一位在美國研究、教學俱佳的教授，幾年前加入香港某大學任教職，最終被發現他在加入該大學、接受終身教職（香港的 substantiation，美國的 tenure）時，並未辭去他在美國的終身教職，如此有違規定，遭人告發，因而有被美、港兩所大學同時解職之虞。
在美國，習慣在相關項目上打勾 V（或者打 X）以示同意，而在香港，則通常把不相關的項目勾掉；按照香港的習慣，打 X 是「不要」的意思；而在美國，打 X 則往往表示「選項」，因而有贊同的意思。這位教授原來在「沒有放棄美國教職」的選項前打了一個 X，以表示沒有放棄美國教職，然而香港的大學卻將之解讀成「同意放棄美國教職」。
I was involved in handling a case of serious misunderstandings due to cultural differences.
An American professor, who is commended for excellence in both teaching and research, was admitted into the faculty of a local Hong Kong university. It was discovered later that he had not relinquished his tenure when he accepted the substantiation faculty post in the local university. He was reported violating the regulations, which could cause him to lose his employment at both the American university and the university in Hong Kong.
The university in Hong Kong claimed that he had already given up his faculty post in the US when he signed on. And yet he refuted the claim. Does this sound unbelievable to you or not!
The initial investigation produced a solid proof from the university, i.e. the document he signed when he joined the university in Hong Kong, in which he solemnly proclaimed that he would be voluntarily relinquish his post in the US. And yet, the interpretation of the document became fuzzy after some careful analysis, resulting from cultural backgrounds and practices. As a result, there is much to be said on both sides.
It turns out that when the party concerned joined the local Hong Kong university he did tick in the column indicating his willingness to give up his teaching post in the US. But there is a difference in ticking practice between Hong Kong and the US.
Whereas in the US, ticking (or crossing) the related item indicates agreement, in Hong Kong, however, it usually means crossing it out. In this case, crossing an item means "crossing it out" in Hong Kong, while in the US it means "selecting the item". This particular professor put a X in front of "not giving up teaching post in the US", to show that he had NOT given up his post, which was interpreted by the Hong Kong university as "agreeing to give up teaching post in the US."
It is not hard to imagine how one choice can potentially have such contrasting interpretations because of cultural differences!
This article was originally published in Chinese in the United Daily News (7 December, 2014).
26 January, 2015