Third World Attitude

What is your reaction, while visiting a certain type of unwalled, trench-style public lavatory, upon observing another man’s turd sail between your feet?

(a) Eww, that’s not right. I only want to see my own shit, and even that only for reasons of medical diligence.

(b) Indifference.

If you answered (a) above you have a First World Attitude. You do not want to look at ugly things or smell them and you get annoyed if there is a practical way around it that is not being utilized. You think that things should generally work. You also think that lights in an apartment should be wired such that they can all turn on (not 80% of them), that dangerous potholes should be filled, that breathing city air should not cause lung diseases and that when you turn the tap on, water should come out.

If you answered (b) then you have a Third World Attitude. You are probably not reading this blog. You are more likely to be using one of those revolting Socialist toilets with Chinese characteristics described, or wading through shit to get to the train station in India, or shooting rivals and bystanders in a favela, or screaming your head off in a Nigerian restaurant. If you have any contact with them, you wonder why those First World poofters get so upset about no water coming out of the tap and being so entitled that they expect to get such things fixed that very week. Like all your neighbours, you steal power from the grid. You don’t blink when the power goes off. You drive around potholes. You might even drop your dacks, squat and hang a shit just whenever and wherever it feels right, even if it be on a crowded street.

The Third World Attitude can be summed up as a dual lack of concern for doing one’s own job properly, and an indifference, reaching a point of simply not noticing, towards the poor job that others do. I choose the word ‘attitude’ carefully – it is not poverty itself. It is a way of seeing the world, or of failing to see what’s wrong with it and how it could be better. In extreme cases of Third World Attitude (India) people do not even seem to smell open sewers, rubbish dumps or leather works. They cheerfully stop in at tea stalls right next to them, and enjoy their chai without vomiting in spite of the filth that assaults their every, dulled sense from every direction.

An example. I live in one of the best apartments in this town. The rooms are spacious, the power is usually on, it has been painted, the toilets flush and there are rarely scorpions in the bath. The contractor who fitted it out and furnished it did as good a job as anyone would do in this country.

But then we get to the lack of attention to detail:

– Some windows have no curtains or fly screens

– Some lamps are without light bulbs

– Some lights do not work because of the wiring

– Some keys were not provided

– The washing machines do not work (wrong voltage)

– The replacement machine dispenses waste water straight on to the ground

And so on. None of these is serious enough to bother an experienced third world traveler like your intrepid narrator. What is annoying is that the contractor promised to return ‘tomorrow’ to fix these issues but now, months later, simply refuses to answer his phone. I could fix some of them myself, but why should I? The contract clearly states that it is his responsibility.  And if you give up and do things yourself, the third world attitude is reinforced and the people you have to deal with get even worse.

The latest issue is that we have run out of water. See, this town has no regular piped water. Who needs that bourgeois, first world poofterism? So we have to call the contractor to order a water delivery.

And he still won’t answer his phone.

Luckily we have a white blonde woman living in the house. Being who and what he is, the contractor cannot resist answering her call *just in case* and the message gets through. Maybe we’ll get water in a week or so. We had anticipated this situation and have prepared emergency supplies.

We are not allowed to have a key to the room with the tank so we can’t check the level. We just have to wait for the water to run out. Then we can’t order more ourselves because we don’t speak the vernacular and are not allowed to have the keys for the gate to let the water in anyway.  So here we are.

We use too much water. It can’t be helped because in this country with chronic water shortages, the owners of the building chose not to install any modern, water-efficient features like low-pressure showerheads or water-saving toilets. For that matter, despite frequent blackouts the solar backup is lame due to the lack of energy-efficient appliances and various other foreseeable fuck-ups.

With present technology the building could have been set up to be self-sufficient for long periods of time. A generator, solar battery, better water efficiency, etc. etc. Instead it is a lumbering dinosaur designed by people incapable of imagining a future that is better than the past. Even if the government is useless and the public infrastructure does not improve, this building could have been an island of frugal comfort amid the sea of dust and backwardness. They wouldn’t have had to invent these life-improving gadgets – just import them.

Finally, people here think foreigners are soft for throwing a hissy fit about having no water and so on (if you don’t throw a hissy fit, the water stays off until you do). Locals think that rich countries are rich simply through luck. Lucky white people, living in cities where the power is always on, except Adelaide. So lucky to have piped, potable water. So lucky that there’s WiFi and 4G. So lucky that the food doesn’t make you sick.

This is the keystone that connects the crumbling archway of the Third World Attitude – upon noticing that other countries do things properly, they put it down to luck, as though when the First Fleet arrived at Sydney Cove the convicts and redcoats were delighted to find it all set up with a modern sewerage treatment plant and daily flights to Hong Kong. The First World Attitude is to see that things could be better, and to make them so.

A salient demonstration of the difference between Third World Attitude and mere poverty is the case of post-war Japan. Most cities had been razed, railways destroyed, people were starving and crime was rampant. Having a First World Attitude, the Japanese rebuilt and created the country that we know today.

Having said all of that, Third World Attitude is a spectrum. You’ll find aspects of it in Melbourne when you see the lack of shame about the state of our airport and railways. You can see touches of it in Taiwan in the shabbiness of wiring, curbing, plumbing and so on in an otherwise capable nation. I can see aspects of First World Attitude in places like Cambodia, where some people imagine better shops, restaurants and hotels, and create them.

To build a better world you first need to imagine it. But don’t go imagining crazy things that won’t help like social engineering. Bricks and mortar, mate. Bricks and fucking mortar.

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