The Genie Question

One of the key features of this travel series was that the places I went were all very different from each other.

The reason I wanted widely varying countries wasn’t just to observe the vast contrasts between them—I was curious what would be common among them.

Because if something exists in Russia, Japan, Nigeria, Iraq, and Greenland, it must exist everywhere. So in that way, visiting these countries one after the other offered me a lens into the human condition.

Some of the things I found in all five places were predictable—football, graffiti, TV, mobile phones—but the more interesting reminder was how incredibly similar all people really are underneath the blanket of culture. Nothing makes that point clearer than the video below.1

As I mentioned at the beginning of the series, one thing I was going to do was ask dozens of people in each country the same question: “If you had a genie like Aladdin and you were granted three wishes, what would you wish for?”

I wanted to see what people in different places yearn for.

Here’s what people said:

The posts:

Russia

Japan

Nigeria2

Iraq

Greenland

And another time, North Korea


  1. Please excuse both my amateur filming and editing jobs. I’m not a skilled man.

  2. After the Nigeria post, a reader put together a campaign to raise money to help Femi (the guy who took me in while I was there and who had to skip college when his father died in order to support his ten-person family) support his family and pay to go to university. WBW readers contributed over $1,000, which is on its way to Femi this week—you can see Femi at 3:22, 3:58, and 5:08 in the video).

  • Ramón Yabra

    Just finished watching the video, and I’m holding back my fucking tears.

    Tim, you really are a great role model. Thank you for everything you’ve done with this blog. You’re amazing and an incredible influence.

    As always, thank you for your post and good luck in the future. 😉

  • Anonymous

    Tim, as always thank you for the post, very entertaining and interesting. I’m hoping you do another world tour some day!

    One note, and maybe this is just on my computer, but the music track you added to the video was much louder than the other audio making it difficult to hear some of the responses. Any chance you could turn that down? Or anything I could do on my end to help that?

  • Josh Hough

    Very poignant Tim – it’s interesting to ponder on how most of us want the same things when it really comes down to it. Some awesome ones in there too (I especially liked fulfilled destiny).

    You’re an inspiration to blog writers everywhere mate, and your stuff is fantastic. Thanks for sharing!

  • Darima the Siberian girl

    Hey Tim,

    Great video! Thank you so much for making it and ruining some dumb stereotypes – people are so different but want basically the same 🙂

    Haha crazy Russian woman is hilarious but it’s also kind of sad to see her…like the other Russian guy said, I wish people wouldn’t think about Russia as only a bunch of drunk people and communist, that’s why it’s so great you actually went to Siberia!!

    Best wishes

  • Anonymous

    Great video: really made me think. For the record,

    1. Creating something remotely poignant and numinous
    2. To excel at something
    3. Find a measure of success I can find peace with and I can share

    Sure, they might seem selfish or self-absorbed, but they’re honest and they’re mine. I hope that other people can find theirs too.

  • Rohan

    I love this website. It’s what keeps my going when I’m down. It is my escape.

    Thank you Tim and the other guy (Andrew)

  • Vidya

    Fighting back tears…..somehow this video touched my heart….

  • Mike_NL

    Amazing video – even though the outcome isn’t too surprising, it’s amazing to see that literally everyone wants to just be happy, take care of their familiy and live in good health. Money is always named first as people assume that’s what will deliver the aforementioned things.. and it often does ofcourse.

    All in all it makes you wonder why there is so much unjustice, war, hatred etc. in this world when deep down we’re all more or less the same.

    Very inspiring video!

    • Mike_NL

      injustice*

      🙂

    • Erin M.

      And they want those things for everyone else too 🙂

      I think there are two main answers to your second question. The first is power: there is a subset of people who, if given any power, only want more of it. But the second is that wanting to take care of your family is a double-edged sword. It includes self-protection (from even perceived threats, not just real ones), and tribalism, with fear/devaluation of the “other” Those aren’t “bad” things in and of themselves, but they lead to very bad outcomes.

