Dedicated to Leslie, who flies a lot and never bitches about it.
It’s so annoying when people complain about everything. But I guess it’s something I need to get over since about 96% of all human communication is complaining. There are varying degrees. Not all complaining is really complaining. A lot of it is just a way of interacting with our fellow humans. People like to talk to each other. Coming up with things to talk about is hard. Finding something to complain about is easy.
Complaining can happen anywhere. But the cosmic-epicenter-universal-ground-zero-hub of complaining is the airport. If you were new to this planet and stopped in at an airport, you’d think that life on earth was so horribly, unbearably oppressive that continuing to live would hardly be worth the effort. You’d be amazed that more people didn’t drown themselves in a vat of Orange Julius just to make it all end.
On the one hand, it’s true. Air travel sucks. The overhead bins always get filled before your lowly scumbag zone 4 boarding group gets called. The sandwiches are shitty and stale and not even free. The guy in front of you put his seat back, and yours is in front of the urinal puck-smelling toilet and doesn’t recline. Your civil rights are violated by some TSA teenager in another city looking at x-ray pictures of your tits / balls when you go through security. It’s an all around bubbling inferno of horribleness.
On the other hand, flying is vastly more accessible than it was a generation ago. If you focus less on the horror of add-on fees and focus for a second on the overall cost of a ticket, even with a checked bag, a premium gang-banger mucho legroom class seat and a seven dollar lite beer, flights today cost a fraction of what they used to. And, in the larger picture, whereas if your great grandparents wanted to cross the country they had to rustle up a posse and wagon train along a dirt path for nine months, you can now swipe through a few screens on your iPhone app, pop onto a 3,000 ton 747 (which somehow, unfathomably, can actually get up off of the ground and fly six miles above the Earth, which is unbelievable on a whole ‘nother level) and be just about anywhere in the country in four hours. Oh, and there’s wifi. If you want to go visit your grammie or follow your bliss or escape to an all-inclusive Sandals resort with a pool bar or do whatever it is that you people do, it’s exponentially easier now than ever before.
Some things truly, objectively suck. When your body rejects a heart transplant because someone accidentally wrote the wrong blood type on the label on the transport cooler, that sucks. When your mom gets shot to death in a carjacking gone awry, that sucks. When your malaria vaccine spoils because the nearest refrigerator to your village is fifty miles away, that sucks. And some things are clearly first world problems. Slow wifi. When your entrée is served so soon after your appetizer that you hardly had time to take two bites. Starch on your shirt when you specifically said no starch.
But most things only suck or don’t suck relative to other things. If you compare air travel to a first class trip 30 years ago, it sucks. If you compare it to how things always worked from around the time of recorded history until 1950, it’s pretty mind-bendingly astonishing. And if you compare almost anything in life to the way 95% of the world lives, chances are it’s relatively phenomenal.
“Oh, well – first world problem” is a useful expression. If you say it before you complain about something, it’s an acknowledgement that you have some tiny modicum of self awareness and that, while it may not prevent you from complaining, you at least understand that your complaint may not, in fact, be all that massively troubling in the grand scheme of things. If someone else says it to you, what they may be saying, in a slightly more polite way, is “yeah, well, um, how ‘bout shutting the fuck up.”
So, no need for everyone to stop complaining. The world would be eerily quiet if that happened. A little more self-awareness is all. Similar to “don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all the small stuff,” I’d say “don’t complain too loudly about first world problems, and they’re all first world problems.” If you’re moderately healthy, have enough money to feed yourself and buy a magazine, aren’t living in fear of someone in your own house, and have one or two friends, things are probably pretty much OK. Complain for entertainment purposes, but don’t take it to heart. Consider spending a tiny little bit more energy appreciating how outrageously fucking amazing so much of the world is, and a tiny little bit less energy complaining about soggy airplane food.