A few years ago, I asked a woman I know why she decided to go to graduate school to study cultural psychology. She told me she had been in the Peace Corps in Africa, I forget where. Maybe Kenya. Early in her stay a native had been a big help to her. To thank him, she baked him a cake. This angered him. “You think you can pay me back with a cake?” he said. To pay me back, give me something I want, he told her.
A more subtle version of the same thing happens in China. About a month ago, the friend of mine who had invited me to come here told me I had been invited to visit a university near Shanghai by a professor of psychology there who was a dean at the university. I wrote to the person who invited me:
I look forward to visiting you in —-. I don’t have a lot of plans; I could come almost any weekend. When would be a good time for me to visit?
Her assistant replied:
Professor —- will not be free on 6-9 Nov 2008.Â And she will not be free on 15 Nov 2008.Â Â For other days, that’s OK.Â Â I will come back when I get more message from Professor —-.
Thanks. A weekend later than those will be fine.
Her assistant replied:
This evening, I talked with Professor —- about your visit to —-.Â Professor —- is expecting to explore any possibility of research collaboration with you.Â Professor —- mentioned the best time will be the last several days of November or early December for your visit to —-.
Late November or early December is fine with me. I do not have any other plans.
Then I got this:
Professor —- is wondering whether you are interested in some collaboration, such as psychology research design guidance, psychology paper modification (the papers is written in English, but may not as good as expected), and some other research project collaboration.
I was surprised — just the Peace Corp volunteer was surprised. I replied:
I would be happy to talk about research design guidance with Professor —-. I cannot say more than that because I don’t know anything about her research. So I don’t know if our research interests overlap. About paper modification — improving the English — I am less sure. I am busy helping students and colleagues here at Tsinghua with their English.
Professor —- will only ask you to improve the English for only one paper, which she expect to have that paper be published in USA.
I was puzzled what to say to this. Before I could reply, I got another email:
Professor —- talked with me this afternoon.Â She mentioned that the paper is related to ERP.Â She needs your help with the English language improvement with the paper, after her graduates’ [students’] translation from Chinese to English.
I just finished spending many hours fixing the English of a paper written by a non-Tsinghua researcher whom I will never meet. I am not eager to repeat the experience. However, I am happy to help Professor —- with the English of her paper if she will help me with my Chinese.
Professor —- said that that’s OK.
But it wasn’t okay. I heard nothing for a week and wrote again:
When should we figure out the details of my visit?
This afternoon, we discussed how we can benefit to each other, when you are here. Would you please list out what you can offer us, and what you expect us offer you, when you are in Suzhou?
During my trip to —-, I hoped to learn about —-, the university, and the research being done there. I haven’t traveled much in China so I thought the trip would be fun.
As for what I might offer you, I wrote The Shangri-La Diet, a New York Times bestseller that describes an entirely new approach to weight control; I am a statistics expert; and I have done innovative work in experimental design as well. Thousands of people read my blog because they think I have interesting views about the world. You can learn more about my work at www.sethroberts.net. My blog is atÂ blog.sethroberts.net.
Why did you invite me to visit?
We discussed your response.Â And we need to mention the following two points: We need someone to improve our paper in English.Â But the paper has not finished yet. This is not a good season for sightseeing in —- because of the cold whether. For above the two points, we cannot fix the time when you come to —-.Â We may arrange your visit later. Keep posted.
Do I understand you correctly? You invited me to —- “to improve [your] paper in English”?
No reply. In other words, the answer was yes.
Yesterday I met a graduate student from the Philippines. She’s studying architecture here on a scholarship from the Chinese government. How do you like it here? I asked. When she got here, she said, she was positive. “I was all ‘ ‘It’s an amazing place.’ ” Now, after more than a year, she isn’t positive. Whenever someone does something for you it turns out they want something in return, she said, but you don’t find out right away. She didn’t want to give details. “I should stop talking,” she said. I told her I’d had the same experience — the invitation I just described.
The whole thing reminded me of something I wrote about Robert Gallo, the AIDS researcher:
A researcher in Gallo’s lab once told the boss that Einstein was his favorite scientist; he especially admired Einstein’s magnanimity. Gallo replied, “You are naive. Einstein could afford to be magnanimous because he was a genius.” The other scientist asked, “You mean magnanimity is good only if you’re a genius?” Gallo said, “Yeah, because then you don’t have to worry about the competition.”
And the reciprocity norms of rich countries take the form they do because the countries are rich.