Do you have that seemingly small, insignificant piece of trivia you NEVER IN YOUR LIFE thought you would use and then had the opportunity to use it?
And then blew it?
Yeah. That moment happened to me last week at the IFSC Paraclimbing World Cup in Los Angeles, California.
(For those of you who don't know, I am making a documentary about an adaptive (aka disabled) rock climber named Benjamin Mayforth, and the world of competitive paraclimbing. If you haven't signed up for the Topping Out specific email list, do so here!)
A little background about me for the purpose of storytelling: I took a business and dining etiquette seminar while in college. We learned all about forks and knives and different cultural dining styles. (Yes, I even wore my pearls.) There is a particular culture in which you hand your business card with both hands to the other individual. So, unlike in American business culture where you hand out your business card to every Joe and Jack and Jane and Janice like trading cards, sometimes upside down, sometimes with a small crinkle in the corner, this particular culture doesn't do that.
We were upstairs taking a small break, getting ready for one of our key competitors to climb.
We were taking up most of the media space (surprise, I'm totally a tornado and like to spread out), and I was looking over the shoulder of one of the camera operators' wide angle he was showing me. I felt someone nudge past me. I looked up, and saw a man quickly walk down the stairs.
I'm not sure what posessed me to do this, but I followed him.
"Excuse me, sir?"
"I'm so sorry about taking up the space. Feel free to just tell us to move next time, we can absolutely do that for you."
He said it was no problem. I saw he was shooting with one of my former cameras, and saw this as an opportunity to get to know him. I asked him about his project, and his eyes lit up: it was a short film about blind Japanese climber Koichiro Kobayashi, a legend by many standards. I got excited and started telling him about our documentary. I asked if we could exchange cards, and he empahtically said yes.
I handed him my card, like I normally do, with my right hand. How little too late did I realize that I KNEW this was not the way to hand cards to the Japanese! As he handed me his business card with both hands, I was rather upset with msyelf because this was the first time I had ever had the chance to use this business acumen I had, and I totally forgot it in that moment.
I could tell he was not offended, but I was a little embarassed. Thankfully I had the opportunity to re-do my card hand-off, because I realized that my email address had gotten cut off when it was printed. I re-wrote it, and this time handed it to him with both hands as he had done for me.
This gets under my skin a little bit because I want to be a better global citizen.
That might sound cheesy, and this might sound stereotypical, but as Americans, we are often viewed in a negative light when it comes to travel, tourism, and being participants in global life. It's not hard to get this unwanted title betstowed upon you when you already live in a rather Western hemisphere bubble (a little over 70% of Americans have ever left the country, less to overseas). It's easy to not know what you're getting yourself into when it comes to cultural differences, and make mistakes when traveling.
The fact was (and stilkl remains), I at least knew how to hand the guy my business card. And while I messed up this one on the first try, I won't mess up again in the future!
Here are some great articles on business etiquette internationally. Especially in the media industry, when you could be working with a foreign crew in your hometown or attending an international film festival, it's important to keep these things in mind!