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First World Problems

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Phoebe: This reminds me of the time when I was living on the street and this guy offered to buy me food if I slept with him.
Rachel: How is this like that?
Phoebe: Well, let's see, it's not really like that. Because, you see, that was an actual problem, and uh, yours is just like, y'know, a bunch of, y'know, high school crap that nobody really gives, y'know...

Some problems are universal and basic: death, torture, disease, hunger, pain, madness, etc. These are part of the human condition and could happen to anybody.

This trope is about other problems. Minor problems. Problems of the prosperous and comfortable — problems that are only significant if you've already got the basics of food, clothing, shelter, and sanity down. It's not that you can't get food — they took your favorite sandwich off the menu down at the golf club, the best Philly cheese-steak in town, and that's terrible. Or maybe your mobile phone service is cheating you on its internet plan — which costs you more money than it should, yes, but thirty years ago there was no such thing as mobile telephone service and twenty years there was no civilian internetwork. Or your $600USD mobile telephone is broken — again, not great, but when you can buy a perfectly good one for $20USD...


Note that some serious problems don't rise to the food, clothing, and shelter level. Racist hatred, spousal abuse, and school bullying aren't always life-threatening, and may indeed cause no physical injury at all. Still, these problems should probably not be considered First World Problems — even when they happen to a bonafide rich (or otherwise comfortable) First Worlder.

Mind you, there is a place for First World Problems in fictionnote . There has to be, as the First World enjoys consuming media that is relevant to them and their interests. Even people who are still struggling with more fundamental problems can, if they have time and access, get some enjoyment out of characters dealing with them- sometimes schadenfreude, sometimes for escapism. Clever writers can make something that looks like a First World Problem tie directly into something more fundamental.


Keep in mind that a key aspect of the Third World is not merely how the majority are impoverished: it's how vast numbers of the the impoverished live in proximity to a small number with outrageous wealth (think Mobutu Sese Seko for example). While in the US and the like, usually the differences aren't so extreme, whatever your politics it's likely you can at least imagine a few gated communities buffeted by a ghetto or a trailer park, and class conflict is a common theme in all fiction.

The Trope Namer is a Twitter hashtag. Twitter is an excellent platform for short moanings about daily life and our miserable existences by people who are generally well-enough off for this sort of problem, so this was a match made in heaven. The hashtag is still going strong. The trope itself is older than this, though: an older memetic quote on the same lines is parents responding to children refusing to eat vegetables with, "There are children starving in Africa!" (or "China" in The '30s).

Examples shall be limited to works that notably concern themselves with Third World themes. If we had to list all the episodes of television shows where the main conflict isn't starvation, we'd be here all day.

Compare Pottery Barn Poor, Angst Dissonance, Misery Poker.

Becomes the nastiest type of Misery Poker when used to claim not that a trivial problem only seems serious to someone whose life is basically pretty good — but that any problem suffered by a "First Worlder" is by definition trivial.

Notable Works that try to avert First World Thinking

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     Comic Books  

  • Persepolis: After the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Marjane and her father watch a (Iranian propaganda) television broadcast featuring Westerners being worried that they might be invaded next. They both burst out laughing, noting that those people probably have so few actual problems that they're scared of wars happening thousands of miles away (whereas Iran was actually attacked by Iraq several years earlier). However, Marjane's mother points out that the film was meant to show Westerners in a bad light.

