"Oh my God, my hairdresser made my hair far too dark this time."

"The service here is appalling - I get so sick of eating out all the time."

"These giveaways with top makeup brands are never worthwhile - they'll just take up cupboard space."

First World Problems. And these snippets I quote I've heard first-hand.


One of the first recorded references to First World problems was found in 1995, in these lyrics from Canadian alt rock group Matthew Good Band's song Omissions of the Omen: "And somewhere around the world / Someone would love to have my first world problems / Kill the moon and turn out the sun / Lock your door and load your gun / Free at last now the time has come to choose."

In August 2005, the first Urban Dictionary described First World problems as: "Problems from living in a wealthy, industrialised nation that Third Worlders would probably roll their eyes at."

But here many are too concerned about their hair products, recalcitrant air-conditioning or streaks in their spraytan to be concerned about other-wordly issues. Yes, their problems would have many people from Third World countries spinning in disbelief.

I have a bad habit of leaning a bit too close to the next table when I'm out having my morning/afternoon coffee (a fine First World ritual). Some would call it eavesdropping, but I prefer to refer to it as research for my writing.

It's amazing how First World problems take over with some personalities and the scope and minutiae of the issues covered ...

I'm often tempted to stamp my feet, become all John Cleese-esque and yell at these whiners. "Have you watched the news from overseas at all lately? Do you know about the situation in Syria, the floods in the Philippines or how Bali is still recovering 10 years on after the tsunami? Have you any concept of how fortunate we are to be living in New Zealand?"

But then my good coffee buddy pulled me down off my high horse.

"Remember, we agreed we'd try not to mention one First World problem at coffee and we actually found it quite difficult," she reminded me.


And I listened to myself. It was all about the air-conditioning malfunctioning, trying to decide whether to serve turkey or roast lamb on Christmas Day, the Auckland traffic and diabolical effect of the humidity on my hair and skin.

We had to agree it probably wasn't likely we'd discuss rehousing refugees or disbanding Islamic State while we chilled over our flat whites. But, we also agreed that really we can never appreciate how hard life is for some and that we have to remind ourselves - frequently - just how good we have it here.

My freelancer friend/coffee buddy had a brilliant idea. Swear jars have become so passe, so she suggested that we replace these with First World problem jars. "Every time someone utters an inappropriate First World problem they have to put money in the jar, which will later be given to a charity of choice."

Sounds great to me. Now I'll just have to find a place for that jar among all my things.

Often it takes an outsider to make us truly appreciate our own good fortune. We had a Syrian businessman staying with us recently. He now lives in China and travels the world extensively for his very successful food exporting business. It is this man's dream to retire in New Zealand.

We were standing outside our suburban brick 'n' tile on what I thought was a pretty humdrum Auckland day when the sun wasn't even shining. I'll always remember what he said, rather wistfully: "Really, you live in paradise here."

And we do. So let's forget those frivolous First World problems - plenty of other people would love to have them.

Robyn Yousef is an Auckland writer.