/Tinder/ [ˈtɪndɹ̩]: n. Smartphone app to help screen-addicted Millenials find love, since they’ve lost all ability to approach people normally in bars or coffee shops. Pronounced “teen-der” in Spanish.
A year ago I still had a flip phone and spent my summer days picking blackberries and watching my mother garden. Now I not only own a smartphone, but have downloaded the dating app Tinder. Selling soul: check.
For those few remaining saints who aren’t familiar with such superficiality, Tinder locates the guys or gals in your area, shows you a few pictures, and you swipe right if you’re interested, left if you’re not. If they too swiped right for you, you can initiate a chat, with such engaging first lines as “Hey!” or “Cool photos!”
It has a reputation as a hook-up app, though many people (yours truly) really do use it with the intention of dating and meeting people. We swear! It took several months of convincing by friends, along with one foolproof national study of Basques as the anti-flirt, for me to download it. Plus, I justify it with the fact that if Basques truly are so hard to meet, then the ones who sign up for Tinder are merely the 1% of the population that are extroverts, not total creeps.
While Tinder has not led me to lifelong love, it has opened my eyes to several hurdles that cross-cultural dating in Spain and/or full-on relationships could present. Though I’ve since stopped using it, I thought I’d take the opportunity to shine some light on some cultural questions that came up during my experiences meeting people through the app.
I should mention that all the guys I met in person were really nice. I didn’t have any fantastic or horrible experiences, and that what I’m about to say is a massive generalization (and particularly directed at Basque Country, not all of Spain). And also: Tinder sucks, drains your battery, is addicting, will consume all subsequent conversations with your single girlfriends, makes you realize the world is full of creeps, and you’ll judge yourself for using it—but it does help you meet people in a place that’s not known for its hug-giving locals. And for that, I say #NoShame.
So after a very minimal study of dating in Spain, here are 5 common practices that American girls should—and must, to be successful—keep an open mind about when chatting up Spanish, and particularly Basque, hunks.
Most young Spaniards still live with their parents.
This is not a source of shame; it is a fact of life. It makes economic sense to stay under one roof, and these days, amplified by high unemployment rates, mamas’ boys are even more ubiquitous. In the U.S., if you found out the 27-year-old guy you were grabbing beers with still lived at home, my guess is you’d be texting your friends to send you the preplanned “Grandma fell down the stairs” call. If you did that here, your options would be whittled down to zilch.
(Keep in mind as a foreigner: Most likely they assume you live in your own apartment, since your parents are back home in the U.S. If a guy writes you soon after initiating a conversation, “Do you live alone?” his intentions are poorly masked.)
They’re likely unemployed.
The youth unemployment rate (calculated for people under 25) here is truly astounding—it hovers just above 50% nationally. (The economy is a bit better in Basque Country than other parts of Spain, but still, unemployment rates are shocking.) Joblessness here isn’t a sign of one’s lack of drive or ambition—people with Masters degrees in engineering here are out of work. Cut them some slack where slack is due. And maybe offer to buy the next beer.
There’s a chance they’ll wear a fanny pack.
What is it with these Basques? They wear fanny packs as enthusiastically as my parents. And to make things worse, some even wear them strapped over one shoulder. I will say that it’s generally teenagers who keep up the trend, but one or two Tinder-aged men have been known to commit the sin. I met with one who had graduated from a fanny pack to a man purse, and I actively had to tell myself throughout the date that he wasn’t a worse person for it. Cultural differences, cultural differences, cultural differences. Keep calm, breathe, chug that beer.
Crossing legs is common.
This one can really throw you at first, because in U.S. culture–let’s call a spade a spade here–crossing your legs is generally something women or gay men do. When was the last time you saw a straight guy sit with his legs fully crossed? Here, guys freely cross their legs, and who knows, maybe they’re happier and more comfortable for it. Not a marker of sexual preference, so don’t jump to conclusions.
Lots of guys here have rattails. They’re sometimes hard to spot in the Tinder photos—I once scrolled through five or six dashing images of a boy only to arrive at the last one, where I caught a subtle glimpse of a frighteningly long strand peaking out above his shirt collar. From my tone above, you thought I was going to say rattails are OK, just another cultural difference that American girls should accept, right? NO. NEVER. NUNCA. There is no situation in modern-day society where rattails are acceptable. If a guy were 6’3″, employed as an aeronautical engineer, lived independently in the city center, had light stubble and pearly whites, was fanny-pack free, a semi-professional surfer, and volunteered at preschools, I would STILL swipe left at a rattail.
Dating in general is hard, and cross-cultural dating adds a whole new layer of challenges. In most cases, long-term relationships probably won’t start over a smartphone app. But apart from PTSD from one too many rattails, dating in Spain (or any foreign country)—however it’s initiated—can provide valuable insight, experiences, fun, and at the very least, some gut-wrenching laughter when you meet up with your girlfriends for a glass of wine post-date to recount how things went so horribly awry. I’m not saying embrace the man purses, but I do recommend embracing the cultural differences, and trying to keep an open mind.
Here’s to you and your dating prospects. Happy swiping!