Expat Sat: Writing Prompt #8: You & Her…Here & There…This & That

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writerhead. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.

This is #8 of 10 in a series of writing prompts for expat writers. So listen up, my nomadic pals. Then grab your keyboards and start writing.


Folks are often hesitant to do the old “comparison/contrast” when it comes to writing about their host country or their fellow expats. They’re afraid of offending people, stereotyping, etc. I get ya, but sometimes there’s nothing better than a little “us and them” to reveal truths, highlight key cultural differences, and maybe even make your reader laugh out loud. Believe me, you can poke a little fun at yourself, your culture, your fellow expats & their cultures, and yes, even your host country’s culture…all without being offensive. (And besides, not all comparison/contrast essays are funny. Many are quite serious. That part is up to you.)

Writing Assignment: You’ve got a couple of options:

1. Choose something aesthetic that you like: literature, food, movies, music, dance, art, clubbing, photography, architecture, etc. Then pick one example from your home country and one from your host country (for example, if you choose food, you could compare Chinese hot pot to good, old-fashioned American beef stew). Once you’ve narrowed your topic:

a. Explain why one thing is better than the other. For example, if you’re a fan of Chinese hot pot, explain why it’s better than stew back home in the United States. (In my mind, ANYTHING is better than stew.)

b. Reveal a little something-something about both by doing a side-by-side comparison. For example, hot pot and stew are both delicious but each reflects certain aspects of its culture. (Both are comforting, cold-weather dishes but stew-eaters are lazier than hot-pot aficionados. Stew-eaters like their dish to arrive ready to eat whereas hot-pot aficionados like to participate in the cooking.)

2. Compare and/or contrast two groups of people: taxi drivers in your host country and taxi drivers back home; store clerks in your host country and store clerks back home; bosses in your host country and bosses back home; mothers in your host country and mothers back home (yep, been done by Amy Chua, I know) ; etc.

a. Explain why one is better than the other. For example, why taxi drivers in the U.S. are way better than taxi drivers in your host country.

b. Reveal a little something-something about both by doing a side-by-side comparison. For example, taxi drivers in both countries USUALLY get you where you want to go, but both have their quirks.

Tip #1: Figure out what your purpose is. Are you explaining your two subjects…saying both are good (or bad), just different? Or are you evaluating your two subjects…saying that one is better (or worse) than the other?

Tip #2: Before you start writing, make lists. (Always a good time to make a list!) List the characteristics of both subjects that you will compare. (For example, make a list of hot pot characteristics and beef stew characteristics. Then also characteristics of people who eat each of these dishes.)

Tip #3: Keep your audience in mind. Imagine someone reading your piece in the next edition of “Best Travel Essays.” Make sure you give that reader all the info she needs. (Perhaps this poor reader has never had the privilege of eating Chinese hot pot!)

Un-Goal: This is not a rant. Your goal is not to mock or make fun. There’s a fine line between funny and making fun. (More on this in a future post.)


Now…get thee to writerhead!


Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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