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

Misc Monday: Steve Jobs: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”

I love this speech that Steve Jobs gave at Stanford University’s 2005 commencement ceremony. When I have a moment of doubt about anything in life–writing or otherwise–I pop over to watch it. It buoys me. Revs me up. Clears the noise. Brings me back to center. Reminds me to listen to my smart, funny, creative inner voice.

Favorite quotes:

“You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

And my favorite favorite:

“Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”



Q4U: What brings you back to center in moments of doubt?

Misc Monday: I’d Go The Whole Wide World

Welcome to Misc Monday…the day of the week when I share something…something fun…something inspirational…something profound…something inventive, genius, soul-stirring, life-changing. Something.

I love the movie “Stranger Than Fiction.” A weird, innovative tale about many things: storytelling, taking risks, narration, being stuck, and more. But at the core, it’s about a taxman Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) who discovers something he really, truly wants…Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal).

My favorite scene is when Harold Crick sings “I’d Go the Whole Wide World” while strumming a guitar and Miss Pascal falls for him/on top of him/in love with him.

In that moment, there is a clarity of desire. Sure, there’s the physical desire unfolding…but it’s deeper than that. There’s a seeking and a finding of self in this moment.



Q4U: What do you want? What will you go the whole, wide world for? As a writer? A human?