Via WritingInTheKitchen.Com

‘First World Problems’

I have a number of friends who use that phrase, fairly often, and it never ceases to make me roll my eyes.

When the concept of the three different worlds originated, the Cold War was at its height. The first world countries were countries that aligned with the United States; the second world countries were countries that aligned with the (then) USSR and China, and the third world countries were countries that were neutral and that didn’t align with either the first or the second world.

Now, as we all know, the Cold War ended in (or around) 1991, and with its end also came the demise of the Eastern Bloc. That’s when the definitions of the first and third worlds changed considerably.

The first world now refers to highly developed countries and the third world refers to countries that are still in a state of development. Now we’re entering the realms of segregation that I have problems with.

I hate anything that divides people into the privileged and the underprivileged, and that’s precisely what this does. I hate anything that forever classifies one set of people as the masters of all they survey, and the other set as the ones who must always pay obeisance. Besides, with the increasing homogenisation around the world, does a first world even exist any more? Does a third world? And what exactly defines the third world? What is the difference, say, between a failed state like Haiti and a military and economic giant like India? Can you even classify the two into the same ‘world’, then? Should you even try?

What happens when we do away with worlds and just admit that there is only one world? The end of the first world, forever? Now that’s a ‘first world problem’, if you like.


  • Cameron 12th June 2012 at 11:44 am

    I agree that there should be no segregation among peoples of the world, we are all just people. I bemoan the fact that there is such uneven distribution of wealth in the world, even within developed countries let alone talking all countries into account.

    I would suggest though, that the term ‘first world problem’ has it’s place or at least a synonym to it such as ‘developed country problem’ because the sentiment it expresses has the tone of a self effacing “poor little rich boy” and while it is probably being used more widely than it needs to be (as with any bandwagon when it gets picked up by the Internet) it should more correctly be used as a put-down.

    I could of course be completely wrong.

    • Awanthi Vardaraj 12th June 2012 at 1:42 pm

      You’re not. You’re absolutely right.

      • Adventures in Anderland 13th June 2012 at 3:13 am

        I have used it a few times when I’m poking fun at myself for whining about something completely inconsequential to not only the world, but really, not even major for my personal sphere. However, when I have been genuinely upset/irritated by something and people comment that phrase at me as if to say I have no right to my emotions because its not on par with genocide, etc. (which I am never intimating).

        Mostly though, I agree with your points and appreciate the new perspective. So I float you a challenge…craft a new phrase for folks to use to tag something as recognizing that it’s a petty (and rather pathetic) thing to whine about and that the speaker/poster is aknowledging that and poking fun at him or herself.

  • stace8383 12th June 2012 at 12:44 pm

    I agree that there is just one world, however I don’t think there is any evil in acknowledging differences. Some people or places ARE what you might call ‘privileged’ in comparison with others, and changing your vocabulary won’t change that. In fact by pretending that everybody really is equal, you risk denying a need for change or for giving assistance.

    • Awanthi Vardaraj 12th June 2012 at 1:19 pm

      Nobody is ‘pretending’ to do anything; however when the differences that are acknowledged are about frivolously playing up the so-called problems of the first world (‘My bedsheets are too soft!’ ‘My coffee was too hot!’ ‘The lady gave me the wrong sort of cupcake!’), that isn’t really about extending a hand of friendship and solidarity to those in need. You know, the people whose problems have to do with genocide, and being forced into prostitution, and watching your family die of disease and starvation – all in a day’s work for much of the ‘third world’.

      It isn’t so much the fact that I have a problem acknowledging that certain parts of the world are more developed than others; I have a problem with the fact that this difference is used to highlight the differences in what I consider a rather shallow and very insensitive manner. And as I asked in my post: Can anyone really tell me how they could compare my country with countries that have truly failed – and say in the same breath that we are one and the same because we all fall under the ‘same world’?

  • Life Quotes 12th June 2012 at 2:37 pm

    the first world, second world or third world just shows the mentality of a human nature or group of humans, a wise man or group of wise men never differentiates between in anything. that’s why we NASA have more than 30% of indians and even big honcho companies like microsoft, pepsico and citi bank. but when you come down to differntiate between people you are like dead and moving on to wrong direction.


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