Traveling with Tinder

It all started in Karlovac. I'd just had my wisdom teeth out. My face was swollen and I was confined to bed, in no mood to do anything besides watch Netflix, and even that didn't hold my interest for long. I pressed clean socks full of ice to my face as hard as I could, but they soon grew soggy and closer to room temperature. What was I to do? What did I always do when feeling less than confident? Tinder. What was Croatian Tinder like for a heterosexual girl such as myself? I soon found out - after three swipes I switched briefly to Twitter:

"decided 2 try out Croatian Tinder and let me just say it does not disappoint"

Beautifully chiseled faces. Sufficient heights. Muscular builds. It all abounded until about ten swipes later, when it didn't. Because I was out of options. There were no more Tinder profiles to swipe in my area. I set my distance further and got a few more, but the quality wasn't as high and my heart just wasn't in it. I went back to Parks and Rec.

I wasn’t particularly looking to meet the love of my life or even meet up with a guy, period. But I was curious to see what was out there, and matching with a good looking fella definitely wasn’t going to ruin my evening. In the past, I’d used Tinder mostly for swiping, with the occasional conversation and rare date sprinkled in, and I wasn’t planning to greatly alter that model.

A week or so later, I reunited with a local friend who I hadn't seen for over three years. We sat in her room, comparing social scenes and school customs, until the conversation eventually led to the subject of relationships and romance. She told me how uncommon casual hookups were, at least in her social circles, and that if they did happen they were kept well-hidden. But she also told me how she and her boyfriend had met: Facebook. They'd had mutual friends and he had added her, then messaged her. The conversations were flowing and effortless, but she never considered meeting him in real life, though he often suggested it.

A fight with her brother was what prompted her to meet him for coffee, mostly out of spite, but the date went well. Still, it was clear that she was embarrassed about how they'd met and when I told her about the popularity of Tinder (and its most common function), she was pretty taken aback.

Our conversation gave me a far better understanding of why there'd been so few Tinder profiles to choose from, and I started to wonder if it was like that everywhere in Croatia. What about other parts of Europe?

And suddenly I had a plan: I was going to Tinder my way through Europe, observing and recording the Tinder scene I found in each place.

Rural Bosnia, too, proved uneventful in terms of Tinder, but a few days later I was in Samobor, a mere 15 miles from the capital of Zagreb. I didn’t run out of swipes my entire time there, y’all. It was incredible. It wasn’t that different from Tinder in my hometown of Nashville (though not nearly as many fishing pictures in Samobor); there were anime boys, boys who love to party and drink and who also love saying they love to party and drink, and one boy who appeared to believe he was a minion. (Minions are everywhere. It’s scary.) The biggest difference was, of course, the different language, though plenty of profile descriptions were actually in English or at least contained English words/sentences. Zagreb is a metropolitan city and the location for a lot of events and concerts, so there were quite a few athletes visiting for competitions or games, DJs (“deep house” is a really popular genre right now), and just your basic study abroad students or backpackers through Europe.

A lot of the descriptions were misogynistic to some degree, and a lot of the profiles included fedoras. My favorite was a guy who claimed his place of employment to be “Egg Plantation.” However, the abundance of very attractive, well-dressed, and interesting profiles definitely made up for it. What most struck me, though, was the heavy influence of American culture. A Hollister shirt displayed prominently in a photo, a popular saying or phrase in English, even a reference to an American TV show - it was strange to realize how familiar other countries are with us, whereas Americans generally are not as aware of other cultures.

On to the Netherlands. The situation was now a little different, because I was in a place where I could not understand the language. Far fewer profiles contained any English at all, though most Dutch people are at least conversational in it. I had only pictures to go by, for the most part, and the pictures were entertaining, to say the least. There were numerous clubbing pictures. Not as many fedoras, though. But the best part? Oh so many tall boys. The Netherlands statistically has the tallest people, which, as a relatively tall person myself, I greatly appreciate.

In Well, where I’m studying, I had my first lengthy conversation with a match. He had never heard of the Kasteel Well program, but told me that he’d asked a teacher about us. According to Hangauw’s professor, the group consists of people with a scholarship, and a group of “plain rich kids” referred to as “Trumpkids” by said professor.

A recent trip to Belgium was reminiscent of my American Tinder experience; a decent amount of cuties and one “Hey sexy” – a message I hadn’t received at all since being in Europe. All good things must come to an end, I guess. And Carlos, a guitar player from Brussels, said he loved my name and asked where I was from – another inquiry I hadn’t yet received. I also swiped past soldiers in camouflage, which happens a lot in both Nashville and Boston. The uniform is a little different, but the intention probably isn’t. And I think that’s really what it comes down to: Tinder is universal because it accommodates a universal demand, whether that demand is for romance, conversation, a confidence booster, or, of course, a hookup. The coolest thing about traveling with Tinder, for me at least, is being able to peek into some form of everyday life in each place I visit. The way Tinder is used and the information presented on the profiles provides an insight to one part of that culture.

At the very least it really comes in handy for restaurant recommendations.

Photo by Anja Schwarzer