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‘First World’ woes




Lenore Skenazy

Lenore Skenazy

“I had to wear my winter coat to the bars. Now I have to hold on to it the whole night!” “I’m staying with relatives, and they don’t know their Wi-Fi password!” “Too many clothes, not enough hangers!”

Those may sound like simple gripes, but not once you realize they all fall under the same rubric: “First World problems.”

That’s the new Internet phrase — excuse me, “meme” — for the daily exasperations we whine about because we can. Because we don’t have to whine about things such as “Trying to find clean water but can’t,” “Was hoping to have three squares today but had mud biscuit time instead” and “Just came down with diphtheria, causing a big change in my weekend plans.”

A Venn diagram you can find when Googling “First World problems” shows three intersecting circles with these moans: “Had to park far from the door,” “Show isn’t in HD!” and “Too much goat cheese in the salad.” Meanwhile, the intersecting circles of “hunger,” “rape” and “cholera” are defi ned as “real problems” — which kind of puts things in perspective.

And that’s exactly the point. Remember when you were a kid picking at your scalloped potatoes and your mom said, “Eat up; there are starving children in Africa” (or Asia or Europe, depending on the decade)? The “First World problems” reminder does the same thing without nagging. Recognize that your particular peeve is a First World problem and suddenly you give thanks instead of grousing.

For me, “First World problems” worked its perspective-switching power last week. I’m up in Canada, staying at one of those ridiculously hip hotels on my employer’s dime (or, more likely, heaving sackfuls dimes). The place is so fancy that the bathroom has a heated marble floor.

How wastefully, willfully dumb would you have to be to heat solid stone when a simple bathmat would suffice? I guess as willfully dumb as the architect, who made the shower so sleek that it would be a sin to ruin its lines with, say, a shower door or a shower curtain. So you step into the shower and cold air rushes right in with you. Any part of your body that is not directly under the gigantic square shower head is a riot of goose bumps. And should you wish to grab a towel, no dice. Because the shower’s stunning simplicity is such that adding a towel rack would create a decorating disaster on par with swan centerpieces at a biker bar. So to get a towel, you have to leave the freezing nonconfi nes of the non-stall and tiptoe across the strangely hot marble to the towels (albeit fluffy), stored under the so-cool-it’s-complicated sink.

But then you think: “Wait! This faucet (if I can ever figure out how to turn it on) gives me clean water! And there are no scorpions in the toilet! No malaria in the mini bar! I’ve got shelter and a bed to sleep in. And if I get hungry and am willing to spend a mere $15 plus a $3 delivery fee, 15 percent gratuity and 18 percent sales tax, I can get a room service hamburger. Which, though obscenely overpriced, probably contains more meat than many of the world’s citizens eat in a year. Plus coleslaw!”

And suddenly, though it is obviously, perhaps humanly, impossible not to complain, it is very possible to feel a wave of gratitude at the same time.

That stereo vision of pain and fortune is new. It’s the ability to say “I am so sick of eating at all the restaurants near work” and sit down and write a check to Meals On Wheels. And the fact that it is a cool new thing to do bodes well for this snarky generation. Darned if it hasn’t figured out how to snark its way to a higher consciousness. ©2012 Creators


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