     Comic Strips  

  • Calvin and Hobbes: Calvin lives a very cushy life and rarely encounters any real problems. Despite this, Calvin causes trouble and slips into a fantasy world to escape dreaded boredom. Calvin chronically rants, whines, and complains about things that don't really matter, and is occasionally put into place by the other characters. For example, here, when Calvin yells at his dad about the toaster.
    Calvin: "Look at what this dumb toaster did to my toast! It didn't cook it enough the FIRST time, so I pushed it down AGAIN and now ONE side's BURNED and the OTHER'S hardly singed! That toaster ruined my toast!"
    Calvin's Dad: "And yet... somehow... life goes on."
    Calvin: "Beneath that larger perspective is a guy who doesn't want to spring for a new toaster."
    • Calvin has the same "it's just a first world problem" retort to people's overwrought reactions to his rather mild antics, "I haven't KILLED anybody. See, that's good, right? I haven't committed any felonies. I didn't start any wars. I don't practice cannibalism. Wouldn't you say that's pretty good?"
    • And once, Calvin himself was on the other end. While reading about world hunger, Calvin laments that some people never get enough to eat:
      Hobbes: "Boy, I know what that's like..."
      Calvin: "No, you don't."


  • City of God, taking place as it does in the ghettos of Rio De Janeiro, and how one of the few chances people have for escape is self-destructive crime. One of the turning points for the main character is how he simultaneously loses his virginity while taking the first hot shower he's ever had.
  • In Accepted, Lewis Black who was working as a shoe store employee tried satisfying a spoiled bratty boy wanting "pump" shoes which the store hasn't got, brings up the situation that child labor workers in Asia sew those shoes together just to provide one bowl of rice for their families.
  • The film Snowpiercer takes place entirely on a mile-long train which serves as the last bastion of humanity after Earth has frozen over. The poor live in unimaginable squalor in the hellish, ghetto-like tail cars, while the first class passengers they meet as their rebellion travels to the front cars complain about comparatively meagre inconveniences.


  • Dorothy Parker's "Diary of a New York Lady", a 1925 short humor piece about a NYC socialite, might be the Ur-Example.
  • In The Great Gatsby the carelessness of the rich, who have no fundamental problems, is contrasted to the "hot struggles" of the poor such as George Wilson, who constantly is reminding Tom to sell him a car so he has the money to survive.
  • The book Alexandria Of Africa is about Alexandria, a Rich Bitch who regularly steals out of boredom and uses her money and influence to get out of it, until she gets sentenced to community service in Africa and realizes some people live far worse than she could ever imagine.
  • One of the major themes in The Hunger Games is the stark contrast between the excesses of the Capitol and the hardships in the Districts, where there is a very real chance of starving to death. Katniss and Peeta are horrified during a feast in the Capitol when they learn that it is common there for people to force themselves to throw up just so they can stuff more food in, when Katniss was once inches away from death by starvation and even Peeta's family struggled, despite running a bakery.

