Face and Pride
There have been books written about Face and the concept of Face. Many of these books will leave the reader to ultimately make their own conclusions without providing definitive answers to the many confusing aspects of Face that exist. The concept of Face is never clearly defined, and is always open to interpretation by others.
One could assume that this is partially the motivation behind the concept of Face; confusion, assumption and room for manipulation, when and if required. If one adds cultural and social conditioning to the equation, then any clear definition of Face becomes more complex and near impossible to define in any precise manner.
To many, the concept of Face is one of the most dangerous, destructive and contradictory personal and social traits that exists. The prevalence of Face in the business environment can be destructive to both individual businesses and select industries.
Face Does not fit in Modern Business
In the large majority of business industries in the 21st century, risk identification, risk management and an effective reporting culture are required to ensure that businesses continually evolve to remain competitive, profitable and provide high levels of safety relating to their products and to their employee’s working environments.
Industries focused on safety will implement effective procedures where any employee of any level is encouraged to report potential problems or risks. This culture is encouraged at every level. The blame culture of previous decades has been replaced by a methodology of continual encouragement to improve systematic processes to ensure a safer environment for employees. This ensures a safer service provision and a superior market product.
An effective reporting culture is not about identifying an individual that is not performing. It is not about apportioning blame. It is designed to ensure that any systemic fault or procedural fault is identified. The risks associated with this fault are assessed fully and mitigating action is taken to rectify the situation or system to ensure that the problem has been resolved.
“Saving Face and Corporate Risk Analysis Processes Cannot Coexist”
In many industries risk identification systems have been introduced where an individual can anonymously identify a potential threat or risk. The associated procedures ensure that the report is assessed for the benefit of the system integrity within a certain time frame, with the aim of maintaining safety and the highest level of service or product.
Effective reporting cultures exist in the health, aviation, mining, transport, IT, manufacturing and electronic industries, to name just a few. Reporting cultures exist to improve systems. Systems are more reliable and consistent than individuals within any industry, and they provide a constant and repetitive level of service or product. If a system is functioning well then no changes are required. Only system monitoring is required to identify potential risks or enhancements.
Systems override individual personality traits. They override emotion, Friday afternoon and Monday morning performance, illness and fatigue. They override jealousy and personal ambition to unsettle another. Effective reporting cultures remove the opportunity for confusion, manipulation and personal agendas by placing the system’s requirements above the individual. It enhances transparency of process and removes protection for those individuals who have failed to comply with the requirements of the system or are intentionally protecting another individual who is not performing.
Face in Western Culture vs Eastern Culture
Although business growth throughout the Asian region has increased significantly, it is clear that the mindsets of the individuals within these industries have not evolved to the same degree as western industries. Why is this? Why is there a difference between the East and the West?
Western cultures do not place the same emphasis on the concept of Face that Eastern cultures do. Western societies are more openly confrontational and challenging of those deemed to be not compliant with procedures and rules. Regardless of social status and financial wealth, western societies will challenge whoever they deem to be at fault. Those with considerable financial wealth in the west are not immune from criticism or prosecution for crimes or injustices.
Outside of the business environment in Thailand, the concept of Face exists everywhere. Thai cultural and social behaviour are heavily influenced by the concept of Face, and the need for one to display certain behaviour to maintain a certain level of pride.
The concept of Face applies to all classes and status levels, and maintaining Face is considered a high priority within Thai society. The more education one receives, the more Face one attains and is afforded by others. The more Face the individual gains the higher the ranking in society’s pecking order. Financial wealth also determines the actions of an individual, and the level of Face afforded by others in society.
From a western observer’s perspective Face can appear arrogant and at times, ignorant behaviour. Westerners will consider Face to be an act displayed in arrogance to place individuals above others; a form of self imposed superiority. In other situations maintaining Face can reduce direct confrontation between individuals due to the fact that any individual initiating a confrontation can easily lose Face to others around them.
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Is Face is an Asian Only Trait
There is a perception by Asian societies that the concept of Face only exists in Asian cultures and societies. In many cases this is true, and the concept of Face in western societies has disappeared many decades ago. Western culture in general has little respect for its own elderly residents and those of lower class. There is no respect offered to the elderly by the younger generations in the west, and in many cases the elderly are considered stupid and ignorant. Their life experiences and achievements are conveniently ignored and considered from another era; therefore irrelevant in the 21st century.
Western societies have little respect for authority. This concept is constantly reinforced in media and television productions. It is considered ‘cool’ to challenge authority and the individual’s that despise authority are considered to be unique and interesting. Those higher in education are also looked down upon by the majority that do not have the similar levels of education. It is as though the jealousy factor drives this behaviour, and it has become acceptable for the uneducated masses to challenge the educated minority for no other reason than the inequitable split between those that do have and those that do not.
