A few years ago I visited Japan for a symposium. The symposium involved a BBQ and a huge amount of small piles of rice wrapped in black stuff, it was pretty amazing. I think we also talked about science, but that seems to be secondary to me spending the week in a form of mild culture shock as I tried to get used to the Japanese opinion on how to cook chicken (apparently sometimes not at all) and how to hand over a business card.

For those that haven’t experienced the Japanese business card ritual it’s fairly simple.

First you are introduced to someone, you both bow, then using both hands the person will hand you their business card (while bowing again). You are then expected to study this and look interested. Then you need to fish out your own business card and hand it to them, again with both hands while bowing. They also study it with interest and you both look pleased before repeating this with the next person you’re being introduced to.

The first time this happened I was less than great at it. I bowed awkwardly, I had to be prompted to get out my business cards and with one person I tried to give them the previous person’s business card. By the end I had forgotten who everyone was and had the look of a particularly anxious rabbit staring into headlights.

I think I was just glad that I actually had some business cards. For the first 3 years of proper employment I didn’t even have any at all. Despite going to a lot of meetings and being sent to trade shows apparently as a lowly researcher I was only allowed the generic company cards.

This meant that for years I had to write my details to then give them to people. It looked super professional and was not at all ruined by my terrible handwriting. Eventually I was upgraded to proper printed ones… a few months before I left the company. I currently use them for various kids craft projects.

But when I first got business cards I was really excited to use them. I was actually pretty proud that I had graduated from student to ‘person with a business card’. It felt like some kind of real achievement, even if it was about £25/100 cards worth of achievement.

I think a younger me would have quite liked making more of a ceremony out of business cards given how much it meant to me. In the UK it seems that handing out business cards is as simple as tossing them at people across a meeting table. Sometimes they aren’t even remarked upon, small talk about the weather continues as small bits of card are flung at each other across a meeting table.

Even handing them out person to person is efficient and brisk. It’s only ever commented upon if you are actually asking someone to contact you. So little is made of it that my biggest problem is remembering where I put my business cards and where I put other people’s. After many many times of accidentally handing the wrong business card to people I also now have a system where other people’s go in one pocket and I keep mine in the other.

This system is flawless for the 5 minutes I remember it and then devolves quickly into me forgetting which pocket has which in. So if you meet me and I start patting myself, it’s not a nervous tick I’m just trying to work out which pocket has my business cards in. Which I guess for me is a ritual of a kind. It might not be as fancy as the Japanese method, but at least it makes a little more ceremony out of it. Now let me give you a- *pat pat pat*

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