WanderLust: Dating in Spain

/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.)

mama's boy

The homemade meals and laundry service don’t hurt either. Source.

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.


What can you possibly be carrying in there that won’t fit in your pockets? Source.

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.


Obama, one of the few American men with the courage to cross those legs. And he still looks good doing it. Source.


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.

Just why. Source.

Just why. Source.


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!

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  • Jonathan Moody

    Very interesting post nad subsequent comments. I don’t know if this is the place

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  • Ughh, the rattail. After dating my boyfriend for over a year he admitted to me he’d had one in university (he studied in Basque Country, what a surprise). I asked him how he’d had girlfriends..

    • Hahahhaha such a logical question. My boyfriend in Barcelona admitted he had a mullet when he was 15. The horror.

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  • Mary

    Plus they are all uncircumcised here….. ew!!!

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  • The Guy

    Interesting to read of your experiences and your honesty. I must admit all the publicity I heard about Tinder was just purely that it was a hook up site. I think the company need to work on their image if they are attract more people like yourself who genuinely want to attract people with more reserved intentions.

    Pony tails and man bags. Wow, that is quite a cultural thing for the Spanish? They are 2 things which may not be freely welcomed here in the UK.

    As for crossing the legs. Well I’ve been visiting the US numerous times a year every year for more than a decade. I can honestly say I never even knew that you Americans had that view on leg crossing. – You learn something new everyday :-)

    • Definitely true what you say about the marketing, although Tinder actually HAS been trying to push it lately as a way to network, make friends, etc…clearly hasn’t caught on to well, ha!

      This piece was meant to be really light, so I’m trying to be careful and not label these as general Spanish culture (I was in Basque Country, afterall!), but gahhh, rattails and man bags, whyyyyyyyyyy???

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  • Cassandra

    From my experience, much of this is painfully true as well. You’re certainly right that cross-cultural dating can be a mine field!

    I was single when I arrived in Spain and I found it pretty easy to meet guys in Madrid. One thing that was common between two different guys I went out with (over a few months, not a long time so no scientific studies here) is that they would INSIST on paying. Both were unemployed, and both lived at home. That made me feel uncomfortable–did their parents know we were out on a date? Had given they given them the money to afford a movie, dinner, drinks? I kept offering to pay and neither one would ever let me! On one had this was thoughtful….but, on the other hand it definitely would have been a future roadblock.

    My second year in Madrid was when I met my current boyfriend. Even though he’s from Colombia, it was in many ways easier to date him because we were both foreigners in a third country. It also helped that he had gone to college abroad so he knew how to take care of himself and definitely didn’t live at home!

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  • I don’t know what bums me out more, the unemployment or the rat tail.

    • Jenny

      Hahah tough call….I feel more genuine distress over one, disgust over the other

  • As an American living in Seville and all but married to a sevillano, I found Ocho Apellidos Vascos to be pretty damn hilarious (and who couldn’t love a protagonist who is as bético as I am?). Thankfully, mi niño was 28 when we met, owned a house, is a funcionario and cut off his long locks to enter the military academy. Many of my friends who have dated sevillanos and extremeños have whined about the no car and no house thing. Meanwhile, I’m at the beach with my novio.

    Loved this article!

    • Jenny

      Thanks for reading! I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in a movie theater. I loved how much 8 Apellidos focused on the girl’s bangs—guess it’s not only the guys with strange haircuts up north! Was especially fun to watch since I lived a year in Granada and then a year in Bilbao—the stereotypes were painfully true at times (in my guiri experience).

  • I LOVE THIS! I had no idea about the fannypack thing but I’m kind of intrigued. It’s totally true though – it’s just as easy to judge people based on cultural nuances as it is to judge them on their awful tinder pics. Maybe we’d get a few more right swipes in if we were a wee bit more open-minded, right? (PS – ab/tiger Jake is still awaiting my reply!)

    • Jenny

      Thanks girl! Throwing awful tinder pics AND cultural barriers together is sometimes a recipe for disaster. Don’t keep Jake waiting too long….his abs may grow flabby. (Experiencing Bloghouse withdrawls already, btw.)

  • This is AMAZE balls and you’re the funniest person/ best writer ever, which is probably why people think we are twins. JAJAJA!
    (Really though, can’t wait to read more of your posts!)

    • Jenny

      JAJAJ first of all GREAT JOB using the Spanish version of text laughter….pick that one up in Barcelona? And thanks girl, I’m going to dive headfirst into all your amazing posts once I’m back in the greatest city ever.

  • Haha this post is great! Dating is tough and I’m sure twice as tough in a different country. Seems like you had a couple fun experiences though!

    • Jenny

      Thanks Danielle! It’s tough and entertaining at the same time. Though I think the toughest part for me was responding to every guy the same….”I’m from California. I teach English here. I’ve been here since September. Of course I like cured ham!!!”

  • Rat tails? Ughhhh. I also think that it’s more common in Basque country, but I could be wrong.

    • Jenny

      You are absolutely right. When I travel south of Basque Country I can’t get enough of those shorter cuts ;)