Saving Face!!

Japanese saving face

Having lived in Asia for a number years, there is one aspect, which is particular to Asia, which I still have a hard time getting to grips with. Coming from the West (Europe), I and many like myself have been taught to be honest, and direct. To make ones voice heard when need be. But this behaviour is in direct contrast with most Asian countries where, the act of keeping ones mouth shut, or not voicing ones real opinions, is preferable to voicing them. There is also the culture of not being seen as ‘wrong’ to avoid embarrassment at any cost. Even at the cost of ‘loss of position'(this translates to, ‘cutting off your nose to spite your face’.)

This is known as ‘saving face’ It is so important in Asia that people have gone as far as committing suicide rather than admit they were wrong, did something wrong, or embarrassed themselves.The history of this behaviour/culture/superstition is vague. Different nations interpret it in different ways, but it boils down to not wanting to shame yourself or your family name. Living in Asia has provided me with monumental instances of this played out in everyday life. I was a head teacher in a school for several years. One of our golden rules to teachers was: never borrow money from students. Some of our teachers are from poor families( as is often the case in many parts of Asia) and sometimes the teachers regale the students with tales of their poverty stricken lives, in an attempt to garner pity, sympathy and ultimately, money. One day I was informed by a student that she was owed money by a teacher. So I and my collage reprimanded her, but also told her that after our meeting the incident was 100% closed and only the 3 of us, and the student need know about it. She agreed. Later that evening she sent me a resignation text saying she would not be back. She did not want to face us or the student, which i can understand, but she resigned without another job to go to , and the reason she needed money was for her young daughter’s school fees and clothing. So rather than swallow her pride, which in the west, we would do for the bigger picture, she removed her only source of income to save face.Embarrassed gorl

In another instance, my friend, an American man in his late 60,s told me of an incident he had when he was on his motorbike. He was approaching a junction on the correct side of the road, and, as is the custom in some parts of Asia, road rules are ignored. A local motorcyclist came around the corner and collided with my friend. Both bikes and riders hit the floor. My friend, visibly agitated( a very mild mannered person usually) asked the other driver why he was on the wrong side of the road. The response was ” no sir, you were on the wrong side” A crowd of people had gathered to watch, and my friend was asking the other rider for a simple apology. Each time it was refused ( his countrymen were watching him so he had to save face). After a bit of quick thinking, my friend took out his camera and started taking pictures of the bikes and the road. “You will have to wait for the Police to arrive and we will sort this out” said my friend to the other chap. (Local law dictates that the police must attend any accidents both major and minor). At this point the other rider looked my friend squarely in the eye and said “this is my fault sir, I offer my total apology” My friend realised the the other rider probably had no licence or insurance or was illegal in some way, so rather than deal with the local police, he had to concede, even though it went against what he, and many others in Asia believe. Save face at all costs.

Head bowed in disgraceI acknowledge that different countries have different ways, which I respect, but I personally have been taught, what I believe is a good rule to live by, regardless of any culture is: never be too big to apologise if you are wrong. People respect you more for it, and ultimately trust you more. Another day in paradise!!


Part-time blogger with many views that need an outlet.