Asia and its business card culture

‘Aren’t business cards outdated?’ I thought to myself the first time I received one in a meeting. Then I received another one, and another one, until I realized I will be receiving them at every business meeting. Granted, I come from the startup world. I realize there are times when business cards are still very useful, especially in big corporations. But I thought I was running a startup in Vietnam. How you greet people in Asian cultures seemed just as important as how you hand out your business card.

The process is the same every time – If you’re younger (which I always was), as you say hello, you hand over your card with both hands and if possible, you give a little bow. You do this to every person in the room, until all members have received your card and you receive theirs. Make sure to start with whoever has the highest position. If you’re older, you still hand out your card, but you don’t make the first move. That’s what I was supposed to do, but I never did.

I would be throwing these stacks of cards away thinking how bad this was for the environment because people are using paper for redundant purposes. I would wonder why people wouldn’t use their smartphones and if it’s really necessary to get one every single time. I refused to make one for myself and my co-founder, even though I knew we were the younger ones, so we were technically more obligated to follow the customs. At a lot of the meetings I already knew their names and had their phone numbers to begin with, which made me feel even more awkward. From producers, to managers, to receptionists, regardless of gender or age, I would be getting their card.  

Then I realized that I don’t have to understand. After a lot of inner rebellion and resistance, I realized I’m the odd one out here. If I met a Japanese in Europe and he was chewing out loud, I would think he is being disrespectful. For him it would probably mean showing appreciation for the meal. Business cards should be looked at the same way. It’s become a part of the local culture that I should either respect or be considered disrespectful. Perhaps one day everybody will catch up and rely on their smartphones to exchange contact information, like I’m used to in the US. Or perhaps this will be the tradition for years to come. Either way, I don’t have to understand. 

*I wrote this post in 2014 while running Comic Con.