Two weeks in to my first week of university and I was in the midst of a crisis. I had broken my cafetiere (fancy coffee press). My friend told me about his experience with this, he broke his on the toilet, but I had never expected it to happen to me.
Upon hearing the news, my mum had rather kindly sent me a Pyrex replacement, a comfort as I cleared up the melange of broken glass and shattered pieces of my heart.
Seemingly, there is only one first world problem here – the broken cafetiere.
In fact, there are two: the second being the damaged aura of sophistication that comes in the transformation from glass to plastic.
No longer could I pretend that my university hall’s bedroom was the Parisian-café-cliché I deluded myself into believing it was.
No, I was just a man, in a room, with coffee. Uh, “why is my life so hard?”
“First World Problems” is quite a difficult concept to explain, easy to recognize but difficult to understand. We just sort of know them when we see them.
The theory goes that these are problems only the privileged in the world would experience; they aren’t life and death, but concern the frivolities of life, like the shirt you want being out of stock or a Starbucks-related mishap.
Your quality of life is not really affected, though you do have something to moan about – maybe, paradoxically, they improve your life a little then?
This term is a bit problematic though. It seems to imply that anybody not in the first world, or people in the third world, live lives that are only life and death struggles, with none of the trivialities. We patronisingly reduce their lives to horror.
Actually, this article is probably a bit condescending, too. Ah.
But as Steven Poole wrote in the Guardian last October, “it’s arguable that the phrase ‘first world problems’ is condescending and dehumanizing to literally everyone on the planet.”
There is real suffering that goes on within the global well-off, with relative or absolute suffering which can be tossed aside as “first world.” Implicitly we are questioned, can you suffer, or should you be suffering, if you are in a good part of the West?
Guess what, you can suffer and get annoyed about trivial stuff that happens in your first world lives. To say you shouldn’t get a bit annoyed against some slight is absurd, but to frame your own life in terms of ‘would I get annoyed about this if I was just trying to survive’ is even weirder.
Wouldn’t all your decisions then be seen as life and death and the desperation that associates it? I am probably being facetious, but then you are right back to the problem of taking your problems too seriously.
Life is weird enough, so revel in it.
Get annoyed if you’ve gone into the bathroom with socks on and the floor is wet, or if you pull your wallet out of your pocket and all the change falls out (it is annoying), though laugh about it, too.
If you order a drink and the wrong one comes, just don’t let it ruin your morning. Complaining is actually fine, it means that all the little problems don’t build up into one rubbish week.
“First world problems” as a concept and phrase is just about checking your privilege, a nod to the fact that you have, relatively speaking anyway, an okay life and the problem that has just met you isn’t seriously incapacitating.
If you overthink it, the phrase becomes a bit demeaning, consider it a normal amount and it’s probably quite helpful.