      Thanks for the lovely video Tim.

  • Alexandra

    It’s an amazing idea and an amazing realisation. I want to thank you for the travel series and for this blog, because beside the fact that it is very entertaining, it also helps people see how big the world is and how different and at the same time similar are all the people.

    P.S. I have a remark. A russian boy from the video, whose words you’ve translated with subtitles, didn’t say the things the subtitles said (yeah, I wrote it in a too complicated way, but nevertheless)

    The subtitles said: “For the world to think of Russia as a normal place with normal, smart people, not just drunks with their vodka.”

    An what he really said was more like: “For those who are unhappy to be happy. Yeah, that sounds kind of hippie, but… “

  • Vito

    I found your site some months ago when I was doing searches for more insight on the Fermi Paradox. I’ve come back often to read of your travels and I’ve been entertained, educated and touched by it all. Thank You Tim. Awesome stuff !!

  • GuessWho

    Awesome video Tim. What piano piece was playing in the background?

    • Wait But Why

      The two songs are things I had written and recorded previously that worked-ish and are legally easy because I own them. I didn’t plan on putting any music in but when it was done the video looked at me and was like, “Really asshole? You’re not gonna put music in this?” so I did. If the music is either too quiet or too loud, duh because I have no experience making videos. For me it’s too loud when I use headphones and too quiet when I listen on laptop speakers, so I went with that.

      • Rimi

        Good job with the music! The video, posts and everything else of course, but also with the music. I wish I had that piano piece in my ipod.

      • GuessWho

        Lovely! Anywhere I can get the sheet music? Would love to learn it on the piano 🙂

      • Unbelievable

        Seriously, fuck you Tim. Now besides all the writing you also have to humiliate us with your music talent.

  • Diane

    I don’t know why but this made me cry… Thank you Tim, amazing job.

    I wish for peace, peace and peace everywhere.

    • Anonymous

      Me too! Like a tidal wave of emotion. I showed my students and some of them cried too (7th grade). Really touching, Tim.

  • Regine

    My goodness, this is LOVELY.

  • bklyn

    …And I’m actually sitting here sobbing at work. The sheer humanity you’ve captured is sublime and truly beautiful.

    Many thanks, Tim. Your work on this blog is a wonder– funny, engaging, poignant, and powerful.

    • Wait But Why

      Glad this is having the same emotional effect on you guys it had on me. It’s interesting cause when I did the interviews, they were interesting and sometimes touching, but mostly just interesting. Then, you cut out all the dialogue and mash them all together with each other and put music behind it and suddenly I want to give each person in the video everything I own and love them forever.

      Putting the interviews/people all together had a way of hitting me over the head with the big “people are the best” message that I couldn’t quite see during each interview because I was standing too close. The video was a way of taking a huge step back to look at it.

      • Trish

        You should add more of your music to your videos. Totally impressed and have to take a moment to breathe. You have planted a love bomb. There’s NO WAY I’m going watch this again right now because if I do I’ll start bawling…. What a way to end the series. Just perfect.

        • Anonymous

          Agreed. A really lovely end to a really moving series.

      • Exorack

        I’m surprised no one said that he/she would wish that everyone else in the video would get what they wished for

  • Gabriel

    You are awesome! Your writing is fenomenal, love to read your posts, always so direct to the point and yet embracing! continue with your good work and come visit Brasil some day, it would be great!

  • Holly Ferguson

    The Japanese don’t make wishes?

    • Danielle

      Ditto this query.

      • Wait But Why

        I had a memory card disaster and lost most of the footage from the last two days of the Japan visit. Unfortunately, 90% of my Japan genie interviews were on that card. I don’t want to talk about it it’s still too soon.

        • Thor

          You might want to check out Photorec – it’s a recovery tool that does pretty well at finding things. Then again, I had an A-Data card that *just didn’t show up*, so….

  • Leo

    Your video has most certainly left a lasting impression on me Tim. It’s a measure of your ability that every post tends to be better than the last. Keep up the moving work and thanks for sharing your gift!

