Annelies Breedveld explains at VSOTD.com, "Paul Verhoeven went to America to shoot films because in Holland nobody shared his grand vision and they all thought he was way too arrogant and self-assured. 'Who does he think he is …' It’s a bit like the famous crab story: if one climbs out of the bucket, the others try to pull it back."
Some countries use the crab metaphor, other countries call it the "tall poppy syndrome"—the tallest flower gets whacked.
But almost all countries I've visited outside the States, from Denmark to Canada to Ireland to China to Australia—Britain and France being the only two exceptions I can think of—have pronounced cultural mores that mute everybody's trumpets, an ethic that says, "You're not so special."
As I told Breedveld: Maybe America wouldn't look so gratuitously arrogant if other peoples would stop being so pathologically self-effacing.
I’m not sure we mute everybody’s trumpets. I think it’s more that everybody doesn’t by default assume they get to play the big solo. It’s not that we say “You’re not so special” so much as it is that we don’t start from a place of everybody thinking and being told they are special. You need to demonstrate something special. Granted, our criteria for what makes someone special is often suspect. For example, in Canada we too often decide somebody is special if they “make it” in America.
And I’m not saying our approach is always a good thing by any means. Just like American culture, ours is both a blessing and a curse. And I think we can be remarkably arrogant about how self-effacing we are sometimes.
David Murray says
That’s what I’m saying, Rueben, and it’s the drinking-table conversation I’ve had with Danes and Aussies in particular.
I very much admire the you’re-not-that-special attitude of the Aussies, where the cultural ethic is “mateship” and where CEOs are called by their first names by mail room guys.
But it’s unattractive when it limits people’s development. Listen to a New Zealand corporate CEO in a speech we recently published in Vital Speeches. He’s talking about Kiwi culture
Perhaps we can’t stand the thought of letting ideas and people fly away, in a sort of “perpetual” fear that they may succeed, when we did not have the courage to try ourselves.
I have always valued the “feet on the ground” nature of my country; it is the very quality that I have found makes our experience, and judgement, so highly regarded on the world stage.
But, of late, I am tiring of the howls of negativity and phoney outrage, directed at anyone prepared to escape the basket.
Those who show leadership in business, arts, economics, sports or the community, on issues of national significance, are often the victims of a psyche to “knock them down … and keep them in their place.”
I think he puts it well.
I completely agree. And I envy you for having had drinking table discussions on this topic with Danes and Aussies.
David Camacho says
Greetings from Basel! I think you nailed this one, David. Based on a decade of living among them, I agree – the European proclivity for self-effacement can exact a terrible price in terms of suffocated ambition and mandated mediocrity. Ressentiment is alive and well in 21st century Europe.
Annelies Breedveld says
Greetings from The Hague!
Interesting it’s not just Holland but also New Zealand and a lot of other countries.
Up to a point, it’s fine that we’re not so obsessed with success and the beads and mirrors of our time, there’s other stuff in life that matters too. Like riding your very old bike that does not in any way contribute to your image or bankaccount.
But I absolutely agree with the suffocating part. Europe needs to step it up and this way it’s not going to happen!