Flight of Fancy

If there are, famously and waggishly, only two places in France — Paris and the provinces — what of other European countries? In the common imagination, the literary tradition, in culture as a whole, and of course for a fanciful exercise like this, in gross stereotype. For the UK, which I do not know very well, maybe there’s London, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland? Germany seems much trickier to me, perhaps because I do know it well. Berlin of course, and Bavaria, and then? German Suburbia? In the case of Germany, The Past, and specifically that part of the past from 1933 to 1945, looms largest in the world’s imagination. But I am not sure whether that fits with this scheme. Russia, fittingly, has more: Moscow, St Petersburg, the Caucasus, Siberia, the Gulag, the Provincial City, the Rural Provinces and maybe the Far East. Smaller countries, I will rashly opine, waver between one and two: the Capital City and Everywhere Else or just the Capital. What do you think?

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Culture, France, Germany, Life, Misc by Doug Merrill. Bookmark the permalink.

About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.

24 thoughts on “Flight of Fancy

  1. I suspect it depends on the angle you look from. To non-UKians and Londoners, you’re right, there’s London, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. But if your engagement with the UK is centred in England north of Leicester, there’s The North, the South, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland; if in Scotland, I suspect there’s England, Wales, The West, East and North of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

    Also, some smaller countries are more complicated than that. The Netherlands, for instance, is Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Rest. Portugal is Lisbon, Porto, the Bit in the Middle and the Algarve, which is a clearly separate entity to most tourists. How does Italy work?

  2. Seems to me like a lot of places would have a divide between their Touristan and the Real Country. Portugal was the example I thought of first, but it’s not just them.

  3. I very much doubt Germans think of, say, Duesseldorf, Hannover and Gera as all being part of the same large “Germany that is neither Bavaria nor Berlin”.

    @Chris Y: The Netherlands is just two. “The West” and “The Rest”. This does not mean there aren’t any differences within those two parts, just that the differences (both perceived and real) between them are much larger than the differences between their constituent parts. Within “The West” those would be “Amsterdam” and “not Amsterdam” where “Amsterdam probably includes the entire area to the northwest of it, which culturally has more in common with Amsterdam than with the areas to the south and to the east of Amsterdam. For “The Rest” a subdivision into “The South” and “The North” is not uncommon, but that’s about it. People from Rotterdam like to think they’re different from everybody else, too, but no one else does. To someone from Amsterdam they’re just as much from “Not Amsterdam” as someone from, say, Groningen, while to someone from “The Rest” they’re just as much from “The West” as someone from Haarlem or Utrecht.

  4. To the UK national media, there is London and “regional” news. Events outside London are barely reported. People in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland periodically get cross about this, and arguably it’s one of the drivers of Scottish Nationalism.

    Within England there’s a strong North/South divide in accent and attitude.

  5. I very much doubt Germans think of, say, Duesseldorf, Hannover and Gera as all being part of the same large “Germany that is neither Bavaria nor Berlin”.

    But they are thought about as parts of regions, not as independent units. Those would be Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Cologne, Dresden, Leipzig and the Ruhr.

  6. Re: Holland.

    Just visit Ajax. “The West” is that bit from which visiting teams are not dubbed “peasants” by the F-Side but are called by other pejorative names. “Amsterdam” is, besides Amsterdam itself, those bits of the West from where most F-Siders hail. It’s really easy.

  7. For Italy:
    1. “Rome”,
    2. “Tuscany and thereabouts”,
    3. “The Padan valley” (from Genua to Trieste),
    4. “The Alps” (unless they’re conceptually part of Switzerland/Austria),
    5. “The South” (everything to the south of Rome).
    6. “Sardinia” is different enough to warrant a category itself, don’t know if Sicily qualifies too.

  8. I’m sure there’s plenty of cultural difference between say Lille and Nice, it’s just Parisians who see France as ‘Paris’ and ‘the provinces’. Londoners have the same view of the UK – to a Londoner these days, anything north of the M25 is ‘the North’ and might as well be Scotland.

  9. what about the US? I know, this is about European countries but with the US approaching European unemployment levels and Obama being regularly called a socialist I think it should qualify temporary for this post.

    what about New York, California and the religious America in between?

  10. Israel has Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv Suburbs/Sharon, North, Negev and Eilat*, and I honestly can’t think of any way to conceptually compress those further. I feel bad for leaving out Haifa and the Dead Sea as it is.

    *weeeellllll….and settlements, but i’m not going there, in every sense.

