Japan has a lengthy protocol for the proper way to exchange business cards. There are rules of etiquette that govern how to hand to over your own card, how to respectfully read your counterpart’s, and even how long to wait before putting it away.
Outside of the business world, you might think you’re safe from this troublesome trapping of corporate culture. Recently, though, some mothers in Japan have started making personal name and contact cards to give to other moms they meet through their kids’ school and extracurricular activities, and are discovering that being outside the office doesn’t make things any simpler.
In theory, these so-called Mama Cards sound like pretty handy things to have. After all, if you’re chatting with another parent for a few minutes while waiting for you child’s soccer practice or swimming lesson to finish, at the end of the conversation it’s quicker and easier to just pull out a card with your particulars rather than having to hurriedly write everything down on a piece of paper then and there, right?
▼ Plus, some of them feature awesome dinosaur designs.
Unfortunately, Mama Cards aren’t without their drawbacks. Japanese magazine Joesi Seven recently spoke with a 42-year-old woman in Aichi Prefecture about the unexpected problem that she ran into because of them.
The woman’s daughter, a grade-schooler, recently began taking ballet lessons. Arriving early to pick her up from her first class, the mother, who gave her name as Mrs. A, became acquainted with the other women who’d come to collect their own daughters, and before parting they exchanged Mama Cards.
▼ We’re guessing at least a couple looked something like this.
However, it seems Mrs. A and her daughter left before one girl’s parent had even arrived. The two moms didn’t particularly hit it off on later encounters either, and so Mrs. A didn’t offer her card on subsequent meetings, either. But while this didn’t cause any trouble initially, the other child eventually caught wind that while her classmates’ mothers had all received Mrs. A’s Mama Card, and implied offer of friendship, her own parent hadn’t.
The slighted girl felt so excluded that she stopped coming to class, prompting the ballet school to issue a request that their students’ parents refrain from exchanging Mama Cards completely, in order to avoid hurt feelings and a repeat of the situation.
Even when all the moms are gathered together in the same place and time, though, things can still become suddenly awkward. Mrs. B, a 38-year-old Tokyoite, came prepared to hand out her Mama Card to all of the parents in her daughter’s third grade class. Before she could, though, she received another parent’s card, which prompted some second thoughts.
In making her own cards, Mrs. B had whipped them up on her PC at home, printing them onto some relatively inexpensive paper. The mother of her daughter’s classmate, however, had hers made with high-quality, decorative washi paper, likely done by a professional print shop.
Also worth bearing in mind is that since Mama Cards are ostensibly more “casual” than business cards, there’s more flexibility in what information is listed. Most mothers opt for their name and that of their child, along with a phone number, email address, and maybe social media contact information such as their Line username.
The woman with the elegant washi Mama Card, however, had also decided to list her husband’s name and place of employment. “It’s an elite company that everyone is familiar with,” laments Mrs. B, who hadn’t bothered to list her own spouse’s organization, which she describes as “third-rate.”
“I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t give her my Mama Card,” says Mrs. B, concluding her story.
We’re not entirely unsympathetic to Mrs. B’s plight. Getting caught in a social situation where someone else has clearly put more thought into it than you have can make anyone feel a little sheepish. On the other hand, getting flustered simply because of someone else’s higher economic status, or feeling ashamed about your own lot in life as a result, doesn’t sound like the best behavior to be modeling for your children.
Sure, it’s always nice to get along with other parents, but you shouldn’t forget to also teach your kids that there are more important things in life than keeping up with the Joneses or the Tanakas.
▼ Or whatever the name on the Mama Card is.