     Live-Action TV  

  • Firefly: The technology is there if you can afford it, but Mal and his crew constantly have to deal with basic human needs like food and medicine, the corruption of the Alliance, worlds run by petty despots, and the constant threat of violence.
  • The Wire: Taking place in the ghettos of Baltimore, one of the main themes of the series is how institutional dysfunction creates the Third World conditions of the inner city, feeds into criminal organizations, and inevitably aligns consumer culture with addiction culture.
  • Friends:
    • Invoked Trope by Phoebe. At first, her mother's suicide and teenage homelessness were occasionally played for Black Comedy, but later became part of her Character Development.
    • While Rachel is worried her relationship with Joey is fractured due to the complicated feelings between each other, Monica and Chandler are having an issue with their music CDs not being in the right case, annoying Rachel to no end:
      Rachel: OH MY GOD, you guys have SUCH problems, I feel so terrible for you!
  • The Walking Dead: Sasha's Berserk Button is smashed flat when an Alexandrian tells her how "worried" she is that she'll accidentally cook something Sasha can't stand. Sasha was in the middle of having some hella PTSD flashbacks involving her dead lover, her dead brother, and the numerous zombies that have tried to eat her by this point.
    Sasha: You're "worried?" THAT'S what you worry about? (storms off)
  • Boy Meets World: One episode has Mr. Turner assign his English class The Grapes of Wrath and promise the class he won't give them a test as long as they all read the book and participate in a discussion at the end of the week. However, Mr. Feeny does not approve of this and forces Turner to give them a test. Cory and Shawn, furious at this, decide to take a page from the book and go on strike by ditching class and occupying the cafeteria until Feeny backs off. They think Mr. Turner will be proud of them because they were able to apply the book to their lives, only for Turner to tell them that they clearly didn't learn anything from the book. The characters in the book went on strike because for them it was the only way to ensure they didn't go hungry or homeless. The kids on the other hand have comfortable lives and were just throwing a hissy fit over a trivial school assignment. Reflecting on this, they admit to Feeny that they were wrong to act out and Feeny, satisfied that they comprehend the material, allows Mr. Turner to continue with his method.
  • The Big Bang Theory: Raj complains he hated living in India, a Third World nation, which he describes as hot, loud, overpopulated and void of beef consumption. While living in Pasadena, California, Raj complains just about the entire day with his friends how terrible it is to live in India, but also delves into Stan Lee giving all his characters alliterative names or his friends not coming to congratulate him for appearing on People magazine. Additionally Raj's family was very wealthy so even when he lived in India Raj wasn't exactly hard up.
  • The Good Place:
    • Because Tahani is a wealthy Brit, she's rather out-of-touch. In the first season, she mentions her Bad Place torture would be being forced to wear a knockoff handbag and drink tap water. In the second season, she thinks her version of the Bad Place would be an eternity spent in the Swiss Alps during the off season, emphasizing "off season" as if she was disgusted. Chidi (in the first instance) and Eleanor (in the second) react with disbelief.
      Chidi: That's what you think Hell is?
    • In the second season, the demons torture Tahani by asking her to throw a party, then throwing a much better party themselves. Tahani is horrified when she realizes that even though she was warned about exactly what would happen ahead of time, it still worked.


  • "Weird Al" Yankovic's song "First World Problems" is about a rich guy whining about how much his life sucks because of all the horrible problems he has. Problems like buying too much food to fit it all in his fridge, his house being so big that his WiFi signal can't reach everywhere in it, not being able to take a shower because his maid is currently cleaning the bathroom, forgetting his gardener's name, not being able to find where he parked because he forgot which one of his multiple cars he was driving, his laptop having a single dead pixel in the corner, having to buy an extra item from Amazon that he didn't want in order to qualify for free shipping, and the most horrifying injustice of all: someone actually called him on his cell phone instead of communicating exclusively through texting like a normal person.
    • Invoked again by Yankovic during an interview early in his career— when asked if he had any hardships in his life, he immediately burst into tears over not selling enough copies of his most recent album to make "platinum" status, leaving him only enough money to purchase "the medium-sized hot tub!"
      • Al's "Don't Download This Song" does something similarly.
        Don't take away money from artists just like me
        How else can I afford another solid gold Humvee?
        And diamond-studded swimming pools, these things don't grow on trees
        So all I ask is everybody please
        Don't download this song...
  • Peter Schickele's "Classical Rap" is sung from the perspective of a man who lives on the (upper-upper-upper) West Side of New York. It even contains the rap trope where the singer mentions the hardships he's been through, only for this song you get such gems as "Zabar's was out of chocolate croissants".
  • Daniel Amos's "It's Sick" (from Vox Humana): The first two verses describe, in turn, a far-off war and racism. Then verse three covers the sort of problems that rich Americans face. And then the lyrics dig a little deeper, revealing that first-worlders did face real problems—the possibility of nuclear holocaust (the song was written in 1984)—and that the trivial problems were just a way of distracting from the big ones.
    Our trial is which car to buy
    Temptation is that extra dessert
    In the land of orange juice
    You're better off with the right kind of shirt
    But take away the naïveté
    Expose the sources of our fears
    We'll run to missiles if we're pushed that far
    Proceed to blow it all away!
  • Shania Twain’s "Honey I’m Home" details a "hard day" full of such earth-shattering catastrophes as breaking a nail, her hair going flat, a visible panty line, and getting a run in her stockings. Now she's thoroughly stressed and demanding that her partner immediately drop everything and pamper her.
  • Subverted by Taylor Swift's song "Champagne Problems" from evermore: The phrase is used to described this trope, and the song certainly started out with a heartbreaking but relatively minor problems: The girl rejected her boyfriend's proposal, but the song also heavily alluded to the societal judgment of the girl for not wanting marriage and think she is "fucked in the head".

