The last six years living in Melbourne have taught me a lot about the Australian culture, and some of the most important lessons covered what not to do. Don’t use a fake Aussie accent like Crocodile Dundee or the Steve Irwin (the crocodile hunter). Don’t give them fifty reasons why America is the greatest Nation in the world. Don’t eat Vegemite no matter how much they tell you its Australian peanut butter (it isn’t). But above all other things NEVER act like your more important than them or go out of your way to make Australians look bad.
Aussies hold to a cultural phenomenon referred to as “cutting down the tall poppy” which originated in New Zealand and Canada. The basic idea is people (particularly those in positions of power) feel they are more important than everyone else or deserve more respect than others because of their position.
Part of the tall poppy syndrome in Melbourne comes from the fact that they were originally a colony of prisoners controlled by the British. Years later many Australians who had done nothing wrong experienced oppression because everyone in power was corrupt. To this day there is still a lack of trust or faith in leadership so their respect has to be earned through actions instead of just being given because of who they are.
The tall poppy syndrome is less prevalent in the culture for those who aren’t in leadership positions but I found it could affect the relationship between Americans and Australians. People growing up in the States are used to giving 110% to things or going above and beyond the normal requirements. This is a healthy response to life (while it’s easy to become so focused on work you ignore everything else) however it easily sets up a person to be “cut down.” If I came to Australia giving 110% some people would view me as someone who is trying to show off or make them look lazy since they aren’t putting that much work in, and view myself as more important than they are.
This doesn’t mean Australians are lazy and constantly trying to do less work, they are some of the hardest working people in the world, the tall poppy syndrome has to do with the attitude you portray while doing the work. It’s entirely possible to be respected while in a leadership position and give 110% without being disliked. But we must not expect the respect of others just because we are the hard worker or leader.
Many people have fallen into the tall poppy trap by believing they will be respected right away because of accomplishment and completely bypassing the connecting phase of relationships where people can simply get to know them. And each one developed an attitude of humility either by understanding the need for it, or being cut down a few to size. Seeing these people fail has taught me the one thing you REALLY don’t want to do is expect people’s respect or acceptance just because of who you are.
Oh and you may want to leave that full size American flag at home too.