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Why business cards are essential in Asia | Asian Business Culture

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In Asia, business cards is like American Express: you never leave home without it. Learn why business cards are essential when doing business in Asia, and a rule of thumb to calculate the number of cards you’ll need on your trip.

First in a series on business cards, and in doing business in Asia.

By Karn G. Bulsuk

Related articles on how to deal with business cards in Asia:

One of the most common mistakes I see people making when going to do business in Asia is their lack of understanding on just how important the humble business card is.

In Asian cultures where rank, status and hierarchy are of importance, a business card is your pride and joy. It is an extension of your identity, and serves to announce your position and thus your level in the hierarchy.

When an Asian business person receives a card, they will instinctively look for your rank. Your position on the overall hierarchy will affect the level of respect that you will receive and that you are expected to give to your counterpart. In addition, your position also signifies the weight your words have – the lower the position in comparison to your counterpart, the less credible you are regardless of how much experience you may bring to the table.

An Asian business person can become quite uncomfortable without this social context. Worse, to be without a business card signifies that you are unprepared, unimportant and effectively, no one.

Given the importance of name cards, you will literally be giving them out to everyone you meet. What surprises many of my Western colleagues is that they will also be giving cards to people within the same company, and not only to clients and customers.

To ensure you've prepared enough cards, a key rule of thumb is to count the people you're going to meet, double it and round to the nearest hundred: this is roughly the number of cards you'll be likely to give out.

It’s better to be prepared and bring excessive number of cards: there is no worse position to be then standing with a senior member of a client, awkwardly apologising for your lack of cards. To paraphrase Queen Victoria, they will certainly not be amused.

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  • ThomasAda said:  

    Good article. However, I slightly disagree about "don't imitate the accent". I feel that this will depend on the language you are trying to learn and the society you are living in. If it's a tonal language, or one where having a strange accent will likely lead to being misunderstood or not understood at all, it is best if you can adapt to the local accent as closely as possible, otherwise it may never be possible to be accepted as speaking the local language. Languages where imitating the local accent would be recommended include most Asian languages, such as Chinese, Thai, Khmer, Vietnamese, Burmese, Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia etc.

    Languages where this strategy will not work as well would be English, Spanish, French and many others, in which case adapting to the accent will either take some time or not at all, depending on your ability to learn and adapt new languages.

    The key difference is that the above mentioned languages have fewer variants and non-native speakers (and are generally not spoken outside their respective home countries) than the languages mentioned below and therefore native English and Spanish speakers will be far more likely to be accustomed to foreigners speaking their languages than say Thai, Khmer, Vietnamese or even Chinese speakers.

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