Chinese people talk of face, meaning dignity or respect. For example, when someone older than you makes a hideous mistake, you give him or her face by pretending not to notice.
My more chauvinist friends insist that Westerners don't have face because we aren't properly civilised. My kinder pals tell me sweetly that OF COURSE Westerners have face, but somehow we have less of it.
I think part of the problem is that we Westerners have this delusion that Asians are somehow more cultured than we are. That attitude gets you into all sorts of pickles when you move to Asia.
Take for example the time when our mate Ah Joy invited us to his son's tea ceremony. This is a pre-marriage ritual where the bride and groom serve tea to their parents and older relatives as a gesture of respect, and then get advice and gifts of money from each.
Ah Joy's family enjoy a joke so Ah Joy's son Peter and his bride-to-be were being regaled with advice like never put down your money when the jockey is betting on another horse and other bits of ancient oriental wisdom.
All of us guests were sitting in the living room watching. In proper Asian fashion, we'd left our shoes at the door.
Suddenly Ah Joy rushed up and told us frantically to go get our shoes. Turning to my mate Edgar, I asked what that was all about. Was it, I asked, something symbolic?
Scenting something interesting, the picture of innocence, Edgar asked, "Symbolic?"
Like a fool I asked if the guests had to wear shoes for the next part of the ceremony as a symbol of wealth to come for the happy couple or something similar. You know, like something borrowed, something blue in Western wedding ceremonies.
Edgar fell over laughing and immediately told everyone else what I'd said. In case someone missed it, he repeated it in Hokkien and Teow Chew for good measure.
When everyone was having a good laugh, Ah Joy explained. "The tiger beer guys are coming to make a delivery. Those guys have no respect. They trample over everything. So get your shoes before they step on them."
Ah Joy tried to give me face by not laughing but it didn't really work. I could see his mouth twitching. Also, I heard he retold the story to all of his mates who weren't there to hear it first hand.
I was reminded of the story when Edgar retold it the other night to a table load of people who hadn't yet heard it. He also let slip my Chinese nickname: Big Boobs.
So clearly I have no face. But it's OK, clearly I have other assets - and it's not just my entertainment value.