If you’ve lived all your life in a first world country, the “incredible” things listed below may not be all that incredible to you. You’re probably so used to them that you no longer notice how amazing they are.
Well, I come from a third world country and compared to citizens of the first world, we have far less in so many respects. So let me have the pleasure of bringing your attention to some of the fantastic things in your country that you may be taking for granted.
1. Lightning-quick WiFI
And this is one of the very first things that amazed me when I moved to Belgium. I remember simultaneously downloading five different things online, and everything was done in less than ten minutes. I was so overjoyed I nearly cried.
In my country, you will understand the real meaning of slow when you try connecting to the Internet. If you download a single movie, you better sleep it off because chances are it won’t be ready until the next day. And if you need to Skype or FaceTime with someone, I can only wish you the best of luck. What will happen is you’ll get frozen on screen half the time. So frozen you might feel the urge to sing, “Let it go.”
2. Toilet paper provided in public toilets
Imagine this. You’re in desperate need to release some very nasty elements from your body. You dash to the toilet and discover that there is no toilet paper. Nightmare, right? So if you’re from a first world country and you find a million and one things to complain about, will you at least be grateful that there is toilet paper in your public toilets?
In my country, you can expect to find toilet roll holders installed in the toilet cubicles. But toilet paper? Zero. If it’s any consolation, there may be a vending machine that supplies tissue paper but you might need coins for that. What if you don’t have any and the call of nature is now or never?
3. Two to three-minute traffic jams (on a regular day without construction hassles)
Two to three-minute slowdowns and already people start whining. Are you kidding me? Where I come from, traffic jams can last as long as two to three hours. And by traffic jam, I mean vehicles getting stuck in the same spot for what feels like forever. The road actually starts looking like a jam-packed parking lot.
In first world countries, traffic problems are less in gravity and frequency, since a large percentage of people prefer to take public transportation like trams and trains. Wealthy governments can afford a public transport system that is safe, efficient, and convenient. Considering the state of public transport in most third world countries, people are better off taking the car if they have a choice. As a result, there are too many vehicles on the road. Add to that the problem of irregularly designed routes and unfinished road constructions, and the result is unbearable traffic, especially during peak hours.
4. Animal bridges or ecoducts
Okay, can I just say… What??? Bridges for animals? Holy cow. In my country, some remote villages can barely afford to build bridges for human beings. People have to cross rivers to get to the next town. But here in Belgium and other countries in Europe, animals actually have bridges especially made for them.
It may sound outlandish at first, but building wildlife bridges or ecoducts is vital to preserving ecological systems and protecting both animal and human life. By providing a safe passageway for animals to cross from one side of the forest to the other, road accidents are prevented and wildlife habitats are re-established and preserved. It also reveals a sense of magnanimity when governments have the mind to ensure animal welfare by any means possible.
Ecoducts were first built in the 1950s in France, and then in the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Germany.
5. Insect hotels
If animals have bridges, insects have hotels. Welcome to the first world!
An insect hotel is a type of garden fixture composed of little tubes that provide shelter and nesting places for all types of bugs. Accommodations are free of charge, and the anthropod clientele can check in and out any time they wish without having to stop by the reception. The rooms come in different themes too. Some are made of wood while others are built of stones so bugs can take a pick. Makes me wish I were an insect. But never mind me. What would the homeless say?
In exchange for free accommodations, bugs are expected to do their part in the pollination of flowers and plants in the garden. Let’s just hope they understand that. And even if there’s no danger of eviction, let’s double hope they will keep their end of the bargain.
6. Parks, small parks, and really, really small parks
Every country has its share of parks. But in a first world country like Belgium, parks are practically everywhere and they come in all sizes too. In Brussels alone, you have the grand parks like Bois de la Cambre, Parc Royal, and Parc Cinquantenaire. And then there are hundreds of smaller green patches called pocket parks tucked away in unexpected corners and unusual places all over the city. Just try going on a pocket park hunt in your neighborhood and see how many you will find. You’ll have to search carefully though. Some of these pocket parks are so small you could shoot them straight into your pocket.
You can tell how wealthy a nation is by the amount of green space it can afford to set aside for rest and recreation, and the preservation of nature. In less developed countries, green spaces are likely to be sacrificed for commercial opportunities and property development all in the name of economic salvation.
7. Benches everywhere
Have you ever noticed just how many benches show up along Belgian sidewalks from the countryside to the cities?
You walk down the street. Bench. You turn around the corner. Bench. You reach the next block. Bench, bench, bench. Even the sidewalks of some major avenues are lined with benches. Somebody ought to declare benches the national furniture of Belgium. I can’t help but wonder how much the government spent on installing all those public pews. I’m guessing the amount would be enough to sustain a whole town in my country.
The presence of so many benches says a lot about a country and its people. It conveys a culture of benevolence when public seats are made available for the benefit of the weary, the lost, or the aged. It also speaks to a way of life that encourages people to go out, take a walk, enjoy the outdoors, and socialise. Because any moment you get tired, you will always find a place of respite along the way.
8. Roundabouts with art installations
First, it is remarkably strategic that most roads in major European countries are well equipped with roundabouts. If you get lost or can’t decide where to go, you can simply drive round and round until you finally make up your mind which direction to take. And you will cause no disruption to the flow of traffic. Second, many of these roundabouts are bedecked with artworks. Have you even noticed? An ordinary public fixture has been transformed into a work of art. Hail to the humanities!
In my country, what we have are mostly turnarounds or u-turn slots that enable motorists to reverse course. It requires less money and space to designate u-turn slots, compared to setting up roundabouts, especially artistic ones.
9. Gigantic wind turbines
You know you’re in a first world country when éoliennes are part of the landscape. These colossal structures tower over many European cities and towns like proud giants. I can imagine how they would outrage Don Quixote de La Mancha more than the windmills he so bravely and insanely attacked.
The development of wind-powered electricity and other renewable power sources demonstrates a country’s capability to implement highly advanced energy and environment policies. Based on 2016 figures, the average cost of installing a single wind turbine ranges from €1,100 to €1,600 per kilowatt, and up to €1.23 million per megawatt. In Europe, Germany has the largest wind energy capacity, followed by Spain, the United Kingdom, and France.
According to psychologist Abraham Maslow, human beings need to satisfy a hierarchy of human needs to achieve their fullest potential. People and civilisations can only reach for higher goals and aspirations if they have already met their most basic needs for food, water, shelter, and security. By the same logic, first world countries can afford to advance to more ambitious ideas, projects, and policies because they have already covered the basics like food security, housing, and transportation. Or at least, they already have well-established mechanisms for ensuring that such needs will be managed. Third world countries have less capacity to move forward because they are still struggling with the basics.
That said, I’m pretty sure I can also come up with a list of amazing things that can only be found in a third world country. But what I’m most proud of are the kind of resilience we have in the face of adversity, our ingenuity in finding ways to make up for what we lack, and most of all, our ability to find some humour even in our miseries.
Wherever we come from, first or tenth world, abundance and inadequacy will always exist side by side. And our sense of satisfaction and dissatisfaction will vary depending on the given standards of living in our respective countries.
Complaining will always be part of human nature. But may we never forget to be grateful for the blessings we already have, remembering that there are others who have far less, or no toilet paper at all.