Bill Gates causes major controversy in South Korea… because of a handshake


This seemingly innocent picture of founder and former CEO of Microsoft Bill Gates shaking the hands of South Korean president Geun Hye Park is making the rounds in the press and all over the internet in South Korea. Why? Because of the way he’s shaking her hand, of course.

Kotaku’s Brian Ashcraft notes that putting your hands in your pocket, especially in formal situations, is considered disrespectful in South Korea. “It’s akin to slouching or chewing gum,” he says. And he’s right! That is the very reason why this picture, which might look pretty normal to many of us, is causing all sorts of reactions in the country.

Some wisely mention that he’s probably just unaware of that this would be considered rude in South Korea, while others are already accusing him of simply being rude. The following image has been circulating online, and quite interestingly looks at how Bill Gates has shook people’s hands in South Korea:


It looks to me that the man simply puts his hands in his pocket sometimes, and other times uses both hands to greet people. Some people might look at the fact that he’s using both hands to greet a sixth grader and but only one hand for one of the former presidents as weird — maybe even disrespectful, because the person is the leader of the state. What do I think? I think Bill just likes to put his hands in his pocket sometimes. Simple as that.

However, after all this has appeared in news broadcasts, it makes me wonder how Bill Gates will choose to shake hands the next time he visits South Korea. Will he use both hands as a sign of respect? Or keep a hand in his pocket and rebel against South Korea, and the rest of Asia that might consider this impolite? Stay tuned!

But seriously, relax people. And South Korea, give the guy a break.

[via Kotaku]

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  • Tom

    Not at all. Just accept me for who I am, as I do for you… salt/pepper, cream/sugar… Easy peasy, huh?

  • reedo


    so if i invite you to my home tom you would just kick back in your underwear yelling at me to learn your culture???

  • Ashraf

    [@kevbo] Oh, now I get it. Thanks for enlightening me :-)

    And I was joking about the counter racism comment. I’m not one of those type of people who believe only “the white man” can be racist. Non-Caucasians can be plenty racist, too. Although it is fun to fluster people.

  • Coyote

    Well this is a very simple example of how our cultures view things differently. For instance greeting a 6th grader with both hands to me (being american like Bill) is an endearing or paternal type greeting and when greeting an adult a single handshake shows more respect and adherence to traditional ways.

    As for the hands in the pocket thing… I’ve always heard never trust a man that keeps his hands in his pockets, he has something to hide. Or he just gets cold fingers like I do this time of year…

  • kevbo


    No, Ashraf, you mis-understand my comment. “Danger Will Robinson, danger” is a bit of a joke referring to an old TV show in the States (referenced here,_Will_Robinson ).

    With it, I was referencing the poster’s remark that “Gates is using people of color a [sic] guinea pigs” and his/her insinuation that Bill Gates is on a campaign of racial and misogynistic genocide in Africa. The combination of these two statements, to me, is so outlandish and inane that to attempt to have a sane conversation with the source is futile. It would be akin to arguing with someone who is convinced that the Holocaust did not occur.

    Now, whether the quoted death toll and the rising AIDS figures are accurate or not, I do not know, but I highly doubt them. But even if they are, to use them to infer that Mr. Gates is using his humanitarian endeavors to fulfill some sort of Hitlerian racial cleansing on a global level is preposterous at best, and the product of an unbalanced mind at worst. To argue with the person who holds such beliefs will get you nowhere, except brought down to their own base level. In other words: turn and run/I wouldn’t touch that with a ten foot pole/Danger Will Robinson, Danger.

    So there it is: another cultural misunderstanding. I guess it can happen to the best of us.

    Rest assured, Mr. Boss-Man, that I have naught but the utmost respect for you, your opinions, your knowledge, your website here, and the patience you (most of the time) show to your posters. And that respect has nothing to do with the color of your skin.

    And I beg to differ; in my time I have run across racists of many different colors. The fact that the color of their skin was not the same as mine does not make me a bigot, nor change the fact that they were racist.

  • etim

    That’s not a pocket.

  • Ashraf

    [@hatman] I’m not saying you are wrong but I’ll hold my judgement regarding your claims until I see proof from a trustworthy source.

    [@kevbo] Danger of what? Being called racist? The great part about being a person of color myself, as hatman so eloquently put it, is it’s hard for someone to accuse me be being racist without looking like a bigot themselves xD. Reverse racism ftw?

  • kevbo


    Danger Will Robinson, danger!

  • hatman


    I’m not an expert on the topic. The Gates foundation Polio Vaccine info can be found on an internet search. They also tested an anti-aids cream on African woman and Aids skyrocketed in the test group.

