Tips and Taboos: Korean Business Card Culture

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Let’s talk about business cards: the Myeongham. It is a very important thing in Korea. From what I heard, it comes from ancient times when people would sign everything with a special stamp that would give their name in Chinese. This was stamp was a person’s signature and it was a very official seal.

So if someone hands you a business card, you should not look at it for a second and then throw it in your pocket.

I know in America, people pass out business cards like grains of rice at a wedding, but in Korea, most people selectively pass them out.

So if a Korean person gives you a card, humbly accept it. Bow as you hold it with both hands, say thank you (komapsumnida) and study the card.

I mean really look at it. You can even make a comment about their position like, “Oh, wow, you are the assistant to the secretary of the interim CEO.” It doesn’t matter what their position is, just make that person sound important.

You should then get your own card, but don’t be too hasty. Be graceful and respectful while handing it out. Just imagine you are the Karate Kid in the Green Tea ceremony. Present it with both hands and bow when the person grabs it.

I know this sounds like a very complicated system for giving out a business card, but the card is sacred here. It is a promise, it’s a sign of position, and a sign of partnership. Position and status is very important in Korea and the business card is in recognition of that.

So even if you’re not going to do anything with the card, just accept it like you are.

Cut this if it is running long

And one more thing! Don’t ever, ever write your name on the card in front of the person who hands it to you. I did this once and, if you want to get the evil eye, this is what you do. I once did this to a Korean guy’s card because I needed to write down some prices of a camera he was trying to sell me. When I started writing on his card he went off. He started cursing like a Korean Elementary school student. He said 18 and called me a dog baby many times. You know what I mean. You can translate 18 and dog baby yourself.

So don’t write on a person’s business card.

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