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52 Signs You’re in a Third World Country

Are you in a Third World country without knowing? Swedish author Lars Holger Holm provides you with a check list to find out.

  • If everything in and of the state is basically and profoundly corrupt (which naturally prompts the question if there is any political state in the world that is not corrupt and thus Third World?).
  • If nothing really works but there is always ‘a way’.
  • If you have to pay the authorities when entering or leaving the country. If you have to do both you’re actually in a Fourth World country!
  • If the price of taxis are either totally negotiable or strictly determined by government regulations — amounting to the same.
  • If there’s always a taxi and a willing driver to be found.
  • If there are no ways of proving whether you’ve been drinking and/or speeding behind the wheel.
  • If the government doesn’t care whether you’ve been drinking and/or speeding.
  • If road patrols routinely consist of heavily armed military.
  • If the paint on the bathroom walls have been allowed to stain the shower tiles as well. In this particular respect, Italy, Spain and France would easily qualify as ‘Third World countries’. The Greeks and the peoples of the Balkan countries, on the other hand, don’t do this. I guess they admire the Germans and have to some degree been influenced by them.
  • If painting the doors also on the inside is considered an unnecessary expense.
  • If rebars are still sticking up through the concrete in building constructions generally considered ‘finished’.
  • If electric fixtures look like a nest of vipers and in effect is just as dangerous to touch (here again Italy, Spain and France are earnest candidates.)
  • If you have to get up from bed to turn the light off in the room.
  • If the Internet only sometimes works, or works badly, and there is absolutely no explanation as to why, let alone a possibility to have the connection re-established, the bottom line invariably being: ‘Use the Internet while you can!’
  • If the shower only sometimes works properly.
  • If the shower has only cold or only hot water (this actually sometimes happen!).
  • If it’s very difficult to turn the shower on and/or off.
  • If the trickle from the shower is feebler than your own stream.
  • If there are frequent water cuts for no apparent reason and without previous warning (such interruptions can in fact go on for weeks).
  • If the water closet gets stuck because of cotton balls thrown in it (you’d be very happy to see waste alone disappear when flushed, since it’s never to be taken for granted that it will).
  • If there are frequent power cuts unprovoked by natural disaster, and rather provoked by political leaders not making sure that the country’s energy bills are paid on time.
  • If the ATM machine doesn’t accept your credit card, informing you that the problem lies with your bank.
  • If the ATM machine credits your card without giving you the money.
  • If making a credit card transaction (for example buying an airline ticket) online is nearly always refused and you never will receive an explanation as to why.
  • If VISA, Mastercard or American Express are not accepted as means of payment in major food and department stores (as is the case in Germany).
  • If it takes the car rental company two weeks to waive the security deposit on your bank account and meanwhile sold your credit information to a third party.
  • If tipping is appreciated by taxis, in hotels, restaurants and bars, but not really expected.
  • If people smile and are nice to you for no reason.
  • If everybody around you calls you ‘my friend’ (‘my brother’, qualifies as well).
  • If inequality between human beings is taken for granted.
  • If equality between human beings is taken for granted but largely remains a concept waiting for a content.
  • If nobody, except a bunch of university students demonstrating in the capital, has ever heard of ‘human rights’ but everybody knows the word ‘respect’.
  • If people around you seize any pretext to produce noise (again France, Italy and Spain are given candidates).
  • If there are scooters and motorbikes everywhere, at all times.
  • If people attend religious services other than those associated with weddings, funerals and baptisms.
  • If people dress up in traditional attire year round.
  • If the bank is either closed or overfilled with people patiently — waiting.
  • If the banks and companies don’t even bother to invent pretexts for stealing your money.
  • If you can pay yourself out of nearly every problem.
  • If there are cheap and good shoe shiners.
  • If the bar ‘bouncers’ rather try to throw you into the bar than out of it.
  • If waiters are actually nice and doing their job without dragging their guests into it.
  • If, as a rule, the paved roads are full of holes.
  • If you hesitate to brush your teeth with tap water.
  • If bureaucracy is as complicated as bribing is easy.
  • If a certain kind of racial awareness begins to seem more and more natural and, above all, morally neutral to you.
  • If you start to grow patient with everything that doesn’t work and can’t be fixed.
  • If there’s always another way of doing it.
  • If the idea of having a thirty years younger girlfriend starts to appear both reasonable and advisable to you.
  • If prostitution both quickens and saddens your heart.
  • If you find yourself brooding about what ‘all this would have cost back home’.
  • If availing yourself of a gun for self-defence at times seem like a reasonable idea (I’m here primarily addressing a European reader, as an American one is likely to take such need for granted).

This is an excerpt from Incidents of Travel in Latin America by Lars Holger Holm.

  • Marathon-Youth

    A shorter more intense list of being in a 3rd world country:
    -Great inside the plane but when being driven to your hotel miles and miles of slum.
    -Beggars, slums and pavement dwellers all over the place
    -Pavement vendors with as many flies as there are food being sold.
    -Your 5 star Hotel is the only place that looks “First world”
    If you see this in the first day you are in a 3rd world nation. What do you do? remember class and race plays big time. Act your class but never be obnoxious.