When I got the message from our new social marketing director—that’s right, CircleBack now has one of those—to do a post on “What to do with old business cards,” I was skeptical at best. After taking a quick tour of Google search results to see what other bloggers have written on the topic, I was ready to barf. Most people focused their thoughts on the best use of a box of colored paper strips that are about 2-inches by 3.5-inches. You can make a collage, or origami, or a bracelet, or some other such artsy bollocks. If you’re really pathetic, you can write over your old card in marker with some inspirational claptrap about what is next now that you got booted from Dunder Mifflin (“Now I can ride ponies on the beach!”). Either way, I belong to the group of business people who are not going to spend a precious minute of hard fought free time crafting with old business cards-or blogging about it.

Here is what you do with a box of cards for yourself that are no longer correct: throw it in the trash or recycling bin. For a drawer full of someone else’s cards, scan them with ScanBizCards and then return to step one. You’re done.

As far as the topic at hand, let me relate a story about the worst use case of what to do with someone’s business card that I have witnessed. My first job was in sales at a software company that did all of their marketing through a world-class executive seminar put on by the company’s CEO. He had founded several successful start-ups, making him very wealthy. I should add he was the best presenter I have ever seen —and was a flat-out lunatic. We used to travel around the world with big computer hardware companies pitching the business value of distributed computing to the executives of their top customers. Great work for a recent college grad—if you didn’t mind constant abuse and work travel on a 24×7 work schedule.

Anyway, before we went to a conference in Japan for the first time, we were coached at length about the business culture. Specifically, we learned that personal relationships were paramount in Japanese business, and special attention had to be paid to the business card exchange when you met someone. You basically needed to present your card slowly, directed toward the person so they could read it, whereupon they would make some comment to indicate that they had indeed looked at the card, etc. Then you did the same for them. It was very traditional and formal to the point where I felt like guns were trained on me if I screwed it up. But you know what? Even the top people from the largest companies would take a call from me after I met them this way, so it was worth the pressure of getting it right.

So I’m walking around the conference, doing this awkward-to-me glass egg ceremony and I happen to glance over at my CEO, who has just sat down at the table with the General Manager (the tippy top of the food chain) of Matsushita. They do an abbreviated version of the card transfer and then my guy starts working his magic. After about five minutes of power pitching, he pauses to listen (not his specialty) to the godfather of consumer electronics, and reaches the business card up to his mouth and starts picking his teeth with the card! No kidding, he has the “symbol of the soul” for a guy who could buy our company with his pocket change and he is using it to dislodge sushi from his gums—in full view of the man and his corporate posse. Our VP of sales beat me to snatching the card away from him, and it didn’t seem to register with the business legend (although the sponsor later gave us an earful), so the moment passed. But that’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen someone do with a business card.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen someone do with a business card? Sound off in the comments!

Scroll Up