  • Alice

    Loved the whole series–loved the video very very much !

  • Bruno

    Great, now I’m sobbing at work and everyone is making fun of me. My life is ruined. Thanks for that, Tim.

    • Anonymous

      Hahaha.

  • Gyo

    The guy at 1:30 looks a lot like you. 🙂 The girl in Nigeria who wishes for “longtime joy” is precious!

  • Anonymous

    That girl near the end I think said it best. We all want a fulfilled destiny.

  • Hayley

    Simply outstanding Tim!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Anonymous

    Tim, you wrote the piano music too???! Did you also play it?

    • Tim’s mom

      Yes, it is Tim playing the piano

      • A different Tim

        Well, isn’t this sweet. Thanks for chiming in, Tim’s mom. =)

  • Aziz

    Tim – I’ve been reading your posts for a while now. I’ve never left a note cause i’m not the commenting sort of guy. This series of posts made me applaud your work. Kudos to you, you are doing a fantastic job and I hope you can continue writing and influencing the lives of all your readers.

    P.S.: Please hurry up with the next post, the wait is almost as bad as waiting for the next Game of Thrones episode.

  • Jenni

    I cannot stop PRing for you on my FB. The coverage in your latest series in Greenland, Iraq, Japan, Nigeria and Russia is absolutely phenomenal – especially the Iraq post.

    Every time I freak out about whether or not to join the Peace Corps, these posts have reminded me that there is a vast, beautiful, and deeply rich world beyond the U.S. and I’d be sorry to miss an opportunity to see it because of my fear. Thank you Tim.

  • Jane

    I’m loving your posts, but I read them in China. Your website blocks my VPN for some reason
    “The owner of this website (waitbutwhy.com) has banned your access based on your browser’s signature (16fb10ad1a3d03f4-mh5).”
    But I can’t load the videos without going through the VPN. Any solution?

    Thanks anyway, I love the rest of your stories

    • Wait But Why

      I wish I could help with that, but I have no idea. When I was in China my friend’s VPN could access the site —maybe try a different one.

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  • Steven L

    I think writing down the three wishes loses some of the appeal, because you get to go back and revise what you said to make it more ‘correct’. So I’m going to try and write down my first reaction to that question:

    1. To be successful in university and my future career (scientific research, if everything pans out) and use my success to help others.

    2. A life partner with whom the love doesn’t stagnate over the years (I have yet to find a couple for whom this did not happen).

    3. For my brain to be uploaded into code before I die so that I can live forever playing pranks on people through the internet.

    And a bonus wish:

    4. To learn to be concise because every time I try to talk about myself it becomes a discussion on the nature of humanity and reality, and that really bothers me (and makes other people uncomfortable [fuck off, mammoth]).

  • Voracious Reader

    What a beautiful way to end your travel series. “Fulfilled Destiny” was the best, the castle in Provence was a bit too much, the biscuit was heartbreaking, but all in all the wishes were nearly universal. No matter where you live, people want to have to a decent place to live, food on the table, a little extra $ for life’s pleasures, no fear of war and an iPhone, lol.

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  • Turtle

    I FOUND THE TURTLE

    • FirstTurtle

      Not before me

      • FirstTurtle, or Any Fake Name

        A curious point:

        For some months I have tried to post comments on this site with my real name, and for some reason they never get accepted (don’t appear in the page). When I use any fake name the comment is successful.

        Wonder if I was banished for doing something bad to the site.

        • Wait But Why

          No we’ve never banished anyone and we don’t censor comments. Sometimes A) WordPress is weird and thinks commenters are responding too frequently even if they aren’t and prohibit comments or B) our spam filter filters out non-spam. Anyway sorry this is happening to you, it’s annoying.

  • Bell

    I FOUND THE TURTLE

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  • Jane

    Pretty great music Tim. The part from 4:38-4:48 gave me chills.

