The Genie Question

By Tim Urban

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:






And another time, North Korea


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