     Web Original  

  • CollegeHumor: This trope is played with in this video. A group of Millennials whine about Ben Affleck being cast as Batman and the new intro for The Simpsons as ruining their childhood while other diners (and one waiter) comment on the catastrophes (sister raped, abusive father, Holocaust, racism, Vietnam War, polio, etc) disrupting their youth.
    • They did a separate skit about how they were "So broke!" that they couldn't afford luxuries, intercut with people complaining about the lengths they went to just to get a pittance so they afford basic necessities.
  • This commercial spoof offers support for people with the debilitating affliction known as FWP, the side-effects of which include such soul-crushing misery as "the thermostat is at 72 degrees and I need it at 73" and "I bought too many groceries and now I have to make two trips". It also asks for donations.... which are used to tell these people to stop complaining, in humorous ways.
  • An article from The Onion focused on "suburban decay".
  • The Angry Video Game Nerd spends all of his time freaking out about video games to the point that he has to self-medicate with alcohol.
  • The Nostalgia Critic likes to call out works for failing to avert this way of thinking, like the movie Airborne that constantly has the main character complaining about having to move from California to Cincinnati for a few months:
    Mitchell: ...I need traffic, smog, heat waves, a decent burrito for god's sake, I need the ocean, I can't take it anymore man...
    Critic: Yeah... if High School has taught us anything, its that it is very very difficult to be a beautiful white athletic male.
  • The Jolly Roger Telephone Company is an Internet-based company which provides bots that are designed to talk to telemarketers and other unwanted callers. Recordings of these calls are sometimes posted on YouTube.
    • One of the bots, Salty Sally, has a routine about not being able to figure out her "new cable thing" and how she's missing her shows. This plays particularly entertainingly against telemarketers and scammers who are calling from a third-world country and clearly cannot empathize at all, nor help her when she asks "do you know about all that stuff?"
    • The Jolly Jenny bot, New Year's version, says that she's getting ten hours of sleep a day and wants to try to get more because she doesn't think it's enough. As founder Roger Anderson points out in his text commentary, this isn't something that agents in foreign countries struggling to stay awake trying to meet their quota on just a few hours of sleep are likely to appreciate.

     Western Animation  
  • Later seasons of South Park have gotten absolutely merciless with spoofing various First World Problems by treating them all as Serious Business within the story, such as everyone going into a depression without at least one computer or iPad with Wifi, movies not living up to expectations, and safe space management on social media getting outsourced to children in developing countries.
    • "Fatbeard" confronts this head on. Cartman, thinking that recent news reports of pirates in Somalia is a return to the days of 16th century swashbucklers, leads a bunch of the kids there so they can live a pirates life. Eventually, one of the real pirates asks Butters and Ike why they left America in the first place and they tell him how crummy their lives were with school and being disciplined by their parents. The pirate then reveals such a life is a dream for him and that he was forced into piracy because of his family's poverty and spends every moment afraid of getting killed or his family dying if he can't support them. Hearing this, the two realize they all took their lives for granted and decide to go home.
      Ike: I feel like such an asshole...
  • One episode of Robot Chicken, after the show gets cancelled, Seth Green meeting up with Seth MacFarlane and asking him he had any work available for him. MacFarlane points out that Green already provides the voice of Chris on Family Guy.
    Seth Green: You expect me to live on hundreds of thousands of dollars a year? C'mon, I depended on Robot Chicken.
  • One episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force had Shake angsting over having to get a job at a fast food restaurant and deliberately invoking this trope, screaming to Frylock “These are third world problems! And I am from the FIRST!”


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