最近恢復單身的俄國總統普亭到北京參加亞太經合峰會（ APEC ），與習近平分坐在中國第一夫人彭麗媛兩旁。這種座位安排讓習近平方便與坐在他右側的歐巴馬總統交談，於是普亭與彭麗媛有機會寒喧了幾句，彭麗媛或許說了句像「這裡很冷」之類的話。普亭雙手抓著一件棕色外套，表現騎士精神把它披在中國第一夫人肩膀上。
普亭的作法有君子之風。然而，華文報紙就以 "普亭居然向東道主的總統夫人獻殷勤"，並用 "膽大妄為的普亭趁虛而入" 做新聞標題，甚至假設 "北京當局受不了"。果然中西有別。
Different cultures may have different interpretations of nonverbal communication. Sometimes even the same language and facial expression may have different meanings because of different cultural backgrounds.
When I was in the US, I often saw interesting episodes that resulted from cultural differences. For example, when Indian students are happy and satisfied with your efforts, they will shake their heads from side to side. The faster and more vigorous the headshake, the greater the level of approval. Every year my secretary, who was not so familiar with the Indian culture, would be confused when she saw them shaking their heads all the time. I would then say to her: "Congratulations! They are very happy with what you have done for them. Some day if they stop shaking their heads at you, it will mean they are not satisfied."
Similarly people in the East will be surprised when they see Barack Obama, the US president, sitting with his legs on his desk. But for people who have lived in the US for many years, they won't find this offensive at all, but rather casually elegant.
At the 2014 APEC summit in Beijing, Xi Jinping and the Russian president Vladimir Putin, who was recently divorced, were sitting on either side of China's First Lady, Peng Liyuan. The arrangement made it convenient for Xi to talk to the US president, seated on his right.
This meant that Putin had the opportunity to chat with the First Lady. Perhaps Ms Peng commented about the cold weather while they talked, and in response Putin gallantly put a shawl over her shoulders. But Putin's gallantry was interpreted by Chinese language media as "flirting with the First Lady". Some even used sensational headlines like "Daring Putin takes an opportunity to hit on First Lady", and asserted that "Beijing may not take it gracefully". There ARE cultural differences between the East and West.
This article was originally published in Chinese in the United Daily News (16 February, 2015).
23 February, 2015