What is Face ?

Face is something I discovered when I was stationed with the Army in Hong Kong. It is important if you are in a relationship with an asian or plan to live or work in Asia.

Remember in my blog ” Buying a house in Thailand” when I mentioned about not buying a second hand house, and they prefer to buy new houses. Well its similar, or a re-occurring theme so to speak.

So let me explain a bit more. Thai’s don’t buy , well, rarely buy second hand houses and used cars, the reason is two fold, the first is simple, they like to show face.

Most Asian countries have Face, even though it may come in different guises but there will be Face in one way or another. Its important to understand, even not completely, the concept of face as you could end up upsetting someone without even knowing it or if you understand the concept ease a difficult situation by understanding it.

Europeans, as well as Americans, I have found, have had difficulty grasping the concept of face, so ignore it and as a result find the Thai’s or most of the asians, Chinese, Japanese or Thai culture incomprehensible.

I searched on the internet and one description called face “The term face idiomatically refers to one’s own sense of dignity, respect or prestige in social contexts.”

I am not an expert and may not be completely on the mark but let me try, and if you can assist me in some way please let me know.

I remember when I was stationed in Hong Kong with the The Royal Military Police, we were looking for the owner of a brand new car that was parked on the camp and had no badge on the screen authorising it to be on the camp. With security quite high ( This was in the 1990’s ) we spent some time trying to locate the owner of the car.

Well we managed to find the man, a man who worked on the camp, so I went to speak to him and ended up being very frustrated.

Me ” Is this your car ?”

Man ” Yes ”

Me ” But its not registered in your name? ”

Man ” No its mine”

Me ” Yes it is”

So the conversation continued in the same vain, he continued to deny all the facts regardless of how obvious he was lying.

It was then I was told to leave it, and let a chinese officer deal with the matter.

I was told not to tell him off or continue with the matter.

It was only then I was told that we did not want him t loose face. It was my first experience with the “Face ” matter.

I was told that he would not admit being wrong in front of of to a “Gwei low” ( Cantonese for White devil, or white person”). If he did he would loose face, he would also loose face if he was told off by a Gwei low as well, so for him he would loose a lot of face.

I found out that no matter how much the facts were stacked against a chinese person, they would not loose face by admitting it, so as a policeman it was something I had to take into account when dealing with chinese, and later I found out a lot of asian countries.

You hear about a chinese person running after a client of a takeaway when they have only lost a few pounds, and they get very upset, well its no the money, its the fact some one made them look foolish and they lost face.

As a westerner it would be easy to just shrug off this if you are going to live with or among asian people, or try to understand them you need to understand face.

I have seen westerners get into arguments with Thais and the situation would get out of hand, when all it needed was a Thai greeting called a Wai. To show your apology / respect to that person and also showing to anyone else watching your apology / respect.

On one personal experience , one I have talked about on this blog I wanted to buy or considered buying a second hand house, not a new one. This is the norm in the UK and other western countries. Buying a new build also shows you have money and gives others

I have mentioned about Thai greetings on another blog entry, but to quickly explain, its where you put your hands together, like in a prayer , and put your hands to your forehead and bow. This is used at all greetings and when you leave. Its a way of showing respect and the person will respond by returning your Wai.

There are only tow other groups of people who do not need to return a Wai, the Thai Royal Family and Monks.

So even the simple act of greeting and using the Wai, in Thailand, is a way of showing face. It would be easy not to understand the concept as the Thai’s as well as other Asian’s take into account that you are a westerner and do not get insulted, so you well have or still are not showing respect but as you are a westerner they ignore your social mistakes.

If you start to have a relationship with a Thai or start to meet and socialise with Thai’s, your standing with them, will improve greatly, it is surprising what a greeting with a Wai can do, as well as expanding your understand of the respect / Face concept.

A lot of things can be happening to the unknowing Falang, all to the untrained eye, until some one who knows can take the scales from your eyes.

On one occasion, my girlfriend, my son and myself went to my step daughters work place, as she wanted to show me around. It was in Bangkok and she and her husband had been very good to us as we had missed our flight ( Thats another story to tell ). I later found out that one of the reason we went to the office was to be shown off, as she my daughter now has a Falang Father. It was nice to see but if I had not had been told I would not have known.

The Thai culture is wonderful and has a lot of history, so understand their culture and you will understand your other half or colleagues.

The amount of times I read other ex pats complaining about Thai’s or their families behaviour and not understanding why they have done something or not done something, calling them silly and saying how stupid the country is. I often thing, “Why live there then, if its that bad.”

I have seen their sort on holiday, going abroad to Spain, and the like, and complaining about the food and that none of the locals spoke English. Then finding the local Irish or English Public house and settling down to an English beer and watching the footy. Never even trying to learn a few simple phrases , like hello or thank you.

I have always wondered why people go to another country and eat and drink as if they are in their own country, whats the point of travelling to different lands only to act as if you are not away. Granted the weather would be better but not always, every country have lots to show and culture to discover.

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3 thoughts on “What is Face ?”

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