“Bangladeshis don’t give each other their own business cards, they exchange the business cards of the people they know,” a friend in Bangladesh told me.
“Why?” I asked, initially thinking that giving out someone else’s business card would very much defeat their intended purpose.
“A business card of a high ranking individual is a social passport,” he responded.
It then made sense. Yes, showing association with a high ranking person would probably grease the wheels of many social processes. But I imagine it could also do more than that.
Especially in Asia, a business card doesn’t just communicate who you are and what you do but, perhaps most importantly, where you rank socially. People need to know how to properly approach and speak to people, and when you can’t determine where you stand in relation to someone else things can get uncomfortable. There is just a different protocol for speaking to people who are your social equal than speaking to someone who is your superior anywhere in the world. Status and social rankings are real, even in sub-cultural or niche communities. It’s just something that’s built into our social programing — we just do it intuitively and cant stop it. So letting people know where you stand is just polite.
Showing the business cards of the people you’re connected to also shows the social network that you are a part of. This makes it faster and easier to identify common nodes — people or organizations that you are both associated with — which can drive an acquaintanceship a little deeper or lead to being introduced to other connections.
It could also give people who don’t know each other from a hole in the ground something to talk about — which is often clutch.
While I’ll probably never be so presumptuous as to go around showing off the business cards of various high ranking individuals that I’ve collected, I like the custom. It’s functional, and like most social phenomenon it probably arose out of a very real demand.