Are you familiar with the podcast Expat Sandwich? Each episode is hosted by Marty Walker, featuring interviews with American expats living all around the globe. Really, it’s an ongoing account of the best, worst and weirdest travel experiences of a bunch of ballsy outlanders who’ve given the middle finger to traditional life paths and chosen to take the road less traveled.
Have you, Dear Reader, ever wanted to live abroad? Maybe move to another country for a while? Travel the world? What are your travel dreams, specifically? Where would you go? If these are questions you’ve ever asked yourself, you gotta check out Expat Sandwich.
It’s a fantastic podcast with rich content, insightful stories and phenomenal production value on par with such audio favorites as NPR, This American Life, Radiolab and Freakonomics. I recently enjoyed the honor of an interview with Marty (Episode 008, Germany with Oh God, My Wife Is German.), and after the episode went live and I heard just how freakishly good her interviewing and editing talents were, I felt like I had to turn the tables and become the interviewer. (You know, before her podcast goes supernova and internet fame detonates her ego like a 100K metric ton payload of boarding passes and false-alarm TSA dildo reports.)
Alright, so here are the 10 questions I asked Marty — loaded with as much attitude and snark as possible — followed by her 100% candidly honest answers:
Question 1.) Where does the name of your podcast, Expat Sandwich, come from? I mean, maybe it’s just me, but it brings to mind a bunch of nerdy world travelers bitten in half and chewed to death between two thick slabs of flight itinerary printouts.
OGM, you are NOT that far off! The title ‘Expat Sandwich’ originates from this strange thing that happens when one moves abroad. It’s a common occurrence among immigrants/expats. It’s like this: you move abroad and get immersed in living in a new culture. But assimilating into that new culture is difficult for many reasons — not having a good foundation of the language is a common challenge. For example, say you move to Paris. You think you’re going to hang out with all these cool Parisians but your French is just good enough you can order a croissant or a cup of coffee. You have to tell everyone to speak REALLLLLY SLOOOWLY so you can understand them. If I’m a Parisian, you are probably not going to make it on the guest list for my next dinner party. Meanwhile, there are all these things in French culture that might really resonate with your values, such as the social programs, or the respect for food and wine and the land that it comes from. But when you return to your native country, it’s like the things that are missing are amplified. ‘How can this be? This is where you grew up! You have family here!’ And the puzzler is — YOU’VE changed. And so you’re kind of caught in this middle area where you don’t seem to fit in either country — that’s the sandwich reference.
Question 2.) Where did you come up with that logo? It’s so vibrant, retro and fun, like the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, Robert Crumb’s Keep on Truckin‘, or any vintage psychedelic music poster ever. Would you like to give a shout-out to the absurdly talented person who designed it?
Thank you! I love it too! And with you being a graphic designer, your description is spot-on. I had a pretty strong sense of the aesthetic I wanted. I was developing the concept for Expat Sandwich last fall during the craziness of the last US presidential election. Americans are really engaged in the political conversation right now after decades of being in a comfortable slumber of oblivion. So the sort of passion that has arisen from this recent election, we haven’t seen since the 60s. I created a Pinterest board and began collecting a lot of psychedelic poster art for bands as well as by Milton Glaser, Wes Wilson, Peter Max. I always thought Peter Max was the illustrator for Yellow Submarine but it was by this AMAZING German illustrator and designer, Heinz Edelman. Anyway, I began searching through the Behance illustration portfolio for a designer who I thought would have the aesthetic sensibility to be able to create what I had in mind. I hired this wonderful Serbian illustrator/designer by the name of Nebojsa Matkovic. He sent a rough sketch, and then sent me the final artwork, which I approved immediately and without any revisions. It’s really rare when that happens, but it was a good combo of his talent and my communication. I really like working with him, he’s insanely talented and communicates well. If you go to his site, you’ll see some variations on a logo for a new segment for Expat Sandwich that is currently in development called Culture Shock Flashback.
Question 3.) Why did you start recording this podcast? I mean, you’ve spent a lifetime immersed in visual art with zero experience in journalism, so… what the hell? Why the sudden inspiration to make an audio series about Americans living abroad?
