Finland and Korea are similar. Did you know?

I would go back to Finland in a heartbeat. Despite the price of beer, the cold climate, and the high living expense, I found the greater reasons. Before I pour out the great things about Finland, I want to talk to you about the similarities I found in Finland. If you remember (if you don’t you can catch up from this link) I talked about my travel purpose: to find similarities and differences. I always thought I was from a different and unique country, but I’ve learned it’s all same how people think and lives anywhere in the world. In fact, I thought about this article while I was sitting in the hot-steamy sauna room. Here are the three facts that I found, how Finland is similar to Korea.


The Finnish language is very compelling to me. I wanted to learn even though I knew it’s not spoken in any other part of the world except Finland. I practiced my fair share of Finnish despite the fact that most of the people could speak English. For me, Finnish was easier to pronounce than English. (And I also have learned that Finnish is one of the hardest languages to learn. Shall I challenge?) I could read and say pretty much everything in the phrase book and communicate with people easier than I thought. That’s the charm of a phonetic language.

I always tell people the Korean language is easier to learn than you think because it’s phonetic. Just like Finnish, you can let people know what you think by reading it from the phrase book. Of course, it would take a long time to be familiar with the sound of the language but at least starting point has a low threshold.

Long Drink in Finland
Long Drink in Finland


I almost freaked out when I first found out sauna was not originated in Korea. Even the world ‘sauna’ is an ancient Finnish word. For some reason, I always thought it was an odd Korean word. The sauna was always in my culture while I was growing up, and still, most of the population enjoy going into the hot-steamy room. Our weekly visit to the public bathhouse when I was little, I got dragged into the wooden-sauna room by my mom or my grandmother every time because it was supposed to be good for me. As a kid, I didn’t like the feeling of breathing the hot air while sweating from my bones. Nonetheless, it was always ‘our’ thing.

Finnish people build the sauna first before the apartment. There are five million inhabitants and over two million – average one sauna per hose. They say the world is most beautiful right after the sauna. A sauna is almost a sacred place for them to cleanse the mind and body.

The best thing I did in Finland has experienced a local sauna right next to a lake. After sitting in the 100degC sauna for ten minutes, diving into the 15degC lake couldn’t feel better. They were right; the world was beautiful right after the sauna.

Sauna Finland tampere Rauhaniemi
Rauhaniemi Sauna at Tampere, Finland


Once, my Finnish friend said ‘Finnish people are shy. We don’t hug much’. It’s impossible for me to know it since I know only handful Finnish friends but at least from the people I know and I meet, I could feel the distance. Of course, it’s not right to make a simple assumption for such a big group of people but it’s a generalized statement. It’s the same one I for describing my own people. On some level, I feel very comfortable around the Finns. Maybe because they remind me of the people back home. I don’t know the reason why my friends said Finnish people are shy, but I know why we Koreans are.

When I met a traveler who has been traveling in Korea, the subject always came out ‘Korean people are shy’. The shyness comes from the fear of embarrassment. We are not prepared to make mistakes in life. Getting B on the test, saying something incorrectly, not knowing something is all highly prohibited in Korean culture. At least that’s how we were educated in school and home. For a matter of English, even though their English fluency is pretty good they couldn’t speak the word out loud because they are afraid of being wrong. Could someone tell me why people are saying (and even the Finns themselves) the Finnish people are shy? I would like to know.

17 thoughts on “Similarities of Finland and Korea”

  1. Now I’ve never heard of Finnish people being shy before – but you’re definitely right about Koreans! I wish people would realise that it’s OK not to be perfect!

    As for the language thing, that’s pretty cool as well….although I have to disagree and say that Korean isn’t entirely phonetic – it does have a few pronunciation rules. Not everything looks how it’s written (for example when you say 중앙로 it’s pronounced like 중앙노, or 박물관 is 방물관 etc. but of course you know this haha!).

    Korea and Finland seem to have a pretty close relationship anyway. All the bosses I’ve worked for have always looked to Finland in terms of education ideas, as apparently the Finns have the best education system in the world. Though sadly, the bosses have always become impatient when the students’ levels don’t improve in a few weeks. Le sigh!

    Now, sauna….I got to go find me a 찜질방 now!

  2. I’ve lived in Finland for 5 months as an exchange students (and I think I went to school with the owner of the hostel you stayed in in Tampere:)) and as I loved it there (despite all the disadvantages you’ve mentioned) I guess I should consider going to South Korea now 🙂 Such an interesting post to read, I enjoyed it a lot! It’s always interesting to find out how others find the places we know so very well!

