Lose one’s face – The real meaning

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To lose ones face !?

Most of Asia-interested people have already heard that Asian people can apparently lose their faces. But what does this actually mean? And what are different ways to lose ones face? What is important in order to have or keep ones face? What other aspects of everyday life does this include?

First of all, here are some definitions of “lose ones face”

  1. to lose status; to become less respectable.

  2. To not maintain your reputation and the respect of 

  3. To do something which makes other people stop respecting 

  4. Be embarrassed or humiliated, especially 

As you can see, the concept of face is something very hard to grasps and westerners need to get a feeling for it before they can handle efficiently communicating with Chinese.

Someone who loses his respect in front of others, as the first definitions shows. But, how can you lose your respect?

Imagine that you’re sitting in Chinese classes in China, and the teacher teaches you a new word. No one in class understands its Chinese explication and you ask for an English translation, as that would facilitate things. Now, your teacher is not willing to give you the English translation and no matter how hard you push, his answer will be “I want you to understand it in Chinese, that is the best way to learn the language”. Although your teacher’s behaviour is maddening, there is a reason he does not want to speak English: maybe his English is not good enough to speak fluently and he is embarrassed or he simply does not know the word in English. If he admitted that he does not know the word or his English is bad, he would lose (in Chinese culture) his face in front of his class, he would lose his status and respect as a teacher.

This example shows the concept of “losing face” perfectly: as the teacher would do something which would make people respect him less (definition number 3), and he would be humiliated by the students pushing for an answer (definition number 4).

Now, how can this situation be avoided? It is simple really: the students should not put their teacher in a situation he would “lose his face”.

The tricky thing is, to remember this concept. As a westerner you don’t consider embarrassing someone (at least in a situation as pictured above), so it is really important to always keep a few things in mind:

  1. Who are you talking to? Is he/she superior?
  2. What is your partner’s abilities? What can he do/know and cannot do/know?
  3. Think before you talk

Regarding the last question, to which aspects of everyday life this concept expands?

To Chinese people, some material things mean a lot. Those things, the bigger, the shinier, the more expensive, give them a social status.

In this way, you see a lot of expensive cars on the streets, even though basic salary is not that high in China (and not everyone can be a manager). Or, it might happen that the guy serving you in your cafeteria has the latest iPhone.

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