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Face is an integral part of many Asian societies, including China, Korea and Japan. Although the concept of face is extremely complex, it can be diluted down into the meaning of respect and dignity. Face can sometimes be intepreted as your ability to face society. If you "lose face", you are shamed and cannot face others. Hence a sign of shame in Chinese society is hanging your head in shame. You cannot look others in the eye, hence you lose "face".

It is too complicated to explain on paper. If you haven't lived in Asian society for long periods of time it is unlikely that you will understand the concept. But I will try to put it in simple terms.

Respect and dignity is an extremely important thing in Asia, especially for a man. Some people are willing to lie to "save face". For example, if the truth is ugly, most people in Asia will tell people what they want to hear instead of the truth to "save face" for themselves. Such as a travel agency telling me my flight was delayed for an hour when it has really been cancelled altogether. In this way, they attempted to please me and save face, because they would be shamed if they directly informed me of their failure. However, having lived in Asia, I know better than to believe their lies and demanded a refund and booked a new flight right away.

In addition, among other things, to hide shame, people resort to many things, including humor. Smiling is actually a sign of embarassment in Asia. I have seen a white man in a hotel screaming for service in English and the confused hotel clerk smiling from ear-to-ear. It is hilarious. By grinning they hope to save some face. I don't know how.

Anyways, the concept of face is part of Asian society. For people that lived here it and the resulting deception is expected, however, for foreigners it can be very infuriating. The incentive to deceive others to save their own asses is quite understandable, but in Asia it is carried out to an exceptional degree of subtlety due to the importance of dignity here. Face is one of the more interesting peculiarities in Asia, IMO.