Understanding The Concept of Saving Face in Vietnamese Culture

Asian were born with a very unique culture called as “Saving Face culture”. From typical Japanese business etiquette to wet market transaction in the smallest village in central Vietnam, this social culture is still applied in everybody’s daily life. If you make someone losing face even not on purpose, this infraction is rarely forgiven.

The Concept of saving Face

First of all, let’s describe the concept of “face” in Vietnam. It’s a combination of reputation, social standing, dignity and individual honors. “Losing face” is an action to cause someone look down in front of their friends or community and “building face” is the process of making someone feel good in front of others. This is totally different compared to Western cultures which is very outspoken towards any matters. However, in Vietnam, building face will come first during early stage of business meeting before proceeding to the real deal.

Making Noise

Shouting or arguing in public is strictly prohibited. This scene will actually make the person lose face toward bystanders through embarrassment. Even when you feel frustrated, it is better for you to calm down and be patient until both parties get a solution. For Vietnamese, at least a small compromise can be considered as a solution.
By understanding the concept of saving face, it will give you an advantage when traveling and doing business in Vietnam. Example, when you buy something in market and negotiating price with the merchant, you remember that you cannot make the merchant lose face by making them desperate to sell. It is normally happened in Ben Thanh market and you will see some seller just ignore you when asking for an unreasonable price. You can strongly bargain, but it is advisable to give a little from your price or optionally, you may offer to buy something else smaller and you already save their face among their peers.

Tips for Saving Face

There are several tips for saving face in your daily life.
  • You need to avoid pointing out someone’s mistake in public.
  • Always give a sincere complimen when necessary.
  • If offered, just let your host to pay for your dinner or drink. In many business meeting, most of my Vietnamese partners offer to pay for the drink and you will do the same at other meeting.
  • If your Vietnamese partner is offering any gift, you need to refuse at first, but eventually you may receive it in both hands.
  • Bending the truth is common in Vietnam, but pointing out that someone is actually lying is totally making them lose face.
As saving face is taken into account during daily life in Vietnam, you should watch your mouth and have a self-respect and sensitivity when communicating with your colleagues, friends, neighbours or family members.
This article was published in The Vietnam Guide on August 6, 2012

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