I know, it’s weird, but I’ve basically been seduced by this new medium. It’s actually not that new, it’s been around since 2005 I think? But new to me. I had been involved in visual art my entire life. My dad was a sculptor, I went to art school, ended up being a painter for a while and eventually opened an art gallery and ran it for 10 years. When I turned 50, it was like the flip of a switch; I just couldn’t do visual art anymore. Completely burned out. I’d been listening to podcasts for a couple of years. Last year I spent some time in France. Before I left Dallas to go over there, I bought a couple of microphones and took them with me. I was going to be meeting my Swedish friend Helena in Paris. We used to play tennis together at Missouri State University. She was the first foreign friend I had ever had up to that time in my life. Helena and I hadn’t seen each other since college — it had been 30 years. So it seemed like something I would want to record even though I wasn’t sure how I would end up using it. So she agreed to be interviewed about what it was like for a Swede to live in Springfield, Missouri in the 80s — and it was also her first time visiting the States. Her recollections were hilarious. I’m actually using this interview as a way to kickoff Culture Shock Flashback. One of the big surprises to me about podcasting is that the medium of audio is incredibly visual, maybe even MORE so than actual visual mediums because it engages the listener’s imagination; it creates vision where there isn’t any. Isn’t that fascinating? Anyway, I’ve always had an interest in other cultures, but only accessed this through travel later in life. I guess my hippy dippy reason would be that I’m just trying to create understanding and empathy toward other cultures. That’s my only agenda. I’m so fucking tired of xenophobia, war and nationalism. There’s a viral video of some angry older American woman standing in line at the customer service desk at a Target, screaming at a couple of latina women to ‘speak American!’ I can guess, with probably 100% accuracy, that the screaming woman had never taken a foreign language class and had zero understanding of how difficult it is to learn another language. Will she become a listener of my podcast? Probably not, but the conversation has to start somewhere.
Question 4.) Do you have a favorite podcast? A show you admire and look to for inspiration? I think we can all safely say, at the very least, you’re a fan of NPR, right? (You great big nerd.)
Haha — NPR — how did you guess? I’ve listened to This American Life for years. I just love the narrative format, the story telling, the background music, sound effects. It’s hard NOT to be influenced by what Ira Glass has created. Currently I’m listening to the podcast Longform a lot these days, it’s Aaron Lammer interviewing journalists. He’s really good at interviewing, and I like hearing views directly from reporters, rather than through the filter of their editor or assignment. I also love 99% Invisible. Containers is another good one. I have about 30 podcasts on my iPhone that I cycle in and out of. Oh, and I can’t remember where I read it, but, “S-Town is a monument to humanity.” If you haven’t listened to the S-Town podcast yet, that’s the most accurate description I’ve read, without giving away the story.
Question 5.) Have you had to deal with internet trolls, hate mail or really any negative feedback to your podcasts at all? In my experience, anybody who creates anything for public consumption online is pretty much begging for a karate chop to the windpipe. How do you deal with your haters?
No, I haven’t, thank God. But that’s by design; I don’t allow comments on our website. And since I’m a dinosaur, I really don’t like social media that much. I don’t think it’s useless at all — quite the contrary — I’m just too busy to really deal with it. I’ve only warmed up to Facebook in the last year or two. I have an American expat in Budapest that takes care of the rest of social media for me. She mentioned she got a pretty good dust-up in a thread on Reddit when the episode on Russia was released, and she was pretty shaken by it. But that’s really the only thing I know of so far. (Knock on wood.)
Question 6.) Do you have any advice for aspiring podcasters? Clearly you already know what you’re doing, but if you could, what would you say to a (slightly) younger Marty Walker, just before she started Expat Sandwich?
Believe me, I’m still learning tons! As you mentioned, I have no journalism experience, and I don’t consider myself a journalist — more of a storyteller really. Know that podcasting is going to cost more than you think it will. It’s more time consuming than you think it’s going to be — a LOT more! Find a niche that you are interested in and passionate about. And you don’t have to do a show that operates year ’round, you know; you can do something like S-Town or Containers, which release finite chapters or segments of a complete documentary. There’s a lot of discussion among podcasters around how to make it into iTunes New and Noteworthy section, and iTunes is not forthcoming at all about their methodology regarding how it works. Plan carefully on how you launch. If I had it to do all over again, I would produce 3 months of episodes before launching, and then spend 2 months marketing like a fiend, because supposedly you have 59 days to make it into New and Noteworthy, which is the holy grail of getting traction because there’s so much traffic. Something like 70% of people listening to podcasts are getting their content from iTunes. And it takes time and lots of patience to grow it. And with me being the most impatient person on the planet, I can confidently say with 100% accuracy this is true.
Question 7.) Wait, you live in Dallas, Texas? Like, Texas, Texas? What in the sweet merry hell is Marty Walker — former owner of the art gallery, Marty Walker Gallery — doing in the southern United States?
I know, I know. I wonder that myself sometimes — especially in the current political environment here. Texas legislators are locked in a battle over which bathrooms transgenders can use. Great use of taxpayer money, right? One thing that a lot of people don’t realize about Texas is that the cities in Texas are blue. There’s a really nice community here in Dallas, people are really friendly. Visitors from out of town always comment on how nice people are here. It’s been a good place to be an artist (cheap space) and own a gallery (cheap space). Like I mentioned, I grew up in Springfield, Missouri, which is on the edge of the Ozark Mountains. After college, I moved to Nashville, Tennessee because my best friend was there and I liked it. Nashville was like a big small town and the country music industry kept it interesting. After partying in Nashville for a few years, I ended up getting a masters in fine art at University of North Texas in Denton, which is about a half hour north of Dallas. As soon as I was finished with that program, I got a job in a gallery in Dallas and moved there. I’ve been here almost twenty years, and I still feel like a big ol’ hillbilly from the Ozarks. (But having a good airport helps regardless of where you live.)
