A few months ago, I decided to revive my French language skills, which over the years had rusted away. During Expo 67 (Montreal) at the world’s fair, I worked at The Human Cell Pavilion (aka la cellule humaine) with an Australian named Karen and a Quebecois named Arthur. The three of us spoke only in French; Arthur really got a kick out of making fun of our “over-correct” grammar and our avoidance of using any English even when Karen and I spoke to each other.
When I decided to “revitalize” my French, I found it was in a sorry state. I could not string a sentence together and often found myself translating directly all the time from Hebrew or English, which is impossible because French is so different. Finally after about 20 lessons, I am pretty fluent.
However, I am very ambitious and it is not enough for me just to be able to express myself. I want to be able to express complex ideas, so I choose difficult subjects to discuss with my French tutor.
Today I chose to explain “face saving”. My tutor knew nothing about the term; she teaches languages. C’est tout. After my explanation, she asked me what the difference is between maintaining a façade and face saving. Good question. I hope I gave a good answer.
The word façade implies that underneath the veneer of appearance, there lies an unpleasant reality. As in, her façade gave no hint of her anguish. Façade also implies an outer layer which hides something deeper underneath it-perhaps something more sinister or unpleasant.
This is not the case with face saving, at least as I understand it. Face saving means that relationship maintaining is more important than the “truth”. The truth is irrelevant because it undermines something which is far more valuable, that is the centrality of the harmony of close relationships.
When a Chinese gay filmmaker returns from the USA to visit his family and decides not tell his grandfather that he is gay, he is not maintaining a facade. He is asserting that harmony of his relationship with a very old man is far more important that authenticity and other values which pretend, incorrectly in his world view, to be in centre stage.