Saturday, July 6, 2013

Saving face, by lying to my face

Ahhh, what would life here be without some more growing pains?

My newest "I-just-can't-wrap-my-head-around-it" cultural divide is that of what I, and most westerners would consider lying. Like bold faced lies.

As in, not telling the truth to "save face."

I've mentioned before that the Chinese culture has this innate need to "save face", or to not bring shame to themselves or their families. This in turn, means that at times, they will lie to protect themselves from losing face, and also, as a "courtesy" to the person they are lying to, as to not upset them (assuming the person being lied to doesn't find out).

But what happens when we, as Westerners find out we are being lied to?

We (or I), take it personally. Especially when it is someone that I trust, and have come to love as a part of our family. My insides hurt. My heart is heavy. I'm sad.

Our ayi has been dishonest with us. This being said, I also know she has a good heart. I know she cares about my son, and wants to keep her job with us. I'm contradicting myself, aren't I? How could someone who lies, actually care? 

 I think her recent lie ( about dropping my husband's shirt off at the cleaners, when she really hadn't) was a small harmless one that really was just an inconvenience to us. It by no way put us in danger. It simply meant that my husband took an hour out of his day to go retrieve something from the shirt at the cleaners who had no record of receiving the shirt that day--even though the ayi claimed she had dropped it off. When called out about it, she admitted she had not dropped the shirt off at the cleaners that day. Had she been honest right away, my husband could've saved himself a trip to the cleaners and she could have just retrieved the item from my husband's shirt and brought it to us the next day....but she didn't. Instead, she lied.

The lie that makes me lose trust more than anything is something that I've mulled over in my brain for the past few weeks. Before we left for the US and then Bali,  I specifically told her that she must come each day and clean our floors and care for our cat. Caring for the cat entailed cleaning the litter box, throwing the waste outside (gotta be specific here, so it doesn't stank up our house) and feeding the cat food and clean water daily. 

NZ and I have been so lucky to have friends here that are cat lovers. They sweetly offered to check in every few days to snuggle with Beaver while we were away. It was brought to my attention by my friend who had stopped in, that the same cat vomit was on our floor two days in a row, indicating that the ayi did not come as arranged. My friend actually stopped in twice in the same day before alerting me to her concerns about our ayi not coming.  When we told her [ayi] that we knew she hadn't come each day as instructed (because of the lingering cat vomit and furballs around the house) she lied and said she went in the morning and that my friend must have missed her. Here's my beef--even if she had come in the morning, she still neglected to clean up after the cat (the floors), in my western eyes, she didn't do her job. She didn't hold up her end of the agreement. She lied.

It's hard to know where to go next. What steps to take. How to deal with this cultural difference. Some of the articles I have read basically say westerners will never fully comprehend why Chinese people lie and do not feel that it is immoral. Some articles claim they tell lies to save face, to not rock the boat, or to keep peace. I have to step back and remind myself as I bounce back and forth between anger and hurt that I need to make an attempt to understand and respect the culture of the people I live amongst, but it is oh so difficult. I was raised to believe all lies are bad. 

Perhaps we will need to sit down and have a talk with her (translated, of course) and explain that we won't be mad for her telling the truth, but that if we catch her lying on one more occasion, she will lose her job with us. I really don't want another ayi. I want her. I just want her to be honest. As I said before, we love her. To our  knowledge she has never stolen anything from us, has been wonderful with our son, and keeps our home sparkling. 

So, what's a family to do? Accept it as a TIC (This Is China) situation, or take it to heart like a Westerner and give her the three strikes you're out warning?


  1. Dang, I don't know. That's a rough call, but it does frustrate me for you. :/

  2. You could go three strikes but be ready for the consequence of actually losing her. The possible loss of her job could be a dark cloud and warp her judgement of whether or not to lie next time. If you do lose her, and the problem arises again with another ayi, how would you deal with that? This is real pickle, thats for sure. Vernie

  3. I lived in NE China and taught at a Teachers' College. The only time this came up for me was students cheating. Which unfortunately happened a lot. I to never understood how even with evidence in hand I could still be lied to. One girl took it to the college president and after talking with me was given the permanent grade of an F. To this day had she respected me enough to be honest, the outcome perhaps would have been different. I would talk to this young woman and try to get her to understand the issue of respect, and how lying, even a minor lie is disrespectful. That in your eyes she is learning how to be a better person when she respects you. Personally, I would give her time, nix the 3 strikes you are out (really it is not as though she lied about killing someone or leaving your child alone), but next time you need to confront her, remind her of how important that it is that she respect you with always telling the truth. I imagine she panics when confronted and doesn't want to be viewed in a poor light. Best of luck to you!