I’m trying to translate a Vietnamese proverb into English, and I couldn’t find an idiom or proverb in English that provides an exact match with my Vietnamese one.

The Vietnamese one goes as follows: “bằng mặt mà không bằng lòng” (literal translation: equal face but not equal stomach/heart). It is often used to describe your relationship with someone who you are not really fond of or in fact, you despise them, but you still have to put on a face while interacting with them.

For example, you hate your boss and think that he does not deserve such a position, but since it’s a professional workplace environment and he’s still your boss, you still have to be nice to him and sometimes show that you agree (but internally you totally disagree) with his meaningless and dull opinions.

This Vietnamese expression is actually a direct translation of an old Chinese (Mandarin) proverb, which is "面和心不和" /miàn hé xīn bù hé/. They resemble each other's meaning, which is "remain friendly in appearance but estranged at heart".

In Vietnam, this is not considered a bad, sinister, or diabolical action, since it is actually considered much better to keep the situation at peace rather than stirring up unnecessary troubles arising only due to personal feelings.

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    Apparently, Merriam-Webster doesn't have an entry for "To put on a good face". But that is the phrase I would use. Oct 27, 2023 at 11:55
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    This may reflect cultural differences - in the west with our emphasis on self-expression it's considered bad to pretend to like someone you hate, so there are a lot of very negative expressions, but maybe in other cultures it is considered polite or good behaviour, so the expressions are less rude. Just a theory.
    – Stuart F
    Oct 27, 2023 at 15:48
  • Not really an idiom as such, but for your example where you are nice to your boss, I would talk about using your "work persona" for how you act in the workplace.
    – Dragonel
    Oct 27, 2023 at 16:27
  • Not an idiom nor a verb, but a "frenemy" is a person with whom you are outwardly friendly but have some feeling of enmity toward, which could take the form of jealousy, competitiveness, or distrust. It usually describes a complex personal relationship between "friends" and wouldn't be a good fit for the workplace, though. Oct 27, 2023 at 17:06
  • Is it used to describe one person's behavior, or the relationship? For instance, would you say "With my boss and me, it's same face, different heart"? Or would you say, "I'm totally 'same face, different heart' with my boss"? I actually suspect that English has no good match. People are aware of the phenomenon, so if there were a stock phrase for it, it would come up right away. Oct 28, 2023 at 3:12

13 Answers 13



The idea being that you have one face for the presence of the person, and another when they are not there.

Wolf in sheep's clothing

This is a bit more sinister, but it still applies. The idea is that you have someone who pretends to be part of a group, but has ulterior motives that not only diverge from the group, but are likely in conflict with it (i.e. a wolf wants to get close to sheep to devour them, not befriend them)

wolf in sheep's clothing

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    Note that neither of these are particularly complimentary to the person being described.
    – Marthaª
    Oct 27, 2023 at 21:12
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    Note: these imply deception or falsity, unlike "grin and bear it".
    – piojo
    Oct 29, 2023 at 8:44
  • @Marthaª - note that there's simply no need for any compliments - except to their face - hence 'two faced'. Where one face would indeed be complimentary!
    – Tim
    Oct 29, 2023 at 10:56
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    Two-faced is more about being deceitful in general – doesn’t have to relate to whether you like someone or not. You could be playing both sides in a conflict, having an affair, or any number of other things. Oct 29, 2023 at 23:08
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    How appropriate for @Janus to clarify two-faced! Oct 30, 2023 at 17:26

Grin and bear it is an idiom that can be used, especially in your boss example where you have to put up with a boss you hate in a workplace because you have to.

grin and bear it idiom

: to accept something that one does not like because there is no choice

I don't agree with their decision, but all I can do is grin and bear it.


If you want a more general idiom, there is put up with someone/something which I've mentioned in the explanation above. However, it doesn't include the sense that there is no choice like grin and bear it.

