Erin Cabanawan - “Tall poppy syndrome”

Erin Cabanawan

Erin Cabanawan is a postgraduate student from the Philippines studying Gender and Development at Flinders University. 

Being a Gender and Development student acquainted me with the current issues Australia is dealing with in terms of politics and international relations. Often, we encounter essays which critique different aspects of Australian culture and society. I appreciate the way Australian academics and students are open to such critiques, and in discussing these rather sensitive matters with international students. It shows the side of Australian culture that can acknowledge what’s wrong and think about how to correct it.

Tall poppy syndrome

One of the things I like best about Aussie culture is the concept of the “tall poppy syndrome”. There is the notion of not letting a poppy grow taller than the rest of the poppies in a field. When a poppy stands out like that, it needs to be cut off.

I think this expresses the egalitarian approach to life: there has to be fairness and equality if society is to function properly. This attitude of not trying to be better than everybody else is something that I have noticed since I came here.

Coming from a hierarchical society, I found it difficult to address everyone on a first name basis as if we were all equal in age and position. While this connotes respect in my country, it can also promote divisiveness as people are stratified according to class, educational background, age, and gender. This is also more about mere addresses; it is also about treating people and your expectations of being treated.

I find value in expecting the same treatment as everybody else, no matter which part of society you belong to. Although not exclusive to Australian culture, the “tall poppy syndrome” reflects the country’s laid back and friendly personality, and its disapproving attitude towards thinking too highly of oneself.   

It is a privilege to learn about and experience this cultural trait, and I hope I could effectively share this with people back home. 

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