An individual who has dedicated their life to studying and specialising in a specific field does not hold as much prestige in western society as a popular sports-person. Even though the educated scholar will contribute to their society throughout their whole adult life, the sporting achievements of an individual seem to be held in higher stature. In the west, the opinions of an individual exceeding at their chosen sport is sought on political, social and environmental issues, when their only expertise is the one sport which they excel in.
“Face is No Longer Permitted in Western Society”
Western culture is becoming more confrontational. There is little doubt that in comparison to Eastern cultures, the west is seen as over-opinionated and controlling in nature. Western media is inundated with programming to educate the masses that it is perfectly acceptable behaviour to challenge another in public. The class or status of the individuals involved has no bearing on whether a confrontation will exist or not. All are considered equal when it comes to mutual adherence of western social expectations and paradigms.
Wherever one ventures in the west, somebody will feel the need or consider themselves self-empowered to speak their minds openly towards another. This recent western social trait is becoming entrenched and it is now a common occurrence for everybody to have an opinion on everything, regardless of their knowledge or expertise. It appears that it is preferable to have an opinion, rather than sit quietly. Why is this? Why has western society become overly dominating to its own society and citizens?
Daily, westerners are inundated with political interviews where any question posed by the media demands an immediate response. We expect sports-people to have an opinion on the environment and society, and expect anybody in the public view to be educated enough to have a valued opinion. Even though the individual’s views may be outrageous and contrary to the social paradigms, the western media and their viewers choose to listen and expect an answer to every question. To refrain from answering is considered uneducated or ignorant, and the individual’s public status is reduced.
These social paradigms eventually become the accepted norm, and this has occurred in many western countries. Every individual has an opinion, and is expected to have opinions. For an individual that chooses to remain silent, the society continues on, leaving them and their silence behind. Eventually this behaviour extends outside of the western country, and we observe western governments telling others how to act, and what behaviour is considered acceptable. In an absolute sense of irony we see western countries that have existed for several hundred years criticising eastern countries that have existed for significantly longer periods.
According to the west, there is only one correct answer to everything; the western ideals and paradigms. Western democracy is considered the ultimate approach to every individual’s personal freedom and development. Instead of refraining from informing others of their western perceived faults, western governments feel the need to tell other countries what they are doing wrong and how their governing structure is flawed. In extreme cases, some western countries will forcibly impose their ideals of social structure on other countries via diplomatic means, the use of sanctions or force.
The Thai Interpretation of Face
How can behaviours be so different in the east? Eastern countries do not feel the need to tell others how to act or how to govern. Eastern countries govern themselves, and will rarely interfere with other country’s political or social issues. Why is there such a vast difference in mindset between the west and east? The answer is ‘Face’.
To criticise another individual or group will cause a loss of Face to both parties. If an eastern nation was to criticise another eastern nation, then the expected response would be to mind one’s own business. Regardless of whether the criticism is valid or warranted, the initiator has crossed the invisible line and openly criticised another when it is none of their business. The immediate rebuttal in the large majority of cases will be to take care of your own affairs. Whether this behaviour is right or wrong, it is what it is. Cultural beliefs and paradigms cannot be changed quickly.
In Thailand, a foreigner in many cases is not considered to have Face or pride; therefore little consideration is provided towards foreigners with respect to this concept. This is displayed frequently by all levels of Thai society towards foreigners. One only needs to stand in line at a convenience store to witness locals pushing in front of foreigners when they clearly were not the next in line for service. To reinforce this behaviour and display towards foreigners, the service staff in the convenience store will serve the Thai first.
To some this act would be considered to be showing favouritism towards the local customer, but in reality it can easily be considered an open display of arrogance and rudeness towards the foreigner. Some may consider that this is the Thai way of a first come, first served basis, but one can easily observe that Thais will rarely push in front of another Thai. It is considered rude in their culture to do so. In the tourist areas of Thailand, Thais will display this behaviour frequently towards foreigners. This behaviour is not limited to convenience stores; it occurs in restaurants, shopping malls and all other service industries where foreigners frequent.
“Face Does Not Exist For Foreigners; Only Thais”
In Thai culture it is heavily frowned upon to physically touch another to get their attention. Likewise it is rude to interrupt a conversation between groups of Thais. In Thai culture this behaviour is not acceptable. However there is a different set of rules applied to foreigners. One can be socialising with other foreigners and a Thai will frequently poke a foreigner in the ribcage to get their attention. In other cases, the Thai will talk over the top of the ongoing conversation and interrupt. If this behaviour is unacceptable in Thai culture, then why do certain Thais act in this manner towards foreigners?
From a westerner’s perspective this behaviour is rude, obnoxious and arrogant. The westerner would not behave in this manner in their country. The Thai is showing no respect by interrupting or physically touching the foreigner, and is essentially treating the foreigner with the same respect as a dog. In many cases the foreigner will cease their conversation and politely respond with no thank you, and continue.
