I especially agree with your points that knowledge of self is never a bad thing, and that you are responsible for your own career. I'd never advise ignorance over one's achievements, but I also think everyone has their own biases (positive and negative) in their reflection of their own work history. The magic bit here is that you can adopt a process of continuous improvement through good communication with your manager and never have to worry about these biases.
Maybe this is inflating my own self-importance as a manager, but I have to disagree to some extent that this isn't about individual managers. It's been my experience that individual managers can make or break your career. It may be different for outside sales roles and the like, but in engineering an employees manager is usually the face of the company to the employee.
That said, you're absolutely right about the importance of the process/structure/system. If your company has policies which limit or accelerate personal advancement this will affect you in a big, big way.
Finally regarding NZ , I think those of us from the USA could stand to learn a thing or two from kiwis. Distrust of self-promotion is certainly not limited to employer/employee relationships. There's a saying here that goes something like "the kumara  never sings of its own sweetness." The stereotypical kiwi never points out their own greatness and is generally fairly quiet and reserved or even self-effacing when others do it for them. I wouldn't say it's rude to point out people's achievements here, but if done wrong it certainly could cause a bit of awkwardness.
The attitude against cultivation of one's status certainly doesn't eliminate social classes here, but it does go quite a long way as a major equalizing force within society. As a side effect it seems to help feed a natural desire toward frugality, as generally people aren't spending to "keep up with the Jones'."
In spite of the positives, it definitely can swing a bit too much toward the pathological at times w/ tall poppy syndrome and the like. While I think it impacts performance review processes less due to already (generally) having an established relationship with the reviewer, I think people are a bit less comfortable "selling themselves" in job interviews. Also I'd have to imagine that it'd be a bit more difficult to drum up consulting work here from basic networking techniques in the same way that you can in the USA.
1: I'm making some gross generalizations here, and I've only lived here for ~2.5 years, so I'm hardly well-qualified as an authority on NZ culture. Take this well salted.
2: Root vegetable which is quite similar to a sweet potato
Man, I hope we all get all more great managers. It makes a world of difference when you get one, it just feels so rare.
>> the kumara  never sings of its own sweetness
I really like that saying (Kumara also looks delicious). I feel like I've known a few people with that attitude, and it was always a pleasure working with them. It just sucks that they usually didn't get as far as they deserved. All in all, it (actively managing your career vs being humble and letting your work speak for itself) is a tough balance to keep. Worth the effort though.
Your replies help me remember that all the people in this employer-employee relationship are fully complex and rounded individuals. That's something i ought to remember more of the time, so thank you.
Maybe it all comes down to odds. How much can an employee leave to chance, to the good nature of his manager, the fairness of his company's performance review process?