Everyday is for the Thief

I’m currently reading Teju Cole’s ‘memoir novel’ published in 2007 titled Everyday is for the Thief (review posted here).

In one scene a brawl is witnessed and described. It is a chaotic, tempestuous confrontation between two drivers which threatens to spill over into the surrounding crowd. A week later another similar spat explodes and infects those nearby. The narrator suddenly feels pity for writers in the States who

“have to ply their trade from sleepy American suburbs, writing divorce scenes symbolized by the very slow washing of dishes. Had John Updike been African, he would have won the Nobel Prize twenty years ago. I feel sure his material hobbled him. Shillington, Pennsylvania simply did not measure up to his extravagant gifts” (Chapter 13, page 65*).

This amusing observation made me wonder about the phrase “first world problem”. Without using the phrase Cole appears to provide a precise example that fits the definition from the Oxford English Dictionary. A quick search informed me Wikipedia suggests the term has been used in meme form on Twitter since 2005. This Guardian article suggested it came to be used more frequently in 2011 and defined it as a humble brag or a phrase that “patronises those outside the “first worlds”.

While I may be taking a liberty by ascribing Cole’s intent in using this social artefact it seems he has surpasses the notion of a humble brag. He gently mocks this perspective and it is Cole’s Lagosian narrator who teases and patronises a first world experience.

*Cole, T. (2007) Everyday is for the Thief. London, Faber and Faber edition: 2014.


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