  11. The US has more than a dozen: Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Pacific Northwest, the Rockies, the Southwest, Texas, the Great Plains, Chicago, the Midwest, the South, New Orleans, Miami, the East Coast, Washington, New York, Alaska and Hawaii.

  12. Doug, that’s really only proportionate, given that the US is as big as several European countries together. Also, bits of it are in the middle of the South Pacific. I suspect even the most metropolitan Parisian would allow Paris, the provinces and les départements d’outre-mer.

  13. @Oliver

    My point was that Germans don’t perceive a difference between Berlin on the one hand and regions on the other (possibly separating out Bavaria). Germany is, afaik, unique in considering everything a region, including Berlin.

    In France, there are doubtlessly differences between, say, the Provence and Lille, but, again afaik, in both Provence and Lille they think of themselves as “not Paris” first. Likewise, in the Netherlands you’re either from “The West” or from “not the West”.

    In Germany, on the other hand, it seems to me, you’re from whatever region you’re from. Someone from Hanover does not think of himself as primarily being “not from Berlin”. This probably has something to do with the fact that Berlin has only been the capital of Germany for the past twenty years or so (in recent memory, that is).

  14. And BRAZIL? Rio de Janeiro (carnaval,beaches),São Paulo (busines),Pantanal(nature,ecotrips),
    Recife(carnaval,beaches),Manaus(nature,ecotrips), Bahia(carnaval,beaches)!And the capital,Brasilia,only for the architets or politicians!!

  15. In the Netherlands there is also a big difference between South of the rivers and the rest. And there is also (Dutch) South Limburg

  16. Lucia: if you re-group those, you’ve got a group with beaches, a group in the outback, and then a group with either businessmen or politicians (who are by definition weird:-)). You could argue that carnival would be a group to itself, in time rather than space.

    In the UK, if it’s got an accent it’s got an identity, although there’s the question of whether it’s nationally recognised as being a dialect in its own right. People occasionally say that there’s no nickname for England, but this is a misnomer. There are plenty of tykes, geordies, brummies, cockneys, mancs, scousers, etc. (There’s also plenty of intragroup variance.)

    Obviously Scotland, Wales, and Ireland have a different status, and you could argue at some length whether London is like that or another English accent group.

  17. United States:

    The Coasts and Fly-over Country.

    Some folks also like to use North Coast for the Great Lakes region.

    Just remember: Some people say that New York is not really America, and some people say that Los Angeles is not really America, but nobody has said that Chicago is not America.

  18. To the people who live in a capital like Moscow, it’s divided into Moscow vs everything else. To the people who live in other regions, there are other important regional distinctions. But they don’t matter so much to those who live in Moscow. That’s my impression from watching several decade’s worth of Russian movies. I’ve never visited that country. But I get the impression that it works the same way in France and England. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten the same impression about Ireland, though. So maybe the small country effect is just the opposite of what you say.

    If residents of Washington D.C. are ever allowed to vote for members of Congress, it might end up being the same way here in the U.S., too, as in other large countries. Maybe it is, anyway. We’re getting to the point where those who work in the capital think the purpose of the provinces (formerly known as states) is to carry tribute to the nation’s capital, and then make obeisance before returning home to repeat the cycle.

  19. Smaller countries, I will rashly opine, waver between one and two: the Capital City and Everywhere Else or just the Capital.

    Scotland is very definitely divided into three – Embra (posh, effete, private schoolboys called Rory or Torquil), Glasgow (horrific post-industrial wasteland inhabited by incomprehensible trolls called Shuggie) and The Highlands (rain, sheep, mountains, teuchters called Angus).

  20. there is a grafitti on the santa lucia bridge: “if we blow this thing up, europe will be cut off from Venice”

  21. In the Czech Republic, it’s Bohemia, Moravia, and Prague. Relationship of Bohemia-Moravia is akin to England-Scotland. Moravia has specific accent (so does Scotland), national liquor, pictoresque folklore dresses, but first of all, mental attitude. They consider themselves being more straightforward and honest than Czechs.

    Prague is all-important capital city, and Praguers are often perceived as arrogant by villagers. (I live in Prague and am not arrogant at all, however, even if talking to people from unimportant backwater towns like Brno who usually suffer deep inferiority complex).

    Slovakia is to Czechia what Ireland is to England, sort of.

  22. If you ask a Texan, there’s Houston, Austin, DFW, West Texas, East Texas, the Panhandle, Big Bend, Waaaay Down There By Mexico, Padre, Galveston, and then the rest of the US.

  23. In Portuguese, the saying goes: “Portugal is Lisbon; the rest is landscape”.

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