In Australia, as well as a few other countries around the world, this Tall Poppy Syndrome is in full effect. I experience it so often, whether it is happening to me or to others.
What is “Tall Poppy Syndrome?” According to Wikipedia, and numerous other sources online,
The tall poppy syndrome (TPS) is a pejorative term primarily used in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and other Anglosphere nations to describe a social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked, cut down, or criticised because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers.
Australia and New Zealand’s usage of the term has evolved and is not uniformly negative. In Australia, a long history of “underdog” culture and profound respect for humility in contrast to that of Australia’s English feudal heritage results in a different understanding of “Tall poppy syndrome”.
It is good and bad, but it’s ridiculous, and it exists. Nothing we can do about it. But, in my opinion, on many occasions people around me here in Oz, it seems to my observant eye, have used this syndrome as an excuse to treat someone who is or has succeeded at something great to make them feel like dirt. I’ve seen it on most occasions as a cynical and sarcastic way to make someone feel less. It seems ignorant. Jealous. Wrong. Holds people back. Maybe not Aussies, but I don’t know… It’s the only thing that I feel “wrong” here, but I know that I judge it on a whole based on where I come from, where such behavior is seen as demeaning or antisocial. I accept it living here, of course, as I am aware that this is their country and culture, and it is not mine, but it still boggles me after already four years of living amongst it. I don’t get offended when an Aussie knocks me down (I instead chuckle inside at them).
I just think that Aussies should be proud of who they are, whether their success is something personal, family-orientated, or something that the whole world could become aware of. You’re proud of your Olympians, pro-surfers, and the Socceroos, aren’t you? You don’t have to go all “American” about it, but my goodness. Just smile and know you could be inspiring something great in someone else. Or don’t. Whatever.
The old adage “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” comes to mind. Just like how I did in the Netherlands, where “Dutch directness” is king or queen. So, like how I had adapted to the Dutch with their directness (I lived there for 7 years, so I had to!), I can’t knock them. Not necessarily, although it seems like I am. Why not? A fair go, as they say here! Like I said, I’m not of this culture and can’t change it. I just observe it. But I witness things and it seems odd, this behavior given by an Aussie to a fellow Aussie. For example, recently a friend was so pleased, sharing about their promotion at work, as they’d worked hard to get from the bottom to somewhere that they were happy within the company. Everybody wants that. But… So those around who played the Tall Poppy-card on my friend should’ve heard from my friend retorting something to knock them down as well. Something like one of these examples would’ve been brilliant:
• Promotions go to those who are skilled and deserving in all areas at work — Hey! You got a promotion recently, but I just saw you yesterday not putting your dirty dish into the dishwasher in the lunchroom. Isn’t there a sign there above the dishwasher, in English, asking that all employees are responsible to care for their dirty dishes? Does lunchtime not apply here for your highly skilled employment? (Could add: And I know so-and-so could your job better than you, and they take care of their own dirty dishes in the lunchroom.)
• How long have you been working here and without a promotion? (LOL)
• How about when you receive accolades here, we all not just speak to you for a week? Sounds cool?
Many internationally-known Aussies have even had to face it. Sadly. Golfer Greg Norman and Olympic Gold Medal swimmer Ian Thorpe are a few off the top of my head. Rock bands like INXS have even had to endure it, playing down their international fame to fellow Aussies. In the book The Final Days of Michael Hutchence by Mike Gee, Mike interviewed INXS band member Kirk Pengilly in 1997:
MG: Talking about The Divinyls, they did better in the US than most people are aware of.
KP: And that was always the way with us. I think we always did way better overseas than the average Australian was aware of. Probably because we were always trying to play it down a bit for fear of the tall poppy.
MG: It’s ridiculous, this syndrome.
KP: It’s the English heritage, the English are very much like that too. They’re very much into that tearing success down. It’s weird, you know. America’s the complete opposite.
So Aussies, do you feel it is necessary to carry on your old tradition of Tall Poppy? If so, why? Or if not, why? If yes, can you name a good example for why Tall Poppy Syndrome is necessary? Or are you just cool with it? If no, would you please remind the next knocker you witness that they could be just as good as the Tall Poppy? Help stop the silliness…
After four years (actually, I noticed after only being here during my first day!), I know Australia is very Americanized. Sadly. Good for people like me, but not so thrilling for Aussies, I can imagine. Is this another possible answer for why Australians wish to cling to this Tall Poppy Syndrome?
In the meantime, well, I’m just going to sit back and watch Aussies tear each other down. Good on you, mates!
And are Aussies proud of their Aussieness to at least some degree? They are. Again, good on you, mates! If they should claim that they’re not (many have complained to me that Americans “have too much pride in being American”), just take a look at this example of the back window of this car that is parked next to me while I write this! These Aussies seem proud of who they are: