Class conscious - Andrew Martin looks for a classy business card

I'd carry a business card, if only I knew what to put on it

There's a restaurant near me with a champagne bucket just inside the front door, into which you are invited to toss your business card. Periodically, one of these is drawn out and champagne is sent to the cardholder, which, I suppose, is symbolic of the whole nature of business cards. They are constantly being pitched into the unknown with the hope that something nice will turn up as a result.

Except that I don't have a business card, because I can't think what to put on it as regards profession. My options are "journalist", "novelist", "writer". Apparently, the Japanese look at your card while weighing up how deeply to bow, and I think "novelist" would get them lower than "journalist", especially if they'd never read any of my novels. But I'm self-conscious about making the choice, because when I was working on the Sunday Correspondent in the late 1980s, I knew a man who had "journalist" on his card but changed it to "writer" when he had a book published, thus becoming a laughing stock.

Another reason for my not having a card is that I've always thought they were naff, but I met a keen student of etiquette at a party last weekend who said: "Not a bit of it; they stem from the Victorian tradition of calling cards. Of course, you shouldn't bring one out at your club or whatever, and you'll get a lot of people nowadays - Americans especially - who'll chuck their card on the table as soon as they sit down. That's bad manners."

He said that a card should be brought out at the end of a meeting, and that they are actually very useful because you can give them to people when you want them to go away. "But what about when they ring you up next day?" I countered. To which he said that I should consider having two sets of cards made: one with my phone number on, one without. He then looked me up and down, and said: "You can get cards printed up on machines at railway stations, you know", which I thought a bloody cheek. I would get mine done at Smythson's in Bond Street. Or Kall Kwik printing, at least.

The Japanese have photographs of themselves on the back of their cards, which I'd have thought would be social death in most other places. I certainly wouldn't have anything on the back, and I'd probably have just my name and address on the front, with no designation of profession. Several people have told me that would be classy. Or maybe I should follow the example of a ventriloquist I once met in a strange motel in Kentucky. "I'll give you my card," he said. He did so, and it said simply: "My card". "Oh, sorry," he said, "I'll give you my other card." He handed it over, and I studied the inscription: "My other card".