I have a problem with my showerhead. Put simply, my shower is confused – it’s acting like a water feature when it was programmed to be a compliant cleansing device. Every time I turn it on, the water seems to jet just about everywhere except on me. My poor bathroom ceiling is constantly crying and the toilet appears to be flushing on itself rather than in the throat of its piped bowels. My shower is erratic and moody and it’s just a general nuisance, which I don’t need.
The thing is, I really don’t have anyone to confide in about this bathroom catastrophe. Whenever I do, hoping for a little sympathy, I know that the person I’m addressing will undoubtedly lean over and with a strained smile say: “First World problems”.
The concept of “First World problems” is seemingly the catchphrase of the day. It’s cropping up all over town like gutter-grazing pigeons. Plus it’s made all the more catchy when said with a rising inflection of cheerful dismay, qualified with an exclamation mark or two, “First World problems!!”
However it’s the tone that really spells out the subtext though. For me to even mention my malfunctioning showerhead is to actively disregard the plight of the several billion people in the world who dream not only of a shower, but of a sink: not only of a sink, but of any sort of vessel which holds potable water. Ok, yes, I concede – I see the ignorance of my ways, but some people like to really drill the point and add a further two exclamation marks – “First World problem!!!!” – as if I have gone and personally punctured the only water pipe to the driest village in western desert regions of Ethiopia.
At the end of the day, I live in the First World. What other problems am I going to have, other than First World ones? Even if I contract a life-threatening illness or my best friend and I have a terminal falling out or my bra strap snaps – all things that can happen in the First World – the drama will be magnified and morphed in ways specific to the world in which I am residing.
So what to do about my rotten showerhead? Do I replace it altogether and adopt another? Maybe I should give it a stern talking to? If that doesn’t work, do I resort to calling 1800 fix-my-showerhead and have someone come in? Decisions, decisions.
Here’s your cue: First World problems!!!!
So yes – unavoidably – I am a First Worlder. I don’t know what it’s like to live below the poverty line or to go without water. My material needs are always satisfied and it’s rare that I find myself desperate for food. But in saying that, in each life grey clouds still loom. We see loved ones pass prematurely both in this world and in every other. Marriages crumble, loneliness is strife, unhealthy addictions prevail, some people eat too much whilst others don’t eat enough. There are droughts and tsunamis and unprecedented earthquakes that shake us physically, emotionally, mentally. Suffering on whatever level – be it menial or profound – affects all our worlds.
At the end of the day, does it really matter what world you come from, as long as one maintains a global perspective? We all have problems. And after all, the problems of the First World are only problems because we don’t face more pressing problems common to the Third World. Regardless, we still share that familiar feeling of grief creeping up behind us; that sense of anxiety scratching at the recesses of our every thought.
Ultimately we can reduce the problem in relation to how important ones problem is to the individual. On a global scale, my showerhead probably isn’t that big a deal (obviously); but to me, well frankly I’m miserable about it. Our problems affect us in different ways but above all, it comes down to their severity or the scale of impact they have on our enjoyment of life. I’m not saying “quick drop everything and help me fix my showerhead right this second”, but don’t give me any “First World problems” bullshit either. One day you might experience a temperamental showerhead and if you come back to me all hotheaded about it, I’m going to pull the equally, if not more infuriating phrase “I told you so”.