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Clearly defining 'face'? Clearly defining 'face'?
by Joseph Gatt
2020-09-26 08:31:15
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When you're rich, claim you're poor.

When you're poor, claim you're rich.

When you're powerful, claim you're weak.

When you're weak, claim you're powerful.

When you're poor, act and behave in ways the rich behave. Buy things rich people buy. Date people rich people date.

societ003_400When you're rich, act and behave in ways the poor behave. Live in a modest house, drive a modest car, eat modest food, dress modestly. And marry someone from a modest background.  

When you're weak, behave in ways the powerful behave. Give orders to people surrounding you. Claim to be related to powerful people. Bully people to make it sound like you're powerful.

When you're strong, make it sound like you're weak. Be kind and gentle with everyone. Be modest. Be polite. But if someone tries to attack you, you have the means to break their neck.

When you're poor, and claim that you're rich. If someone doubts your riches, you threaten to kill them. You don't just give them the silent treatment, you use death threats.

When you're rich and claim to be poor, if someone hints that you have lots of money in the bank, you give them the silent treatment and find ways to push them out of your life.

When you're weak and claim to be strong, if someone hints that you're weak. Threaten to beat the shit out of them.

When you're strong and claim to be weak, if someone hints that you're strong, smile and say “maybe, who knows?”

OK. Here's how face works.

I remember many years ago meeting someone at a university who was clearly Algerian, I would say from Algiers. He had the Algiers accent. He dressed like an Algerian. He carried that black leather briefcase Algerian students carried back then instead of a backpack. Algerian accent when he spoke. He also had something of a decent command of French. But he told everyone he was from “Qatar.”

Now if you hinted at that guy that he was not from Qatar, his blood would boil. You were not allowed to discuss Qatar with him, and even asking him where he was from in Qatar would make his blood boil.

If you told the guy that you were going to vacation in Qatar and asked him for recommendations where to stay, his blood would boil even more.

Fortunately the incident ended before anything bad happened. We parted ways without a major incident.

Face isn't just about “making it sound like you're something that you're not.” It's a lot more complicated than that.

Face is also about competing with other people for the reputation. Some call those competition games “childish.” But here's how they work.

If you're poor and make it sound like you're rich. And then you meet another poor guy that makes it sound like he's rich. Now these two guys are going to try to outcompete each other when trying to prove which guy is richer than which one.

The competition game can go very far. It usually start with “I visited the entire planet” and the other guy says “I visited the entire planet twice.” And the other guy replies “did I mention that I visited each corner of the planet separately three times and had dinner with the president of each country?”

It gets a lot worse than that. When the two lunatics start doubting each other's stories, they're going to start inviting other people to this delusional conversation. They're going to try to “form a team” who believes in their delusions. They're going to try to spread rumors that they're the powerful ones and that the other side is the weaker side.

Face is also thin-skinned. If you're poor and claim that you're rich, you're going to have to fight anyone who doubts your riches. You're going to fight them individually, try to dig up dirt about them, try to shame them, try to blackmail them, and in some cases, try to smear them as publicly as possible.

Face is also lonely and confused. People who get challenged into this reputation game often do not know what to say or how to respond. If someone points out that you're poor when you in fact claim that you're rich, a lot of times, you won't know how to respond to the claim.

Why does face exist in the first place? In an ideal economy, you mind your own business and work for your money.

But in failing economies, or in weak economies, people have to play this game.

In a weak economy, if you claim to have money, people are going to come and try to take it.

So when you do have money in the bank, you claim that you're broke!

Let me give you a (semi-fictional but real) example of something I witnessed in the Middle East. There was this old lady who had lots of money in the bank. One of her daughters kept borrowing large sums and never paying back. The old lady got tired of the whole thing. One day, she spent a couple of weeks at her daughter's house, went back home with her other daughter. She and her other daughter plotted a scheme where they broke a window in the house, claimed to the borrowing addict daughter that there was a burglary, that her entire life savings were in a safe, and that someone had taken it all.

