Monday, October 29, 2012

Not a Tall Poppy, Just a Failed Lotus!


I got my first negative review last week.

That it was better written than the blog it was criticising probably says it all.

That the author was apologising for it before I had even read it reminds me I'm in Australia.  Really, you don't hear about New Yorkers apologising.  Germans?  Ah, ja right.

I am hanging the critique on my wall to remind me of the power and responsibility of words. 

She was dead on in her rather scathing picture of the true me.  Scary, really, how much she sees through me.

She missed the whole point of the blog - the self-condemnation and sarcastic bitterness, the anger turned inward but projected outward at the wrong target - but showed me that I need to put the power of my words to better use.

I CAN get people talking.  It'd just be nice if they kept talking to me too!

Then she told me about tall poppy syndrome, a social phenomenon attributed especially to Australia and New Zealand but apparently also to Canada and the UK, 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.  (Thanks Wikipedia.)

This has been a huge cultural distinction for me, coming from the highly motivated and ambitious upper middle class suburbs of NYC where achievement and success are admired to the point of idolatry. 

(Bear with me here Nicole, the following is NOT pretentious, it is really just me undertstanding some very real differences between Oz and the U.S.)

I grew up not only knowing that I would go to college, but that I would finish graduate school and become a doctor.  (Okay, a veterinarian, but give me something to work with here!)  Not everyone in my highschool went to college, far from it, but certainly everyone in my social circle did.  I had never had a friend who hadn't attended university until after veterinary school when I went to Alaska and met the fish hippies.  Many of who probably HAD gone to college, now that I come to think of it.

You didn't let on how smart you were in American schools either.  Until later on when everyone knew anyway and there were people way smarter than you in your class anyway.  I went to school with people who now work for NASA.  Wall Street.  (For better or worse!).  Doctors and lawyers and museum curators.  Oh, and obviously lots of veterinarians.  And more architects than I would have thought.  Its not (just) about the money; its about the education and a broader world view.

In the USA everyone is either trying to go to college or embarrassed that they didn't.  Unless they are Bill Gates.

College (called university just about everywhere else) is part of the American dream.  Life, liberty and the pursuit happiness automatically includes success.

The first shock came in Germany when it was seen as uncool and overambitious if you had aspirations of your child attending university.  You weren't supposed to presume.


I haven't heard very many people talking about university here in southeast Queensland at all.  This is partly a result of a good social phenomenon;  working class people in Australia have a really high standard of living.  They are comfortable, happy and financially secure.  Only Australians are going to laugh at this; they are having tougher times now than five years ago apparently.  But in comparison to what I saw in Europe and especially in the USA,  Australians are very well off.  Without going to uni.

What they are missing is the learning for learning's sake in itself and this HAS been attributed in part to tall poppy syndrome and not wanting to appear snobby or pretentious or better than your neighbour.

My friends telling me to shove it up my rear end was not tall poppy syndrome though. 

I've only been using arrogance as a self-defence mechanism recently.  Mostly I'm still just dazed and confused and honestly trying to figure out what everyone else seems to think I should already know and keep quiet about.

This is also an anglosphere thing a German-American like me wouldn't understand.  Give me a break, willya, I've just learned how to pronounce 'scones' and make a decent cup of tea!  (This is tough actually; it is easy for an American to fit in here but most Aussies, like most Americans, have not been abroad much, so the subtleties in culture are attributed - by myself as well - as character flaws and not cultural misunderstandings.)

There are subtleties to what is accepted and what is silently understood and what is not said out loud that I am just getting the hang of.  Americans have been accused of a lot of character flaws, but subtlety has never been one of them!

A (British) friend in Germany tried to explain it to me once.  "I guess there are just some social conventions and rules that have to be followed in a group."

Yeah.  I just wish they weren't unspoken ones.  Could someone just write them down for the barbarious non-anglosphere people in the room?! 

Plus, Australians want to be fair.  Americans like to be right.  This is a bigger difference than it first apears.  Germans just want to be sure everyone is following the same rules, also a subtle distinction from fair AND right.  Having been raised in Germany and the USA, I want everyone to do things the same way, the right way.  And am just learning that that's not fair!!! 

I'm making it sound a lot tougher than it is.  I love it here. 

People approve of my "100% Aussie" T-shirt and welcome me into the poppy field.

Everyone at the gym and at school has done nothing but encourage me in the pursuit of my weight loss and fitness goals.  When I tell people I want to be a writer they applaud and never doubt that I can do it.  (Try walking into a writers' workshop in NYC with a baby on your hip and see what happens; you wanna see pretention and arrogance, mate I got nothing!)   I have never felt so supported.

I honestly think Aussies have less of a problem with others reaching their goals than most people.

This takes a lot more self-assurance than they give themselves credit for.

Although I might have (unintentionally) shown the arrogance, I have not showed the merit to be a tall poppy.

I have certainly not elevated myself above my peers.  My peers are running faster, writing better, achieving inner peace and personal growth.  My peers are growing as fast as I am.

I'm not a poppy though, as much as I'd like to be.  And every now and then I am going to do or say something that makes the other poppies remember that.

Right now I'm probably still just a dandelion, a pretty weed that tends to take over if you let it, that scatters her seeds aimlessly if the wind blows too strongly, that you can still uproot fairly easily if you just give a strong tug.

I'd like to be a lotus.

Transplant that I am,  I'm very happy and grateful to be growing in a field of poppies. 

Who knows what the other flowers see in me.  Maybe they feel sorry for me, poor crass bold and brash dandelion, loosely rooted and spewing all over the place.  Maybe they like the fertilizer I dish out every now and then.

Maybe they see in me the lotus I am trying to become.

In any case, tall poppy syndrome poppycock.  I haven't earned the distinction.  Thanks for still letting me play in your field though!


1 comment:

  1. I love it, and am so proud of you. It isn't easy being a transplant, but at least you've got the self-awareness to appreciate all you're going through. I wish we could get together for coffee.