From Elimäki to celebrity status in South Korea
Taru Salminen is a familiar face to Korean TV viewers
Little did she know when she left the small Finnish town of Elimäki...
Taru Salminen, 31, had no idea eight years ago when she embarked on a journey to study in South Korea that she would become a celebrity there.
But today strangers stop her on the streets of the capital Seoul on a daily basis. They stop her, and ask for strange things.
“They want my autograph - and my mobile number”, Salminen says, simultaneously horrified and amused.
She has arrived in Finland for a quick spring visit.
Salminen, who deals with immigration and economic affairs at the Finnish Embassy in Seoul, was offered a chance to appear in a discussion programme on Korean television, where - as the programme’s name "Talk with Beauties" suggests - beautiful women chat about stuff.
The topics of conversation vary from serious subjects to pure hokum and entertainment.
All the panellists are of foreign extraction.
“At first it was aired on Sunday mornings. Once the programme gained popularity, it was moved to a prime time slot”, Salminen explains.
From the Finnish point of view, the South Korean prime time, 11 pm on Sunday night, sounds rather exotic.
This alone speaks several volumes about the differences between the Finnish and the Korean culture.
Here a normal working Finn starts getting putting on pyjamas right after 11pm, but in South Korea the evening is young and only just getting into gear.
But there are also other differences.
“In Finland it was weird to pop into the Stockmann department store in downtown Helsinki during the so-called “Crazy Days” sale. People moved so slowly”, Salminen marvels.
As anyone can tell you, the Stockmann sales see Finns at their hectic elbow-waving worst, almost regardless of age or gender.
In all, Salminen has spent around four years in South Korea getting acquainted with the buzzling life style there.
“At the beginning of the decade I studied at Seoul University. Two years ago I landed a job with the Finnish Embassy there.”
Salminen first immersed herself in Asian culture at the University of Helsinki some ten years ago, when she commenced her degree programme in East Asian studies. In her studies she specialised in Korea.
Now this specialisation has advanced so far that Salminen has totally adopted the Korean culture.
Salminen now actually finds it difficult to remember what she thought of Korea as a foreigner, when she first moved there.
In the popular discussion programme Salminen’s assets have been her good knowledge of the Korean language, her genuineness, and an infectious sense of humour.
“I cannot act snobbishly, I just started speaking my mind”, Salminen puts it plainly.
On the show , sixteen women at a time take part in the discussions.
Only a few of them appear in each episode. To use sports terminology, Salminen is one of the first names on the team-sheet. In other words, if she’s in town she's on the air.
Or more precisely, she was.
The Finnish Embassy decided a couple of months ago that it is not quite appropriate for a staffer to appear in a television chat programme.
This has not prevented Salminen from being in the limelight in Korea.
The mother of one of the members of the Korean boy band Super Junior announced through the media that Salminen would be a welcome daughter-in-law.
There would be only one condition. Taru would have to moderate her consumption of the Korean distilled rice liquor Soju.
“This impression of me dates back to my student years. The Koreans drink really often, in fact, basically every day of the week. Nowadays I hardly drink at all. As the years pile up, you no longer recover from the effects of alcohol as quickly as you did when you were younger.”
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 22.4.2008
Note: The YouTube website appears to have many many (around 2,000) entries for "Talk With Beauties".
University of Helsinki Institute for Asian and African Studies
Taru Salminen on the Korean Broadcasting System´s "Beauties Talk" website (site is in Korean)
ARNO SEIRO / Helsingin Sanomat