A Gratuitous, Essentializing, and Impressionistic Comparison of France and Finland

Our own J. E. H. Smith, in his eponymous weblog:

ScreenHunter_05 Jun. 04 10.32 Why do I feel so much more at home in Finland than in France, in spite of having spent a good part of my adult life trying to fit in in the latter republic, jetting back and forth to Charles de Gaulle, learning to gossip about Sarkozy as if I cared, nodding knowingly when some third party, some briefcase-toting little man in a fine-tailored suit, is marked out as a normalien? I come back to Helsinki after 19 years, for only the second time in my life, the language is just as impenetrable as ever, and yet I experience the whole thing as fitting and easy, while every visit to Paris is experienced as nothing more than a resistance test.

What is it, exactly? There is a general feeling of at-homeness that I have not just in Finland, but in a certain swath of the world that extends mostly across the northern zones of the continents of the North Atlantic. I only very gradually came to realize that this swath is co-extensive with that small bit of the earth's surface which, 400-some years ago, was swept up in the spirit of Reformation. Now I would like to think that this is a distinction that does not matter. I spent a good part of my life in complete ignorance of it, and even have a distinct memory of being 13 and still being confused as to which of the pair of terms, 'Protestant' and 'prostitute', means what. But now it seems clear and undeniable to me that there is a deep cultural divide that, while it might not in fact trace its causes back to the wars of religion, somehow sits on the map in the same way as those wars' eventual boundaries.

If I can put this in a different way, and in a way that will at first sound like a change of subject: I think it's safe to say that one would be hard pressed to locate a single French academic in his thirties who could correctly identify a song by Motörhead. In my recent unscientific survey of a comparison class of Finnish philosophers, by contrast, I discovered that five out of five displayed a high level of Motörhead-recognition ability, could make fine-grained distinctions between black metal, death metal, Viking metal and other sub-sub-genres of metal, and, while not ignorant of baroque chamber music, certainly would not see familiarity with it as the key to upward mobility towards the cultural elite. What, one wonders, would Distinction have looked like if Bourdieu had been a Finn?

More here.