Stephen Malkmus--"Discretion Grove" (mp3)
Suppose, hypothetically speaking, that under the influence of soju, beer, and a long evening of football team-baiting and every other kind of baiting that males do, the topic turned to one of my hot buttons, the J.F.K. assassination, and I called Tommy a "fucking idiot."
That would cause him to lose face.
But here's the stickler: the only thing worse than losing face is causing someone else to lose face. So he's the "F.I." and I'm the "F.I" who called him an "F.I." Hypothetically speaking.
According to Sara Rosenberg in her essay "Face:"
High-context societies ... such as Korea...are referred to as collectivistic, or interdependent. Very often, these high-context cultures are hierarchical and traditional societies in which the concepts of shame and honor are much more important than they are in low-context societies.
In high-context cultures, group harmony is of utmost importance. People in these cultures dislike direct confrontation, and for the most part avoid expressing a clear "no." Evasion and inaccuracy are preferred in order to keep appearances pleasant. There is a danger of losing face simply by not reaching an agreement with another person or group, if that was the goal. Being humiliated before the group, or losing face before one's constituents, can be a fate worse than death in some cases.
Rosenberg say that "[w]ays in which one can lose face include:
a rebuffed overture
exposure to personal insult
exposure to a derogatory remark or disregard for one's status
being forced to give up a cherished value
making what may later be seen as an "unnecessary" concession
failure to achieve goals
revelation of personal inadequacy
damage to a valued relationship.
Welcome to a society where if someone is wrong, you don't point it out, or they lose face. Welcome to a society where the Confucian mindset dictates that a son could never give advice to a father, or where an innovation couldn't be tried because if it had been possible, the revered ancestors would have thought of it and tried it. Obviously, to get where they've gotten since the Korean War, South Koreans have had to eschew some of this conventional wisdom.
Still, it seems like it is a rare day that either Tommy or I don't step in it, face-wise, either in the larger society or with each other.
One of the outcomes of living with someone for a month in a small apartment is that eventually he doesn't think you are funny anymore, as Tommy doesn't think I'm funny when I talk about "face." Nevertheless, I have devised the following mini-guide to cover some of the situations you might encounter if you enter a face-saving culture. Think of these as strategies that you might employ, especially if you are a yangnom, or foreigner, who thinks it's more about winning than about saving face, or as Confucius by way of Machiavelli:
Taking Face--Hey, baby, it's Confucius, not me, who says that you lose face when you cause someone else to lose face. If you know that your sucky Korean boss is in danger of losing face, why leave it to chance? Go ahead and take it. I gave mine some business advice on the very first day that I met him. I realize now that he wouldn't have liked it. I have a whole lot more advice that I'd like to give him, and he won't appreciate that, either. Tough. Fucking idiot.
Giving Face--This is simple: allow your opponent to win sometimes. When he asks you for the 12th time that evening if you like his country and if you are enjoying yourself, say "Yes" as you have each time before, especially since you don't get paid until the last day.
Sucking Face--Ah, the slow siphoning of someone's self-worth. Much pleasure derived from this. See Blake's "The Poison Tree."
Face-Off--The temporary setting aside of facial concerns. Yeah, you know the metaphor: whoever gets the puck first wins.
Sitting on Face--Yeah, I know, the waiting is the hardest part, but the fact is that you can accumulate a substantial amount of evidence before you decide to use it to put someone in a disavantagous position. Wait, wait, just let it sit there--the payoff will come soon enough.
Finally, I might suggest, if I were cynical, that the entire concept of "saving face" is simply a cultural excuse for telling lies.
Nine Pound Hammer and Stephen Malkmus are available at Itunes.