Microsoft founder Bill Gates, right, keeping his hands in his pockets, is escorted by Cho Won-dong, left, senior presidential secretary for economic affairs during a courtesy call on President Park Geun-hye at Cheong Wa Dae, Monday. / Yonhap
By Jun Ji-hye
Microsoft founder Bill Gates did all the right things during his recent visit to Korea, except for shaking hands with President Park Geun-hye while keeping his other hand in his pocket.
Of course, not everybody is criticizing Gates, with some attributing the casual greeting to cultural differences.
"The President represents the nation. It is absurd that Gates ignored Korean culture and manner. There is no reason why he wouldn't know this," said a netizen identified by "kjk2****."
Another netizen, "whdg****" said, "As an old saying goes, ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do,' he should have followed what people do in Korea."
On the other hand, some netizens claim it is not a serious problem when taking cultural differences into account.
"It is inappropriate to force Western people to follow Confucianism culture," said an online commentator with ID "sana****," while ID "nell****" said "Gates is not a Korean. People should not judge him by our cultural standards."
Others write opinions that Gates's behavior is just a habit. He previously shook hands with his left hand in his pocket when he met former President Lee Myung-bak at Cheong Wa Dae five years ago and French President Francois Hollande last year.
The same scene occurred when he met Bill Clinton and Nicolas Sarkozy, former U.S. and French presidents, respectively.
Some netizens took issue with a photo of Gates shaking hands with late liberal President Kim Dae-jung with both hands, saying Gates behaved respectfully to Kim.
However, both Korean and American experts say it is not a matter of great importance.
"A handshake with one hand would not be a big deal in the U.S., so I would not read too much into the manner with which Gates shook the president's hand," said Robert Kelly, associate professor at Department of Political Science and Diplomacy at Pusan National University.
"He is not a Korean, so it is rather unfair to judge him by standards he likely did not know. More important though is, in the U.S., excessive deference to those ‘above' you is considered arrogant elitism," he said.
Korean expert, Bae Jong-chan, a director of the social research and consulting department at Research and Research, agreed in part with Kelly.
"It is improper to stretch the meaning of Gates' handshake manner because it is as if people are judging the whole by a small part. What is more important is what he said and how he behaved during the meeting with President Park, which did not cause any problems," he said.
Bae pointed out that Gates might have shaken hands with Kim using two hands because there was a large age gap between him and Kim, so "it should not be politically interpreted."
He added, however, "It is true that the manner of his handshake could be regarded as a sign of discourtesy by Korean cultural standards. It would have been much nicer if a world figure such as Gates observed an accepted standard of good manners in a foreign land."