This sends several messages to the Thai involved in this scenario. Firstly, it appears that foreigners will accept this behaviour and therefore this method of obtaining a foreigner’s attention is acceptable behaviour. Secondly, the Thai will be fully aware that their behaviour is openly displaying a lack of respect to the foreigner in other Thais’ observations, and due to the lack of objection from the foreigner, the Thai will continue with this behaviour to gain face with other Thais.
Is this a reflection of Thai society’s behaviour overall and their true opinions of foreigners? The large majority of western visitors to Thailand will remain in the tourist areas and rarely venture outside of these locals to see the “real” Thailand. If one was to visit other parts of Thailand, one will see a very different side of Thai people and their level of respect towards foreigners.
Thais are naturally shy people and will not openly approach or talk with a foreigner due to the language skills and therefore due to the apparent loss of face, they will refrain from initiating contact in most cases. The large majority of Thais that reside in rural areas are generally happy and sociable people. For these Thais the presence of a foreign visitor is a unique and pleasurable experience. They are genuinely interested in getting to know the foreigner and are interested in why the foreigner has visited Thailand and what their impressions are.
Is Face is all About Perception
If this is the case, then why are some Thais so intent in openly displaying their lack of respect towards foreigners in the tourist locations? The simple answer is the perception of why foreigners frequent the tourist areas. It is the perception of most Thais that foreigners stay in the tourist areas to hunt young Thais for sexual services for payment. For the Thais that reside in the tourist areas, they will witness multiple instances daily of foreigners walking the streets with low class Thai prostitutes. In their opinions, these foreigners are voluntarily losing Face by openly associating with another individual of much lower class and status, and therefore should not be afforded any respect.
The perception is that these foreigners have lowered their own class by their actions, and have lost significant Face in the process. By associating with low class Thai sex workers, these foreign hunters have labelled themselves as low class people. In the Thais’ view, they have little or no personal pride.
Many of these foreigners will walk the streets in a drunken state with a sex worker on their arm, and act obnoxiously to all around them. They will show no respect to Thai customs and in some instances will be openly critical of Thai society and beliefs. They will dress poorly; far below that of their own class level that they maintain in the west.
To the majority of Thais, these foreigners are the lowest of the low. They are the foreign trash that exploits Thailand for their own purposes with unlimited amounts of money at their disposal. Their actions can be offensive, and their behaviour regularly causes offence to Thais.
“Perceptions are Difficult to Change”
It is natural human behaviour to generalise, and all foreigners visiting the tourist areas will be perceived to be similar; a sex tourist, a sex hunter; rich foreign trash. For a foreigner who visits with genuine intentions to gain some acceptance, the process will be slow and tedious. They will need to prove by their actions over a period of time that they are different from the perceived norm.
To successfully deal with foreign hunters in the tourist areas, Thais will use all means necessary to control, manipulate and take advantage of any given situation or individual. This includes using the concept of face to their advantage whenever the opportunity arises.
In a city such as Pattaya where foreign tourists are in abundance and the sex industry thrives, Thais from all businesses, status levels and employment will take advantage of foreigners as much as possible. The perception is that foreigners have little understanding of Face, and therefore the Thais that choose to manipulate the foreign visitor will intentionally twist and confuse everything to gain an advantage.
Pattaya is a city that attracts the worst of foreigners. In most cases these foreigners are sex tourists; hunters with the intention of preying on those much younger for sexual services for payment. Due to the activities that occur in Pattaya and the money involved, less than desirable Thais are also attracted to this location and these Thais arrive with the intention of exploiting foreigners as much as possible.
The more the local Thais have contact with the foreign tourists, the more extreme the attempts at manipulation and lying will become. Every attempt will be used to exploit the foreigner as much as possible for the short time they are there on holidays. The Thais are fully aware that the next aircraft will bring more, and there is a never ending supply of suitable foreign candidates to exploit.
A Different Perception for Those Who Act Differently
For those visitors to Thailand who dress appropriately and display a level of self-respect and respect towards others, Thais will openly show a high level of respect in return. This is a natural reaction, where most Thais afford westerners a reasonably high level of respect by default. Westerners who visit Thailand and wish to explore the best parts of the country and the culture are genuinely and warmly welcomed by all.
Ultimately, visitors can make a choice to either get caught up in the perceptions of others or ignore their surroundings and continue on as if nothing has changed. For those that choose to adapt and alter their behaviours and actions, they will be accorded more respect than those who choose to remain the same.
For those seeking a Thai partner and hoping to impress their future partner and her family, some changes in behaviour and actions will reap rewards on many fronts. By openly attempting to comply with some local customs and behaviours, Thais will notice that the visitor is trying. The overt action of trying is all that is required. There is little expectation that a westerner could understand Thai cultural traits and traditions in a short time frame. It is the effort that matters in the eyes and perceptions of those that are judging.