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    Lesson learned! This is an amazing idiom and I think that it could also be used in many different situations. Thank you very much for your recommendation :)
    – Lam Luu
    Oct 27, 2023 at 5:28
  • “Grin and bear it” expresses a somewhat frustrated feeling from the speaker since they couldn’t do anything rather than accept what the boss has to say a.k.a having no power in the decision making process. However, the Vietnamese proverb could also be used in situations where two people are equally balance in terms of power. For example: “Even though my dad and hers despite each other, they are treating each other nicely during the wedding due to the fear of “loosing faces”.” I hope this example might provide you with a little bit more context.
    – Lam Luu
    Oct 27, 2023 at 5:28
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    @LamLuu If you want a more general idiom, there is put up with someone/something which I've mentioned in my answer also. But it doesn't include the sense that you have no choice so I gave "grin and bear it" as a more specific idiom for your boss example.
    – ermanen
    Oct 27, 2023 at 5:32
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    grin and bear it does not describe a person really. It describes a state of mind.
    – Lambie
    Oct 27, 2023 at 17:56

Frenemy is a portmanteau of the words friend and enemy that would fit what you are describing. It's very informal and is considered slang, and may not be very widely used, but is worth noting in my opinion.

Frenemy informal Merriam-Webster

  1. a person who is or pretends to be a friend but who is also in some ways an enemy or rival


put on a happy face idiom : to appear happy even when one is not We tried to put on a happy face despite our worries.


put up a good/brave front idiom : to hide one's true feelings, thoughts, etc.


put up a front (redirected from put on a front) put up a (brave) front

  1. To appear or make oneself seem more courageous, resolute, or dauntless than one really feels.

I could feel my knees shaking with terror before my commencement speech, but I put up a brave front and stepped out onto the stage to deliver it.

This girl I'm dating has a big dog that I'm really scared of, but I put up a front when it's around.

  1. To react to or face difficulties, setbacks, or adversity with high spirits or good cheer, especially when it is disingenuous or unauthentic.

John's been putting up a front since his wife left him, but I can tell that he is devastated on the inside.

I really didn't want to spend Thanksgiving with my wife's parents, but I put up a brave front and suffered through it with a smile.

Add-on - This term has the same meaning but is equally used where I'm from.


A facade is the front of a building, or a kind of front people put up emotionally. If you're mad but acting happy, you're putting up a facade.

This word has to do with the outer layer of something. One sense has to do with the front or outside of a building. The other meaning has to do with people who are hiding something. In both cases, the facade could be deceiving. A building with a gorgeous facade isn't necessarily gorgeous inside. A person putting on a facade is definitely putting on a front: the face they're showing to the world doesn't match how they're feeling.

noun - a showy misrepresentation intended to conceal something unpleasant

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    Probably more usually "put on a front". Oct 28, 2023 at 10:06
  • @Russell I have no actual stats as support, but I wouldn’t have said so. ‘Put up a good/brave front’ sounds more natural and familiar to me than ‘put on a good/brave front’. Putting on a front (with no adjective) means you’re fake and misleadingly pretending to be someone or something you’re not – it’s a negative, nefarious thing to do. Putting up a good/brave front is smiling stoically to keep the peace when in fact you don’t like what’s going on, and that’s generally considered positive. Oct 29, 2023 at 23:13
  • @JanusBahsJacquet HERE - i.stack.imgur.com/FsCq0.jpg are some stats in support of my statement. The far more usual expression, by about a factor of 10, is "put on a brave front". In this case put on is FAR commioner than put up. For "put up a brave face" the race is closer but "put on" is still predominant by a factor of about 8:5. There was some to and foing between 1925 anbd 1995 but since tghen put on dominates. Those stats are for UK English but US English shows a similar result. Oct 30, 2023 at 6:15
  • @Russell It appears I’m somewhat out of date! They seem to be neck-and-neck up until around 2003, when on pulled away. But I think you’ve got them backwards in your comment: put on/up a brave front is relatively close (about 2:1), whereas put on/up a brave face has the on variant as more common by a factor of about 50:1 – which does not surprise me at all. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say ‘put up a brave face’. Fronts may be put up, but faces are definitely put on. Oct 30, 2023 at 8:50

Let me start with some adjectives to describe the situation. If you are displaying love while feeling the opposite, you might be

feigning love for a relative or feigning admiration for a boss. Since the OP used "boss" as the object, I'm going to stick to that example.

feign: (of a gesture, statement, or emotion) not real Collins

If you are falsely admiring the boss to curry favor, then you would be a

sycophant: a servile self-seeking flatterer M-W

Sycophant is a more formal term.