Now the borrowing addict bought the story (even though the mother and daughter refused to call the police and claimed to have “destroyed the evidence” to “avoid being the village laughingstock.”) So the daughter stopped borrowing money and had to find other sources.

On the other hand, when you're broke, you have to claim to be rich, because as the French saying goes “on ne prête qu'aux riches” (money is only loaned to rich people).

So the broke guys will come up with all kinds of stories of how they made money, and will play the following game:

They will hang out with you (with borrowed money) and treat you to all kinds of luxuries (to make it sound like they're rich). So you'll be getting expensive beer, or expensive liquor, coupled with a night out at a 5 star restaurant or pub, and they will claim to be a regular at the pub.

Then they'll ask you to loan them money. You would think that they are rich and need the loan for some complicated reason, when in fact, they are broke. They will use some of the money you loan them to repay other loans, some of the money to survive, and some of the money to entertain another host and make that host believe that they are rich.

If you question these guys fortune (and tell them something like “I think you must be broke, I've never heard you pick up a professional phone call”) They are going to turn violent. The violence will be a mix of proving further that they are rich, and of sabotaging whatever they can sabotage or take whatever they can take from you.

When you're rich make it sound like you're poor. When you're poor, make it sound like you're rich.

In “face-saving” countries, let's say if someone from Wakanda lives in the UK, has UK citizenship of lives comfortably in the UK, he will claim that “Wakanda is home” when he probably hasn't visited Wakanda in 40 years. And he would rather vacation in Southern Spain or Greece.   

If someone from Wakanda lives in Wakanda, he might travel around Wakanda, hide in a city or two, and then claim that he's back from the UK (or Germany, or the US or whatever) and that the UK is his real home, Wakanda is just a nice place to visit.

Finally, in face-saving countries, meeting new people can be complicated.

Because people in face-saving countries juggle so many different identities (when they're rich, they'll make it sound like they are “just an employee” but there will be many different versions of what “employee” is ; when they're poor, they will claim to be rich, but there are many different versions of what being “rich” means).

This means that in face-saving countries, if you meet people, they are likely to stay quiet, shy, reserved, timid, and will wait for someone to help them “introduce themselves.” Of course, when being introduced, they will expect that middle man to make it sound like they are rich when they are poor, and to make it sound like they are poor when they are rich.

A quick note. I spent the last 25 years of my life living in mostly “face-saving nations.”

I'm broke (and have always been, I'm not faking this) and was always clear about being broke. Now this confused a lot of people in the face-saving nations I lived in. To them, my kind, gentle manners seemed to suggest that I was rich. Then they would find out that I'm broke. But then they would be confused because they tend to assume that broke people “brag” about being rich.

That is my approach to business was the “normal” one, not the “face-saving” one. My approach to business was “I'm smart, I can get work done, tell me the truth, let's make an honest deal, and I'll give you the bill.”

That's not how things work in face-saving nations. In face-saving nations I would have to take people out to 5-star hotels, brag about being smart, brag about being rich, and make it sound like the business deal is just a drop in the “ocean” of the money I have (which I don't have).

More importantly, in “face-saving” nations, staying connected with your crowd is very important, because you are not going to meet new people very easily.

So in most “face-saving” nations people are constantly going to call their family, high-school friends and college friends (which are pretty much the only friends they have) because there are no social clubs (since reinventing yourself is rather difficult at an adult social club).

So “face-saving” nations were confused that, back in the days when I was homeless (I spent about 5 years of my life living “in the streets” and another five years living “in a cell” -not prison, but de facto house arrest) those nations were surprised that I was not calling my connections, “bragging” about being rich to get better loans, or just loans.

If I ever called my friends, I usually told them the truth (broke, homeless, orphaned, isolated, marriage to my fiancée will solve the problem, get me a visa, and grant me access to a job, but she won't marry me) which led to my connections to saying “uh-ah, can't help you, I only help rich people. By the way, don't call me, I don't talk to homeless people.”

So much more I could ramble about on the topic, but I'll save that for another article.

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