SEOUL – Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ casual style was the subject of criticism in some South Korean media Tuesday after he shook hands with President Park Geun-Hye, with one hand in his pocket.
The picture of the meet-and-greet between Gates and Park Monday was splashed on the front page of every national daily, some of which cropped out the offending pocketed hand while most chose to highlight it.
“Cultural difference, or an act of disrespect?” the JoongAng Ilbo wrote in the accompanying caption.
“Disrespectful handshake? Casual handshake?” the Dong-A Ilbo asked.
South Korea — a deeply hierarchical, Confucian society where etiquette has great significance — is particularly sensitive to any possible slight to its national pride.
While the presidential Blue House declined to comment, social networking sites were clogged with opinion.
“Even considering the cultural difference, there is an appropriate manner for certain occasions… how can he put his hand in his pocket when meeting a leader of the state?” tweeted @msryu67.
Some news portals posted montages of Gates shaking hands with other world leaders, which showed that he has some form when it comes to informal greetings.
In a 2008 meeting with Park’s predecessor Lee Myung-Bak, Gates also kept one hand pocketed, although a 2001 picture with then-president Kim Dae-Jung showed him adopting a more respectful, two-handed shake.
“Gates is a casual man who’s not bound by customs so he shakes hands in this manner even when meeting heads of international organisations or top political figures,” Dong-A Ilbo quoted an unnamed friend of his in Seoul as saying.
And some Koreans suggested the media criticism was misplaced.
“Please, people… don’t think your Confucian mindset is a universal norm elsewhere in the world,” tweeted @itanomaly.
Gates was in South Korea as chairman of the nuclear start-up TerraPower, promoting its project to develop a next-generation nuclear reactor.
Park, meanwhile, was seeking the Microsoft founder’s advice on her plans to build a “creative economy” that moves beyond South Korea’s traditional manufacturing base.