  • Viorel

    Great great video,

    Come and visit Moldova!

  • Efraim

    The video was great man, for a minute I thought my eyes were sweting. Congratulations on the site. There’s really nothing more than this to be said.

  • Rena

    Tim, you’re so great. Thank you SO FUCKING MUCH. If you weren’t so brilliant I’d hate how obnoxiously talented you are (“not that skilled” huh :/ Seems like you’re only unskilled at PROCRASTINATING! :p )
    Thank you thank you thank you.
    I found that you studied Government and I want to tell you that I really, really enjoyed the socio-cultural-political(kind of) view. I recently went on a student exchange (From an Indian city to rural Denmark) and I thought, short of mobiles, Facebook and Forever21, we didn’t have anything in common. Maybe this will help change my perspective.
    The music is beautiful. Do you plan on performing someday?

  • d

    That’s a much better editing job than you give yourself credit for.
    What are your wishes?

  • Jeanna

    This was a great video, and really the whole travel series was wonderful. Do you plan to visit more places? I would love to read about India, China, Australia…anywhere really! Your articles give an interesting overview of what it’s like to be there.

  • Tim’s fan

    Your blog had become my weekly escape. You’re awesome. In fact, I was talking about it with my patient today. Free advertisement!

    • Tim’s fan

      Has* become

  • But Why Not?

    When the video started and they all said they wanted money, I’ll admit that I groaned, but all of that changed a few minutes in. I think it’s amazing how a common theme was that they wanted their country to be great, something I don’t necessarily expressed in that particular way in the States. Maybe we just take it for granted that we are a giant in the world. I love this blog more than life 😉

  • Daniel V

    Ok Tim, you made me and my girlfriend cry…. I hope you’re happy.

    But seriously, you should be, this is beautiful and inspiring.

  • Anonymous

    This made me really, really emotional and inspired. I suddenly want to devote my life to humanitarian efforts!! Like you said, wish I could give them everything I have/everything they want.

    Also, the piano music is really beautiful — Spring Street especially. Getting married in a few months; maybe I’ll walk down the aisle to this. 🙂

    Thanks for what you do; it’s greatly appreciated!

  • Anonymous

    Tim,

    Just curious, but did you get a chance to talk to any Peshmerga while you were in Kurdistan? Or just civilians? I’m interested in the impression you got off of them. Seriously great video. Like a lot of people have already said, I came close to tears while watching it. One day I hope to be able to travel like this.

    Speaking of, do you have any particular techniques you use to get around the world so easily? I imagine it would be cost-prohibitive as hell to just take standard flights everytime.

  • Llazerwofl

    I dont know why i cried when i watch this video. I get unexpected frisson from it, maybe its just that all they ever want is to be happy with their life and their beloved ones. They’re not trying to rob a bank, or do something evil, why is it so hard to be happy. Some of the simplest wishes just break my heart.

    You’ve inspired so many people with your blog including me. I hope you can keep doing it indefinitely. I’m always a silent reader for a looong time, but i think its time to make a proper thank you. Thank you for what you are doing, I really appreciate it 🙂 .

    By the way, after travelling to 5 country, how much does it totally cost you? Im curious, just in case i wanted to follow your footsteps as a travelling blogger. hehe

  • The nude guy

    I want the world to become more nudist friendly. I’m sick of people being put in jail just because they fight for body freedom. We’re not perverts, we just want to be free. Is that too much to ask?

  • bartlettpress

    As I read your responses I am equally in awe (well maybe not “the nude guy”). Your adventure has taken us all vicariously to places and to concepts that I thought were beyond our understanding. This finale shows me as incorrect and that global unity may actually be possible. I can’t thank you enough for this education and would like to help support this event that has moved me, and apparently so many others, so greatly.

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  • Tina

    “Money” replaces the old answer to that question: 100 more wishes. since it’s exactly that: not having to make an immediate decision on the spot and buying some time.

  • Anon

    Tim for 2016!