Question 8.) What do you think of living abroad? What does being an expat do to a person’s psyche? Is it good, bad, or both? And if moving to a foreign country is something you might recommend, in which country would you choose to reside if you had to make the choice — forever and ever — to live in this one location for the rest of your days?
Across the board, so far, the American expats I’ve talked to say it has made them more open-minded, patient, and to be more in the moment and just go with the flow. I think one of the misconceptions of expats is that they leave their native country because they no longer like it. Although I’m sure there are a few that fit in that category, I would say overall people who leave their native country leave for love, work, family and a number of other reasons. They may want to broaden their world, and they seem more open to change and new experiences. You can really discover who you are by testing yourself by living in another country. It’s not easy, but in the end I think it helps create empathy for others that are different from you. It gives you perspective on how you’ve lived your own life up to that point and sheds light on your values as a human being. For me, I’m in a love affair with the south of France. But in current reality, I’m an expat wannabe living in Dallas, Texas. I’ve been taking pretty intense French courses, so the plan is to be living there in a few years, even if it just ends up being a year or two.
Question 9.) Could you please explain to me what you are thinking as you interview an expat for a new podcast episode? Seriously, have you ever been talking to someone and thought to yourself, “Wow, this person is really inspiring; I want to share his or her life-travel / hipster-nomad experiences for the benefit of all my listeners.” Or maybe, in reality, it’s more like, “Man, I can’t use any of this shit; I am literally talking to some moron who just up and decided to move to India having done absolutely no research beforehand and will probably die of nuclear diarrhea.”
One would think, right? I can say I continue to be surprised by the process. So far, the only thing I’ve really been concerned about during an interview has been the sound quality, or if the person’s voice is going to be grating, or if they are talking too fast or too slow. And I have a list of questions that I have handy, but don’t use all of them all the time. It depends on the interviewee. Each person really brings their own perspective and experience to the interview. So I pretty much follow their lead in what they want to talk about. And that’s what creates variety across the episodes. Some may be more focused on language, or politics, or love. Take your interview, as an example. You have this hilarious blog which I absolutely love. And before we had our call, I remember having some nervousness about how your sense of humor would fly with the narrative format of the show — because writing is very different from conversation. And I remember being really surprised at how tender you were describing your love for your wife because that’s how we started the interview. I remember when I began editing that piece, that part was really moving to me. I didn’t anticipate that at all. What’s weird is that I never have the feeling of, “this is shit, I have nothing,” until I first begin editing. It’s just the raw tape. So it’s like a blank canvas at that point. For me, beginning the editing session is the hardest part. But the magic happens when you start adding music here and there and it’s really at that time where I can see it taking shape and I start getting super excited about it.
Question 10.) What are your future plans for Expat Sandwich? Maybe expand the show to include a fancy new sound studio, sexy co-host and 5-season TV deal on the Travel Channel? Don’t be humble here, Marty — your fans demand the truth: What would be a dream come true for your podcast?
Well, RIGHT NOW a dream come true would be to get a good sponsor so I can hire an editor. The next dream come true would be to have a good sound booth that does not resemble my walk-in closet, in which I currently use to record voiceover. The next would be to have a large enough following to secure several sponsorships, and hire producers to create new content alongside my own. I want to get out from sitting in front of the computer, so I too can see the world, using anything that can facilitate this, such as Expat Sandwich offering trips to listeners by partnering with a cool outdoors-oriented travel company. In the short amount of time since launching the podcast, several really smart people have gotten in touch with me, and they have super interesting ideas for collaboration. Having those ideas come to fruition would be very exciting. And finally, I’d like to interview John Oliver someday. He’s kind of like the ultimate expat superhero to me — the Brit that is helping to keep more than half of the United States from losing their sanity through his comedic wit. If anyone reading this can make this connection, you will be amply rewarded with a lifetime of good karma.
Okay folks, that’s all she wrote! Thank you very much, Marty, for taking the time to answer my jackass questions. You rule. And I think we can all agree your podcast, Expat Sandwich, deserves no less than 5 out of 5 Merkel Diamonds:
Well done! You are among a very select few who have achieved such high marks on this blog.
For everyone else, if you’re interested in hearing the episode in which Marty interviewed yours truly, check it out here: EPISODE 008: GERMANY WITH OHGODMYWIFEISGERMAN.COM.
And seriously, do yourself a favor and subscribe to Expat Sandwich. It’s available on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher. (You can also just sign up for the email newsletter, so you’ll know when each new episode is released.) The Expat Sandwich website — expatsandwich.com — is an absolute wealth of information regarding language learning, books for expats, passports and visas, embassies and consulates, and really everything else you might need if you’re thinking about moving abroad.
Thank you for reading, everyone, and have an awesome day!