to be asked for it.
  2. Showering your cards around like rain is not regarded as professional behaviour.
  3. Don’t be someone who passes out business cards to everyone, but doesn’t know anybody. We see people who pass out lots of cards as being ‘shallow’ and insincere.
  4. People who push their business cards on others are seen as ‘pushy’ and vulgar – it’s the height of bad taste in business.
  5. When people ask you for your card, take it as a sign that they have seen that you could be potentially valuable to them. Until they ask – you have more work to do!
  6. Always ask and receive your opposite’s business card before you attempt to hand them yours. Never before.
  7. Ask for cards near the end of a conversation and use your request as part of the process of bringing a conversation to a close.
  8. If you collect someone else’s card and they don’t ask for yours, they could be someone who doesn’t see the value of building relationships or they are simply rude.
  9. One situation when it is good to offer your card before you are asked for yours – is when you offer tangible help that they would benefit from and appreciate – with NO personal benefit to you. Encourage the person to take you up on your offer by offering your card and insist they contact you for the help.
  10. If you want to pass your card to someone who has not yet asked for yours , just ask permission to give them yours: ‘May I give you my card….’ And the reason why you think they should have it.
  11. If you have a unique or difficult name to pronounce or remember, offer your name slowly and clearly and then hand them your business card and say – “I’ve found that most individuals have a problem with my name – so here’s my card so you can see how its spelled.” This way you are seen to be helping those you meet, rather than pushing your card on to them.
  12. Writing notes on someone’s business card to remind you of a follow up action you must take is perfectly acceptable and shows you are taking a real interest in them.
  13. Don’t say goodbye to an interesting person unless you have their details. They can be written on the back of one of your cards – (cross out the front to make sure you don’t give it away to someone else).

Read a story illustrating the East vs West differences in business card giving.

Find more information about cross cultural differences in the exchange of business cards by clicking on the following links:

Top Ten Tips on passing business cards with cultural fluency

Japan: everything you need to know about business card ‘meishi’ etiquette

U.S.,  Britain, Australia: Business Card Etiquette

The art of business card giving: an East West perspective

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This entry was posted on Saturday, August 22nd, 2009 at 8:27 pm and is filed under cross-cultural communication, Europe, General, working internationally . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

5 Responses to “ U.S., Britain, Australia: Business Card Etiquette ”

  1. ankit d. mittal says:

    thanks for the info, but I haven’t been able to notice most of these characteristics while exchanging cards in UK and US.

    Will be more careful next time !


  2. طباعة says:

    this is great – thank you

  3. ben says:

    I still haven’t any cool business cards, so I am thinking if I should do them myself or leave it to a professional designer. What do you guys think?

  4. My name is Piter Jankovich. oOnly want to tell, that your blog is really cool
    And want to ask you: is this blog your hobby?
    P.S. Sorry for my bad english

  5. Taylor Lewis says:

    i was a former employee and now i am making my best effort to start up a small business.’“