Tuesday, November 3, 2009

In which the bumbling American makes a faux pas

I knew about the business card culture in Asia. Rather, I thought I knew about the business card culture in Asia. I knew about how you are supposed to hand over your card using both hands, print facing the recipient. When you receive the card, you are to look it over and then carefully put it in your breast pocket. I'm not sure where it's appropriate for women to put them.

What I did NOT know is that in Asia, business cards are handed out like relief supplies after a flood (said one of my Asian colleagues). My colleagues in the Singapore office said they go through boxes and boxes of cards every year.

I have barely made a dent in my own box of cards, which I received nearly five years ago. I carry around maybe 10 cards at most at any given time and those 10 cards tend to remain in my wallet for months at a time. As a web editor I don't encounter too many people with whom I exchange cards.

Last night, some colleagues invited me along to some industry parties. I should preface this by also adding that last week when I arrived, the office manager asked if I needed her to order me any cards. At the time I thought that a strange question and I replied that no, I was good. (I had many in my wallet. Ten or twelve even!)

So, I go to these two parties and my colleagues are exchanging cards with contacts left and right and they introduce me as a person working on the web and these people are handing me their cards and I am saying: "Thank you, but I'm not actually in the industry. Please keep your card to give to someone else so that you don't run out of them." Neither of the people I'm with (both Singapore natives) is telling me this is the wrong thing to say, I might add.

Apparently what is even worse than refusing a proferred card is implying that you are too good to take the person's card.

The Singapore office found my actions extremely amusing and they laughed heartily at me. I protested that they ought to have warned me! This made them laugh even harder. If they weren't being so welcoming in every other regard, I would have to hold a grudge.

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