  • The_Sobb_Machine_2014

    After reading all of the posts of the “Odd Things in Odd Places” series (that are btw a total masterpiece, I can’t even describe how briliant they are and I’m not overreacting (ok maybe I am cause I’m still totally under the influence of the above video which means that I’m in a very weird emotional state, not sure how to explain it)) and then watching this video I’m crying harder than I cried when I saw the Lion King on Broadway, finished reading the Harry Potter series and found out that Santa Claus wasn’t real COMBINED. Seriously it’s 3 in the morning where I live, I’m sobbing like crazy and I can’t find any rational explanation for it but then again I guess that’s the beauty of it.

    I just wanted to say that your posts about weird-but-kind-of-cute Japan, compared-to-other-destinations-boring Russia, colourful-fun-yet-tragic Nigeria, terrorist-occupied-and-oh-so-complicated Iraque and spooky-and-weird-in-a-not-so-cute-way Greenland took me on a very special kind of journey too. I love how you didn’t limit yourself by using the same writing form for every country, how you adjusted the form of the post to every country specifically, not simply describing the country but trying to communicate to us the country’s true spirit, focusing on what you think marked the country the most at the time of your visit. It really shows how you didn’t allow your trip or your posts to be limited by some pre-planned plans (lol that’s some awkward writing but please keep in mind that it’s 3pm and English isn’t my firts language), stereotypes or expectations. Plus your subtle, reader-oriented humour is like a cherry on top of it all!

    Bottom point – I wish I could write like you and I wish I was as adventurous, free and witty as you are. Well, maybe one day 🙂 but untill then I’ll be happy with just reading what you have to say. Better to experience it second hand, than not at all 😉

    Regards from Slovenia!

    Maša

  • Anonymous

    Unfortunately WBW, you may have in fact set the bar too high, how can your next post top a universal wish for peace on earth and happiness on earth?

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  • Sara with No H

    I watched this video the day it came out (because I’m here just about every [work] day) and today I watched again. I’m sure it’s been said already, but there is something SO humbling in hearing humans wish for things that I already have. Tim, I think you’re pretty great. We are the same age and I find it so cool that our generation is where it is now. Obviously people of each generation relate to their peers- we were the same age when 9/11 happened and when Titanic came out. Fifteen years ago, the only places I saw my peers were in vapid pop music videos and teen comedies. Then college. Then amazingly, people my age are the ones making decisions in business, creating technology, making movies that I love, singing songs that makes sense to me, and like you, writing stuff that is smart and deep and that I just get. I’m so into it! In twenty more years, the kids who graduated high school at the turn of the century will be the law makers and powerful politicians- it’s kind of mind blowing. Right?

    Too much?

    Not sorry.

  • Lissaannb

    I would like to see a documentary follow up with the effects of each wish, as in if everyone in the world had the same wish granted. Everyone having a large amount of money, world peace, health, a house or a car. If everyone had a large amount of money, how would that effect the economy negatively? If there was world peace, then how would that effect the economy, the need for governments or militaries? If everyone is healthy, how long would people live and how much would the world population grow? And how that would effect the economy, the strain on personal finances, lack of jobs because everyone is still working. If everyone in the world had a house or car, is there enough land to accommodate the houses and still have enough land for agricultal, or how everyone having a car would congest the roads or how they would multiply pollution?

    How would we have to change things, as in laws to control the issues? One car families? One income families? Limits on births? Required death age? Houses with no land or multiple generations living in one multi-story house (assuming that the wish is a “house” and not apartments, condos, houseboats, …..) Rations on food?

    Each wish would have a negative effect on someone else. Ex. A large pile of money. Who’s money? Did you earn it? Was it given to you? By who? Where did it come from, because it had to be someone else’s before you received it because if it was just printed up then it devalues all the money. Everyone having a lot of money will then cause a demand surge on supplies and prices will increase once again, devaluing money.

