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Bill Gates' 'disrespectful' handshake sparks debate

Lee Jin-Man
Associated Press

Microsoft founder Bill Gates met with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye Monday, part of a visit to build business ties and boost nuclear energy plans. But it was the handshake they shared that created the biggest stir in Korean society, after Gates greeted Park with a smile — and his left hand jammed into his pants pocket.

"Among Koreans, it is considered disrespectful to put one's hand in your pocket while shaking another person's hand," reports The Korea Herald. The encounter occurred at the president's official residence.

Many Koreans went online to see the images — "Bill Gates" was a hot search term Tuesday, The Herald reports — and to debate whether the American businessman and philanthropist had been rude, or was simply oblivious to the gesture's cultural import.

In Microsoft's home state of Washington, is calling it "the handshake that has bruised a nation."

The controversy reshaped South Korea's coverage of Gates' visit, as people took to social media and news websites to discuss whether they had been snubbed. At least one newspaper, The Chosun Ilbo, ran a story on the meeting without a photograph.

After the incident sparked debate, Koreans who researched Gates' handshake habits say they found him to be "a long-time, serial hand-in-pocket shaker," as the gaming and culture site Kotaku reports.

The Korea Herald notes that Gates has kept one hand in his pocket while meeting former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, as well as France's President Francois Hollande and his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.