  3. Thanks for sharing this informatve article about both countries. Before this post I was not aware about these similarities. I thought Koreans are more similar to Japaneese but never thought about Finnish people.

  4. Juno,

    Yes, sauna is from Finland and Scandinavia in general. In the Kalevala they talk about it a lot. It’s a place where women go to give birth. It’s quite fascinating, try to read it if you get your hands on it.

    No, they are not shy. It’s probably just a way to explain it to you in a soft way. They just don’t want to be touched unless it’s out of a strong emotion or for loving your partner. How do I know? I spent many years in Estonia. It’s pretty much identical language and culture.

    I still hate it when people touch me or try to even give me a kiss. It cheapens it. A hug should mean something more than just “Hi, how are you?”. I absolutely hate that part of North American culture.

    Finns are also very non-violent. This is quite outstanding, actually. I don’t know if that’s the case with Korea.


  5. I am going to Finland this winter so I hope you are writing more about your time here, especially in Tampere.

    I have Finnish friends here in Canada and indeed they are reserved and said it’s just a cultural thing.

  6. I have to remember the cultural norms sometimes. Even I (who has had a Mexican upbringing) can be too touchy even for most Americans! I can always feel distance in other cultures. Maybe that is why I miss Latin America so much?

  7. Another very interesting article Juno. I always thought saunas were a Scandanavian thing. However based on Tom @ Waegook Tom comment above I’m struggling to see the phonetic pronounciation for Korean! It is more to do with the way the words are written with symbols rather than a Greek alphabet.

  8. Many people say that we Finns are syy because we were under of the Sweden command for centuries and after that we were conquered by Russia. Finns identity started to rise in 19th century and the wasn’t written finnish until 1800 until Mikael Agricola created it. (Very different as the language is nowadays”.

    The saddest thing in Finland is its very high suicide rates, which are caused by: long and dark winters and the perhaps pretty younique part of our culture: Finns don’t talk much about their feelings. We lock them Inside.

    I have also couple of similarities about these 2 countries:
    1st: Both are technology countries ( Samsung, LG, Nokia)
    2nd: Both have one of the world’s best education systems.
    3rd: When Finland gained it’s independence in 1917 shortly after there was a war against communists… Except Finland isn’t in 2 pieces today.

  9. I’m a Finn who spent little over a year in Korea and I have to say these similarities does sound familiar -more or less- to me 🙂 except the touching part, but maybe I see it differently? and the language part too kkkkkk ^^

    I did find out some other similarities too between these two amazing countries. I love my home country but Korea stole a part of my heart too~

  10. You wrote that koreans are shy because they’re afraid of embarrassing themselves. Well that’s the exact same reason for finns too! I think we’re not quite as ‘shy’ as koreans, but very close. I don’t know why we are so scared to embarrass ourselves, especially when most of the time there’s no need to and we would probably do well. It’s hard to go for things that are unfamiliar.

    Also another big reason why finns are shy with people they don’t know yet, is because they feel very awkward. Finns are socially awkward people. They feel awkward about a lot of things. That’s why when meeting new people they are shy, because they don’t know to act around that person yet (what to speak with them, what they like, what do they think about me, is it okay to be friendly or should I keep my distance and so on)

  11. 1. Long history of colonization
    Finland was under the Swedish command for centuries and after that it was conquered by Russia
    Korea was occupied by China and Japan over centuries on and off and was attached by both countries plus Russia and Mongolia many times

    2. Both have gained independence fairly recently
    Finland in 1917
    Korea in 1945

    3. Love for sauna
    Sauna is originated from Finland
    Korea has a strong culture of public sauna and has developed its own culture in jjimjilbang

    4. High value on education
    Finland has the best educational system in the world
    Korean students ace at many subjects, winning tons of international competitions; the educational system is well developed (though much more competition driven)

    5. High suicide rates (OECD stats)
    Finland – about 15.5 per 100,000 people (ranking #1)
    Korea – about 28 per 100,000 people (ranking #5)

    6. Language
    Both Finnish and Korean do not use articles and both are not gender-based

    7. Both are strong in high technology industries
    Finland – Nokia
    Korea – Samsung and LG

    8. Compulsory military service for men
    Finland – 6-12 months
    Korea – 21 months for Army, 23 months for Navy, 24 months for Air Force and Social Service

    9. Personal distance
    Both people are often referred as ‘a bit shy’ – hugging or kissing is not part of regular greetings

    1. its good info, especially for persons coming from abroad. i have enjoyed going through it and comparing with even more and less advance states. Korea is a good place, sure am gonna visit in course of spring 2016. sure i will meet honest Koreans to take me around

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