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Bill Gates and Barack Obama: cultural gaffes making headlines


The latest “cultural” gaffe is Bill Gates’ recent one: on visit to South Korea he met and greeted President Park Geun-hye holding his left hand in his pocket.

Korean media widely criticized his attitude as disrespectful of their President. South Korea culture is deeply hierarchical (in Hofstede’s research has High Power Distance index), is Confucian (index 75) and very attentive to formalities as all cultures with High Uncertainty Avoidance are (Korean index 85): rules, rituals and formalities are part of expected social behaviors.
No wonder, then, that Koreans detected in Bill Gates attitude an offense to their strong national pride.

What’s rather surprising is that sometimes international players seem to ignore how their body language could be misinterpreted in different cultures. Here’s an excuse for the Microsoft founder: US culture, because of the combination of its values, tends to be much less formal towards power holders than Koreans are.

Not long ago, also President Barack Obama showed poor awareness of cultural diversity: on a visit to Burma, “attempted” to publicly embrace Aung San Suu Kyi, who tried to escape a gesture too embarrassing when done in public and official contexts.
The photo clearly highlights the difficult situation!

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Posted in A world of Cultures, Featured