Cultural faux pas are quite one thing to experience in another country, and a whole other story when they happen in the place you call home. Last night, I had the honor of being the official photographer at a Japanese food event held in downtown Seattle. It was an “Iron Chef” style cooking competition between two local chefs, resulting in the winner being sent on to Japan to represent the Pacific Northwest in the final world showdown. In many ways, this is the type of event that I absolutely thrive in–a packed agenda, tons of people and action to photograph, and free reign to shoot from wherever in the venue I wanted. But there was one aspect of the event that threw me off: Japanese business card etiquette.
For all of the praises I sing about being a self taught, self employed freelancer, there is one downside I experience every now and then: a lack of guidance or etiquette when it comes to certain situations. Most of the time, I’m completely oblivious when I’ve done something that classically trained professionals might raise their eyebrows at. It usually isn’t until after the fact, when I replay the scenario in my head when my mental ethics alarm starts going off and I start to wonder if I handled a situation unprofessionally. That was how I felt after the first couple business card exchanges at the event last night, when I started observing others and seeing that they were handling the situation completely differently. No wonder those first couple people I met seemed a little put off when I simply pocketed their business cards!
Anyway, the lesson here is this: always be aware of any potential cultural differences of business etiquette when dealing with clients, especially if they come from another country. While I don’t think it’s possible to memorize every single country’s customs and manners, it helps to at least observe your surroundings and see how other people are interacting, and adjusting your behavior accordingly.
With regard to last night’s Japanese business etiquette, I found a slew of articles online when I Googled the question after the event. Here are some key aspects that I wish I’d known earlier:
- In Japanese business etiquette, business cards are a ‘must have’. Be sure to carry at least 100 business cards with you during a trip and expect to give out 3 – 4 business cards at a small meeting and as many as 10 – 12 a bigger meeting.
- Make sure your business card is double-sided. One side should display your company logo and contact info in Japanese, and the other side in English.
- Always present your Japanese business card using both hands. Make sure the Japanese-language side facing forward, and present your card to the most senior member of the Japanese party first, bowing slightly. Never ever toss, throw, or casually use one hand when presenting a business card.
- When accepting a business card, use both hands. Be respectful and say “Thank you” or “Hajimenmashite.”
- Once you receive a Japanese business card, read over the details carefully. It is important to fully acknowledge each piece of information printed on the card as a way of introduction.
- Do not write notes on a Japanese business card, and do not fidget with it. After you are done with the business card exchange, be sure to carefully put the card away in your business card holder. Treat the business card respectfully, as Japanese people take them very seriously.