My Life Abroad: The Adventures of Two Birds
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Sep '12

Tall Poppy Syndrome

Albeit an unknown saying in America, ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ really does exist in Australia.  It is a common occurrence in Australia and for some reason it is justified here as a way to put someone back ‘in their place’.  As an American, I had never heard of this phenomenon until I moved to Australia and I can confidently say that it is non-existent in the U.S., sure there is a one-off occurrence of cutting someone down but not so much that there is a “term” for it.  I find that in American we tend to build people up and pride is something that we are known for.  This is a story of the opposite.

“Tall Poppy Syndrome” is Australian slang for the tendency to criticise highly successful people (i.e., tall poppies), and ‘cut them down’.  I almost can’t believe that something like this exists.  I find many think of this as an acceptable way to bring someone with a high ego back down to earth, via put downs, by their peers.

Australians (New Zealanders, English, and the like) do have a tendency to criticize their own – that those that have become successful somehow need to be criticized by those that have not. You’re head too big because you’ve made millions or have had great success in business? Really?! Let’s cut you down to size.  Great idea!

Just a couple of examples:

1)  This year, on ‘Australia Day’ – January 26th – the national day of Australia, it was announced on in News that flying the Australian flag on your car was considered ‘un-Australian” and of all things “racist”. The Western Australia News (Perth, WA) made sweeping generalisations as to the meaning behind the flying of the Aussie flag in their article Australia Day Car Flag Flyers Racist. Flying of the flag to mean not pride, but in making a point that the white Australian culture, and more importantly its values, are in danger from immigrants to Australia.  I’ll tell you what, I really think that words like “racist” and “racism” delivered by our own country’s news source forces the issues and really brings the country down to the bottom rung – sometimes I feel like the media here really pounds home the sore spots in an effort to make them worse, to spread the downward spiral. Negagive news brings negative feelings throughout the country.

Is there something I am missing here?  I’m from America, a country made of immigrants – my family came from Italy, and Scotland, and it is likely that your family whether you be an American or Australian came from another country as well. Even I find it hard at times to accept all Australian ways and culture as an immigrant to this country, I can’t imagine in coming from a completely different kind of culture, religious background, or completely different country where people are looked at and treated completely differently, then fully taking on Australian culture and values.  Still, becoming an Australian citizen hold a great amount of pride for me personally, it is not going to make me change my religion, change how my values were formed, and make me a different person – so why should it do that to anyone else?  Becoming an Australian shouldn’t mean that you cant wear your head scarf to school, that you have to stop speaking your first language, or that you have to change your religion, it’s suppose to mean that you are willing to accept some new values in your life. Somehow I don’t always feel like the Australian Values are all that Australians expect from their new citizens.

Australian Values: Australians respect women, other people’s beliefs, democracy, and our mates and we always give each other a fair go.

America has about 100 years on Australia as far as ‘creating a new country’ goes – from personal experience I can say that Australia is far from accepting of other cultures.  Personally, being white and speaking English has made it easy for me but for those that come from foreign lands, from oppression, and across oceans – wanting to make a better life for themselves and their families, it’s a very difficult process.  To me this is what America is all about.  Why is Australia different?  Because they never became independent of England? and never had the opportunity to create something for themselves?  Maybe I’m far reaching but from what I can see, the fear of the threat of immigrants in this country is sad.  I would never be here if it weren’t for the ability to become an immigrant.  And just to be clear… I’m not speaking of illegal immigrants.  For those that immigrate to this country as I have, I hope that you are greeted with open arms and acceptance, and I hope you are able to take on Australian values and make a go of it here.

Lady Liberty says “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 

The feeling is… you’d better knock twice, and then piss off if you don’t like it here – because this ain’t America, mate.

I absolutely don’t like being referred to as a racist for having pride in a country that I live, love, and am a citizen of. With an American background it’s hard to understand how flying a flag could mean anything other than pride… unfortunately racism still runs rampant here. Australiais a country of immigrants too, and I find that is what makes this such a wonderful place to live.  I work with people from all over the world, I have an English neighbour, people from other countries bring their cultures in the form of entertainment, food, cultural diversity that is different than anywhere I have ever lived before. It is one of the reasons that I never want to leave here – for me it has been a wonderful, exciting, and life-changing experience.  I sure hope it won’t take 100 years for Australia to catch up.

2) Yesterday I heard that a public figure here, Charlotte Dawson, a Model and Television Personality, has been bullied on Twitter to the extent that she tried to take her own life.  I can’t tell if this is a “Gen-Y manners thing” or if it is a matter of this Tall Poppy Syndrome.  I can save me Gen-Y/Z rant for another blog but just to touch on the ideals of our young people today makes me want to vomit.  How can people be so insensitive – has the Internet really come down to tossing all your common sense and humanity out the door?  Just because you can’t “see” the person you’re talking to – doesn’t mean that there isn’t a real human being on the other side of your computer.  Cutting down a person that has built up a successful career – Charlotte Dawson – is suffering the wrath of Tall Poppy Syndrome in the worst way. I hope that she can be strong and I also hope that she cancels her Twitter account.

For all of the cultural diversity that Australia holds I find that people become citizens here because they enjoy the life here and want to offer their children opportunity that they could never find in their home country.  I also find this the same for myself – granted we have no children – but the lifestyle here is different, relaxed, less violence, no guns, they have things like “work / life balance” and Christmas in July, we get a public holiday for the Melbourne Cup (horse race), a 12-month maternity leave, and we have a booming society and the ability to be highly successful.

I can only hope that Tall Poppy thinking finds it’s place in the rubbish bin (that’s the trash) – where it belongs.  Be happy, be proud of your country, be happy for people that succeed, they are your people and just like everyone else, they need your support in order to succeed.  Success is nothing to be afraid of and is no reason to bang on in this disgraceful manner.  Get over it Australia, if someone is successful and you are not, don’t be a poor sport, pick yourself up and try and do something meaningful with your life.

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