  • Ashraf

    [@hatman] Interesting. So for whom is he using “people of color” as guinea pigs for with polio vaccine? Polio has been eradicated in most of the world and is only still found in countries with “people of color”. Who is he, as you insist, testing polio vaccines for?

  • hatman


    Gates is using people of color a guinea pigs.

  • Ashraf

    [@Tom] It isnt that one culture is better than the other. It is that you are in another country or region and you will get a lot more respect if you learn the local culture and behave accordingly instead of being a so called “typical American” (or whatever nationality you are).

    [@thegreenwizard] LOL

    [@hatman] Proof? Im saddened by the fact that so many people, in third and first world countries, are against vaccienes when there is conclusive scientific evidence that they do more good than harm. Contrary to what people might think, not all medical professionals are simply sellouts to big phrma. Some actually, you know, care about their patients and wouldnt reccommend vaccienes if they werent safe.

  • hatman

    This is very minor when compared to what he did in India.
    The Gates foundation Polio Vaccine has Paralyzed over 48,000 Children in India.

  • JonE

    It’s troublesome to me that this picture would look pretty normal to many of us. But, this is the age of enlightenment where we know more about what’s proper than any other age that came before us. You can call me old fashioned, but I do not believe it is old fashioned to believe certain things are right or wrong.

    For sure greeting some one with ones hand(s) in their pocket(s) is not a reason for an international incident, but it is disrespectful.

    I was raised to believe putting my hands in my pockets is slovenly. Take a good look at ole Bill; he’s slouching, his jacket is undone, with one hand in his pocket. He looks sloven, or slovenly.

    Local custom? I think not. I’ve been around the world, including Korea, and every country I’ve been in considers having ones hands in ones pockets is slovenly. And especially when meeting, greeting, or being introduced to someone it is disrespectful, discourteous, and yes rude, not only to the other person, but yourself. And that’s not only true in countries I have lived and worked in, but in this country, as well.

    Any of you that have been in the military know that it is a BIG NO, NO to walk around with ones hand in ones pockets; it’s covered in the UCMJ, because it’s slovenly and is disrespectful to the uniform and ones self.

    I’m sure not many will agree with me, but it’s more than just an opinion.

  • Enrique

    [@thegreenwizard] +1! No wonder he didn’t know :p

  • thegreenwizard

    [@Briley Kenney]
    Yes! he did use BING.

  • Gil

    No matter what one’s opinion is of him, just be glad you’re shaking the hand(s) of Bill Gates!

  • RealBull

    Hands in the pockets is rude in Japan, too.

  • Tom

    I’m amused at the instruction to “learn the local culture” as if “my culture” is less worthy than others. Let’s recognize that we have different systems of operating, and while I’m good with knowing some of the ins and outs of “your culture”, please don’t expect me to necessarily conform to “your culture”.

    Maybe it would be good for you to know “my culture” so your sensibilities would not be offended when I shake your hand “my way”.

  • Briley Kenney

    [@Seamus McSeamus] I’m sure Bill Gates has the time do research on the matter before traveling. I could be wrong about that though.

  • spredo

    Culture is important.
    Being rude without intent is… troublesome.

    There is a story about a man traveling to Japan on business. He wore “traveling clothes”, i.e. jeans and sweater.
    He arrived in Japan, and was met by most of the department he was supposed to be working with. They were all in “full business attire”.
    They took him to his hotel, and agreed they would meet him for dinner later on.
    The man unpacked his suitcase, took out his “formal dinner wear”, dressed, and left his room.
    In the lobby, he met his associates. ALL dressed in jeans and sweaters, as not to make him uncomfortable, being “underdressed”…

  • Seamus McSeamus

    I agree with Ashraf – learn local customs beforehand, so as not to unknowingly offend anyone. Even if you’re Bill Gates.

  • EleventhHour

    I think having your hands in your pockets in a formal setting is considered rude in most places.
    However, he’s Bill Gates and probably gets a pass. He’s famous for being ridiculously wealthy and a huge philanthropist. He’s usually the one being deferred to.

    If you greet someone with your hand in your pocket, you’re essentially saying your status is much higher than theirs. Whether it’s true or not, it’s a perception you want to avoid in public settings.

    Imagine shaking the hand of the leader of your respective countries with a hand in your pocket.
    You think no one would make a fuss? Not likely.

  • Ashraf

    [@kevbo] LMAO!

  • kevbo

    Maybe if he got a pair of Fundawear for himself and an iPhone for the Mrs, he wouldn’t have to put his hand in his pocket so often.

  • Ashraf

    I was expecting this to be an article about Bill Gates shaking hands with Kim Jong Un and South Korea being up in arms about it. But this? Calm down bros. Play Starcraft 2 and be happy.

    On a serious note, this shows the importance of familiarizing yourself with culture norms of cultures other than your own, especially if you tend to travel a lot.