    Every time I hear something like this, I think of the Twilight Zone episode about the boy who wished for all the money in the world. He received it, meaning all the money in the world appeared on his property. It literally vanished from banks, pockets, wallets and so on. When people starting using something else as money, it vanished and appeared on the boys property because it now meet the definition of “money” in his wish.
    So when someone wishes for something, you have to think about effects of the wish and they usually out weight the desired item, at least to the rest of us.

  • Johnny Young

    Thank you so much Tim for your posts have thoroughly changed my life. I am overwhelmed by the amount of pleasure by enduring subsequent tasks essential to my preservation of state of mind. Your spread of knowledge has been so useful and explained so well. You make it so easy for anyone to understand if they just pay attention and hault that procrastination monkey, and lose that mammoth! And man I can feel the powerful impact you’ve made on me in these past couple days just by going on a reading tangent on almost every one of your posts now. I feel a very strong gratitude towards everything that comes my way.

  • cotpoe

    A wonderful, touching,powerful video. Quite poignant in showing how probably 8 out of 10 random people have a co-operative,common welfare mindset (when absent from “societal” competitive compulsions). Note the absence of ” I want to rule the world” or “I want to be the richest person in the world” type of domination and control desires in the large majority. With all the Hailing and bowing we as society give to competition, it is easy to forget that what separates us from other mammalian species is the intricate and complex web of cooperation we as a species are capable of exhibiting. It is the cooperative equilibrium where true progress of the human civilization lies rather than the lowest common denominator competitive equilibrium where all power relations – between states,groups and individuals lie. Competition and need for control originates from the primal survival and fear of uncertainty instincts. Cooperation involves a higher-order thinking involving trust dynamics. Even infants have an innate sense of fairness.

    Unfortunately, 10-15% segment of the human population still has the psychological need to Control and Dominate. This segment naturally prospers in our current competitive framework that rests on thin veneer of civilization gift wrapping over propensity and capacity of violence.

    The main problem of the silent 80% majority is the herd behaviour. Lot of classical social experiments show this tendency of majority of the humans to follow the herd ( and henceforth follow the predatory,dominating individuals who seek control. Perfectly ordinary people are capable of making quite major ethical violations when told to do so by an “authority”. In a vast majority – irrespective of great capacity for cooperation, this herd following mentality easily translates into blind complacence and apathy to wrongs being done – if they are given some poor rationalization by the authority, out of fear of being left by the herd and also rewarded for their silence by advancement in the system (carrot and stick). It is in the rare,pivotal moment of human history when the tipping point is reached and masses unite to demand a more egalitarian system.

    Only a small 5% minority – that neither seeks control, nor complacently blindly accepts the hypocritical system tries to voice out the greater truth and cry and fight for justice,peace,equality and other higher ideals – only largely to be marginalized and ridiculed (deliberately by the power structure and subconsciously by the herd majority). And of-course this minority has a huge asymmetric disadvantage in its capacity to protect itself from violence which the establishment has huge resources of.

    Henceforth – though 8 out of 10 people will say all the nice things about peace and love thus highlighting their innate capacity for networks of cooperation as well as the shared common aspirations we as finite sentient beings have – thus making for touching videos, the same majority ( the true power broker given their numbers which the control seeking 10-15% seeks desperately to tame) accepts the illusion of helplessness what can we do? it’s how things are) and goes about its business turning a blind,apathetic eye to things contrary to such ideals.

    Only in short periods of history when systemic collapse accompanied by some mass awakening takes place does the minority 5% with support of this awakened majority seek to put such higher ideals into effect. Such changes are of course reversed in 3-4 generations as truth and courage and struggle leads to freedom and prosperity, followed by selfishness,apathy,dependence and back to bondage and the lessons of previous generations are forgotten.

    And of course a 0.1% sits on their couch and makes the detached cynical observations about the cyclical tragedy of human nature having no moral inclination to make the courageous effort to be in that 5% silent hero ridiculed minority who are truly the best exemplars of human capacity.

    A beautiful video nonetheless 🙂

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