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#106 Making Trivial Comparisons

November 7, 2011

"Yeah, you probably don't realize it but there are a bunch of different varieties of banana. The ones here are so much bigger than the ones we get in the tropics." (Photo: http://www.sweetadditions.net)

Submitted by Brian K who blogs at Brian’s Fellowship Musings. Follow him on Twitter @iambpk.

One of the favorite pastimes of Expat Aid Workers is making comparisons. The more things you have done or seen, the more things you can compare.  But it doesn’t stop there.  To be truly in harmony with the EAW ethos, these comparisons need to be as painstakinglytrivial as humanly possible. If the average person would care about, or be able to extract any tangible value from the comparison being made, chances are it is inadequate.

Trivial comparison making actually has a harmonious and causal relationship with two important foundations of your EAW experience.  Namely, having a passport filled with different multicolored ink shapes & obscure laminate visa pages, and sporting a longer-than-the-maximum-one-page resume to inform others of multifarious experiences and boundless field cred.  With these two prerequisites in the bank, you are now armed to start making trivial comparisons at will.

These comparisons are infinitely more effective back home (say in the States) where you can establish the two key prerequisites mentioned above via the comparison.  Otherwise you run the risk of being out-trivialized, or just having other EAWs nod and agree as if they have lived that comparison exactly, or perhaps starting an argument that can descend into even deeper trivialization.

In case you are so used to trivial comparison making that you are unaware of your tendency towards it, here are a few examples and use cases:

  • Comparing airports that the average traveler has not been to, and probably will not go to. Specifically you should point out some obscure and meaningless aspect of that airport, such as “the jacked-up Dyson airblades in Dubai simply blow the underpowered 1980s-style dryers from Chennai out of the water!” or “oh, the lighting in this room is so soft and pleasant, it reminds me of Terminal 3 of Qatar International.”
  • Making unnecessary comparisons about country infrastructure in, say, Sri Lanka, and that back home.  For example, “Gosh, it’s such a luxury to be able to cruise down this highway at 75 mph and not have to share the road with slow-moving bicycles and tuk-tuks, thereby reducing maximum average speed to 45 kmph!”
  • Opening statements with annoying leads like, “Agghh, I’m feeling carsick. This reminds me of the time I took a 30 hour bus ride from Tbilisi to Istanbul and smuggled a carton of cigarettes across the border for a complete stranger!”
  • Comparing local foods, and pointing out why they are better abroad:  “Wow, I forgot that bananas can be this large. In the tropics we always eat little half-sized bananas — they are soooo much fresher tasting and the texture is just way smoother,” or “I can’t really eat apricots anymore after tasting them in Armenia during August….”
  • Comparing natural terrains. “What’s the elevation of that mountain on the horizon? Oh, ok. So… carry the 1… ya, ok, that makes sense: about 2,000 meters lower than the elevation of Qaraqul lake.  That’s in Tajikistan by the way.”

A good rule of thumb is, if those around you back home aren’t shaking their heads and saying to themselves STFU, your comparison hasn’t been trivial enough.

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