Keep your cards close to your chest...

Business Cards cartoon

Travelling abroad? Leave your business cards at home and you could be in more trouble than you think

The first time I became truly aware of how important the business card is in Asia was when I visited Japan for work back in the mid-Nineties (the first time I went there, back in the early Eighties, I spent most of my visit in nightclubs, where, unless they had ‘Friend of Duran Duran’, or even better, ‘Relative of Duran Duran’, or indeed ‘Member of Duran Duran’ written on them, any business cards would have been seriously surplus to requirements).

Everywhere I went on that trip, I was introduced to at least three or four identical and deferential middle-aged men, all wearing dark blue suits.

They would bow ever so slightly and then slowly open their wallet and offer me their business card as though it were a scripture, or at the very least a highly treasured or possibly long-lost key to the executive washroom.

But it was only after day three, when I was taken aside and briefed by an embarrassed, red-faced interpreter, that I suddenly realised how repeatedly rude I had been by not offering a card in return, as though the potential recipient were simply not good enough to receive one.

Since then I have always taken them. When I can remember, that is. Around four years ago I was on a week’s business trip to China, and it dawned on me as we were touching down in Shanghai that I had forgotten to bring my cards, which meant I had to get some FedExed out from the UK as soon as I got to my hotel. It was expensive, but totally worth it, because in China a man without a business card is like a man without a penis. Or at the very least a man without his high-waisted trousers.

Business cards are now big at the sharp end of the service industry, too.

I was in India last month staying at various Oberoi hotels – in Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Udaipur – and I have to say they offer the best service of any hotel I’ve ever stayed in. Not only is everyone amazingly attentive – you’re not allowed to open any door, carry any bag, or indeed fold your own newspaper – but also they offer their business card to you as a matter of course, as though not to would be the most dreadful social faux pas. I now have a rather considerable collection of them, so if I ever need to contact the Assistant Food and Beverage Manager of the Oberoi in Agra, I won’t need to go via the front desk.

It was only when I was briefed by a red-faced interpreter that I realised how rude I'd been not to offer my card in return

Cards are still important in the US as well, and whenever I go there I always carry a box of them inscribed with ‘Editor-In-Chief’. Of course, I’m not Editor-In-Chief (we don’t really have the title in the UK, and unless it’s used to describe more of a managerial, executive role, it’s usually thought to be a tad pretentious), but as everyone who works on American magazines is some sort of editor (in the same way that everyone who works on American magazines has at least two assistants), the word has been somewhat devalued.

Editor-In-Chief screams, ‘I KICK SERIOUS BUTT’, while Editor just whispers, ‘At work I have my own telephone.’ Nothing wrong with having your own telephone, of course, but you get my drift.

And as far as the future of the business card is concerned, the US is fundamentally where the problem lies. Because everyone in gainful employment is the Vice President of this or the Executive Assistant of that, even the mostly lowly office member has his or her own business card – it’s encouraged by the management, in order for that person to gain some self-respect. Which means that in the big US cities even the valet-parking intern has his own card (sometimes two – one containing his ‘exclusive’ private cell).

And as for Hollywood? Don’t get me started.

Trust me, there are few things worse than organising a meeting with a serious Hollywood player, only to be told on arrival that ‘Brad is busy with a client right now, so he asked me to come along and sit in the lobby with you guys for not a second longer than ten minutes, without offering you anything to eat or drink, while not listening to what you say or indeed taking you seriously at all. So how long are you guys in town for? Really? That’s great. I’ve really got to run.’

And the thing is, in Hollywood, you’ll often only be given a business card at the end of a meeting, which can make the whole experience feel brutally demeaning.

Don’t believe me? Try imagining you’ve just had a meeting with someone you think is a senior figure in an agency, only to be handed a card at the end that says ‘Jed LeTouk III: Executive Senior (Joint Deputy) Vice President in charge of Administrative Facilitation and Creative Research’. You won’t exactly feel like a Master of the Universe after that, let me tell you.

Predictably, as the business world becomes increasingly obsessed with this method of identifying itself, early adopters are moving on, and if you’re still keen to use them, the only business cards to be seen with these days are ones that have your name on them and nothing else. You don’t know how to get hold of me? That’s your problem, pally, not mine.

Here, have my card.

Dylan Jones is the editor of GQ

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