Some slang terms might be:

ass-kisser, toady, suck-up.

"You seem to really admire the boss!" "No, I'm just a suck-up."

So a vulgar idiom for this kind of behavior might be

kissing ass to act obsequiously especially to gain favor M-W at "kiss ass"

"You seem to really admire the boss!" "No, I'm just kissing ass."


l have no idea about the English slang. However, I’ve seen some similar expressions in specific situations that were translated into “貌合神离”in Chinese.

For example, ‘emotionally divorced’ to describe a couple. ‘dysfunctional relationship’ to describe a bad intimate relationship.


The essential features of your question are the outward manifestation of respect coupled with the inner unspoken feeling of disrespect, and resentment.

In some moral codes such dissembling reveals a lack of character on the part of the dissembler, whereas in other moral codes such dissembling reveals the canniness of a person who understands it is necessary to hide one's true feelings in order to progress within power structures that keep one at a disadvantage.

There is an apt expression in English, "To know which side your bread is buttered on"


Someone who not only feels this way, but eventually acts on it, is a backstabber -- a two-faced duplicitous traitor.

Merriam-Webster: Backstabber: One who betrays a trust or alliance

See also "What is a word for someone who only pretends to be your friend" on the English Language stack in 2014, which discusses traitor, false friend, backstabber, two-timer, and other terms for a disloyal person.


"Pay lip service" means to say something to give the impression of support, which you do not act upon. Not acting upon it may imply that you don't really believe in your stated opinions.

Merriam Webster describes "lip service" as "an avowal of advocacy, adherence, or allegiance expressed in words but not backed by deeds"

From Merriam Webster - lip service :

The author paid lip service to the UAW’s concern that the automakers are conniving to use the EV transition to undermine union membership, but the trend deserves more than lip service. —Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 13 Sep. 2023


As far as the final example with the Chinese expression: “貌合神離 [mào hé shén lí]” : to appear united on the outside but be troubled underneath. as it pertains to dealing with one's boss is concerned, I feel as though “keeping up appearances” might serve as a viable English equivalent.
as per Merriam Webster:

keep up appearances
: to hide something bad by pretending that nothing is wrong Although we were getting a divorce, my parents thought it was important to keep up appearances.
Also included in Webster’s definition:
Examples of keep up appearances in a Sentence
Recent Examples on the Web

Last year, Japan’s prime minister urged citizens to work from home during a widespread COVID outbreak, but commuters still packed Tokyo’s public transport, eager to keep up appearances with their superiors and frustrated by their employers’ failure to deploy the technology needed for remote work. —Nicholas Gordon and grady McGregor, Fortune, 29 June 2022

While I understand this doesn't exactly satisfy OP as a perfect idiomatic replacement for “pretending to like someone when you actually hate them”, I feel as though it may prove to be an adequate substitution under certain circumstances and or conditions.

I'm fairly new here and I'm still a bit unsure as to how everything works.

The idiom I suggested came to mind as soon as I read the OP, and I did a search to make sure nobody else had mentioned it prior to formulating a response.


Wearing a mask or being two faced is plain to me as being fake or like plastic or just faking it. alot of ppl say fake it til you make it but I have nothing like that in my thoughts so I disagree in the concept.

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    Oct 28, 2023 at 7:07

You (can) catch more flies with honey than (with) vinegar (proverb)

You are more likely to get the results you want from other people if you treat them with kindness or flattery, rather than being aggressive, demanding, or caustic.

I think the kids would visit you more if you were nicer to them. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, you know.

A: "Half my team just told me they are quitting!"
B: "Well, maybe they wouldn't leave if you didn't scream at them every time something went wrong. After all, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms

You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar

You can win people to your side more easily by gentle persuasion and flattery than by hostile confrontation.

See also Origin and meaning of "You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar"


These are all related of sort.

To keep your friends close, and your enemies closer
Fake friend
To have a smile on your face but a dagger in your heart.

I like Take it on the chin when dealing with your boss

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