We didn't notice Bill Gates's one-armed, one-hand-in-his-pocket salutation until South Korean media brought the apparently "rude" gesture to our attention this morning. Turns out, the Microsoft founder and world do-gooder's awkward style of handshake is, well, downright offensive in some parts of the world. It also turns out Gates has been doing the pocket shake for years.
Gates met with new South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Monday, and here's the handshake in question (we've circled the ruse part):
Catch that? Gates has his left hand (he's left-handed) in his pants pocket. And that's — well, that's pretty creepy in any country. But in South Korea it's flagrantly offensive. ABC News's Joohee Cho explains:
Gates, 57, might have not realized it Monday, but a one-hand shake in Korean culture – and also in Asia – is notably casual, done only when the other party is a good friend, of the same or younger age. Using one hand with the other tucked in the pants pocket is considered rude here, done when one is expressing superiority to the other.
Some South Korean media outlets have actually gone so far as to crop out the offending Gates appendage. Others, such as JoongAng Daily, highlighted the other hand — it's on pretty much every front page in the country today, and South Korean TV has gone all-out, complete with meteorologist-style green screens. "Bill Gates' putting one of his hand in his pocket while shaking hands with the president gave rise to a question whether he was rude to do so," reported South Korea's Dong-al-Ilbo.
The handshake was so rude/offensive/odd that the South Korea's presidential office eventually issued a statement: "Bill Gates took a similar pose for a picture when he met former President Lee Myung-bak five years ago. Just think of it as an American style of greeting." Wait. Hold up. America is not a nation of hands-in-pants greeters. But Bill Gates — yes, Bill Gates has a history of pocket-shaking. Here's a visual compendium:
On April 8, Gates met China's President Xi Jinping, and his hand may have been in his pants' pocket:
Here he is meeting Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna on May 31, 2012, again with possible hand in pants pocket:
And here's Gates meeting with Secretary General of the U.N. Ban Ki-moon on September 26, 2012 — with one hand in his pocket and the other one giving a handshake:
And another photo from that meeting — a pound of sorts, with Gates, Ban Ki-Moon, Director General of the World Health Organization, and still the left hand in the pocket:
And Gates doesn't just do this hand-in-pocket funny business with Asian leaders. Here he is with former French President Nicolas Sarkozy at Davos last year:
And here's a vintage shot (from 2006) with Gates meeting former South African President Thabo Mbeki:
Indeed, it appears Gates's natural inclination is to put his left hand in his pocket, whether he's shaking hands or not. Here's the second richest man in the world relaxed, slightly less awkward, and still with one hand out while taking a stroll at the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference in Idaho this past July:
And again in Paris almost one year ago:
And perhaps when he's meeting important people like French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, Gates is just itching to get that hand in its safe place:
Especially when he meets Bono:
Well, there is one solution to this problem. If you give Gates something to hold, it makes it much more difficult to put his hand in his pants. Like this stack of papers:
Or Sharon Stone:
But, we do know the man is fully capable of shaking hands like a normal person. We've seen it before ... in 2009.
Photos via AP.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.