"Schadenfreude" and the "Tall Poppy Syndrome"
Most have heard the joke best told and understood in Russian about the genie who appears to grant three different nationalities three wishes. I’m not very good at telling jokes, my husband has told this joke innumerable times, so you’d think I would get it right. Here goes, it is about a French man who gets his desired yacht on the Riveria, the Englishman gets his dream mansion south of Leiceister while the Russian asks that his neighbor’s one and only goat be killed. Now THAT is Schadenfreude! This term has German origins which means to “gloat at somebody else’s bad luck: malicious or smug pleasure taken in by somebody else’s misfortune.” Sometimes as an American living in this foreign land of Kazakhstan, I feel like this attitude prevails against me simply because I’m an American.
I would like to believe the Kazakhs do NOT take joy in the suffering of others perhaps that is a characteristic trait left to the Slavic people. But I had to wonder a month ago when I was very sad about my job situation. Providentially, my attitude has changed since one of my Kazakh supervisors gave me a lead on a job that landed me a membership at a health club. I simply have to give two hours of English lessons to the employees of a hotel each week. The highest management insisted on a native speaker of English (American or British) was the person to give these lessons, no one else would do. Now THAT is payment that feels like a genie just granted me my most heartfelt wish.
Health Clubs around our area are VERY expensive because one can’t do their usual running or walking in this environment due to dangerous traffic and uneven inclines and declines of the sidewalks. (Not to mention the smog one inhales especially during the winter months) I feel very fortunate to have gotten this health club membership. I’m not gloating about my fortune but I’m still proud to be an American even though others would like to knock me over because of my nationality.
I learned about the “Tall Poppy Syndrome” from an Australian friend of mine when we lived in Ukraine. She told me that people have a desire to cut others down if they get too much taller than the rest (like a gangly poppy.) Others by their criticism or snide comments like to be leveling agents to bring others down while they covet what they don’t have. As it is, we as Americans living in Kazakhstan, don’t have the salaries to pay for health club membership since we have to pay for expensive airfare tickets and high rents for the privilege of teaching the Kazakh students. In some international schools in this city where the NEW RICH Kazakhs have the tuition money to pay for a western education, the Kazakh students laugh at the poorer American children who don’t have the fanciest clothes to wear or the Mercedes or Hummers to ride in. Seems that Schadenfreude is learned at an early age and sometimes children can be very cruel.
Perhaps whatever negative vibes I have felt at my place of employment is not so much that I’m American but that I’m a Christian. What helps me to hang in there is the promise of eventually being able to go home to see my own family and to celebrate my own holidays with them but also knowing that this earth will soon pass away. My cares and concerns in whatever land I live will soon no longer matter. I will be able to repeat with the author of Hebrews: “Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame to turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.” (12:12-13)
My heart continues to be healed at the health club, hopefully the rest of my body will follow suit with rigorous, daily discipline. It is GOOD to be alive!