Aussie woman’s travel Tinder experiment
THERE I was in Barcelona, planning a date with a Spaniard who wanted to give me a foot massage.
Let me tell you how this came about.
A week earlier, I had arrived in Barcelona. It was a midsummer evening and the city was abuzz. Trays of homemade mojitos and cold Estrellas were being delivered to people still sprawled on the beach at 8pm.
I wanted a part of it. Instead I ended up in a windowless bedroom in a dead part of town.
I didn't know anyone in the city except my Airbnb host who, judging from the house chores she'd outlined, had lured me there as live-in domestic help who paid for the privilege.
I didn't speak much Spanish, let alone Catalan. And after a year of travelling my bank account looked anaemic.
Trying not to rake over the questionable wisdom of pre-booking six weeks here, I thought about something I'd heard recently about substituting tour guides and Lonely Planet books with Tinder.
I've been single through most of Tinder's ascent to ruler of the dating apocalypse but my knowledge of it has always been second hand. I'm not keen on hook-ups or dating for that matter. Even if I was, I reckoned physical chemistry was impossible to gauge from photos or online chat.
But could Tinder actually help me - the broke and friendless - to discover Barcelona? It was worth a try.
I threw together a profile. 'Australian in Barcelona for a while. Looking for cool people to meet and places to go' with an attempted Spanish translation tacked on the end. After some quick research I added 'No ONS/una noche' (No One Night Stands / one night). Then I started swiping and instead of waiting for people I thought I'd actually be interested in, I said 'like' with abandon.
The matches came in quickly although attrition was high thanks to Tinder trademarks of eggplant emojis, carnal propositions and general ghosting. But outside all that, the next few hours were happily spent in a flurry of Spanglish banter that involved plenty of tips and making some plans.
There were recommendations for neighbourhoods across the city from bohemian Poblenou, ancient Born, chic Grazia to beachside Barceloneta.
Where to get cheap tacos, traditional Catalonian fare and tapas the locals preferred. Tourist jackpots like picturesque views of the city at dusk (the Bunkers) and museums that are free on Sundays.
One early match, Felipe*, seemed to be on the same page immediately.
"Do you speak Spanish Juliette?" he asked.
"Un poquito … Necesito practicar. (A little … I need to practise)," I said.
"So maybe I show you some of Barcelona and you practise speaking Spanish?"
He suggested the following week at a craft brew bar in Barceloneta, enticingly named La Cervecita Nuestra de Cada Dia (Our Daily Beer).
Everything was going to plan. This Tinder travel thing actually works, I thought. Then things got complicated.
In his profile pics Marc had a Buzz Lightyear-square jaw, wore high-waisted black pants and struck poses like he was Paul Mercurio in Strictly Ballroom.
"Do you dance tango?" I asked.
"Flamenco," he said.
"Wow, I love flamenco. I've always wanted to learn."
"I can teach you something!"
Was Tinder even going to get me free dance lessons? This was exceeding expectations.
"How about Sunday?"
"Alfons X. 10pm."
Alfons X is a suburban metro station. Everyone knows the Spanish are nocturnal, but this seemed like booty call territory.
"That plan sounds great ... But hey I just want to be upfront ... I'm not into a hook up ..."
"Hook up?", he asked.
Embarrassing. Did I have to be completely explicit? Could I send him a link to Urban Dictionary?
"As in, casual sex … I understand if that's what you're looking for, but not for me. But let me know if you're still keen to meet up and get a drink and do some flamenco!"
After an hour he replied.
"Thanks for letting me know. Maybe a coffee some time." That's the last I heard.
OK, so Marc was a fizzle and it made me wonder if my profile was too ambiguous. I decided to message the next day's date to find out.
Luis was a digital marketer with a hair style like he'd received an electric shock. We'd planned a drink at Onna Coffee in Gracia - some of the best beans in Barna, he said.
"Hey Luis, sorry if this sounds blunt, but I wanted to make sure I'm clear ... I'm not really on Tinder for romance / hooking up ... But lemme know if you're still keen to get together and talk digital."
His response came a couple of hours later. "Yes for sure."
The next day, we met at Onna and talked in English over iced lattes in hipster jam jars. It was chilled. We said goodbye, let's catch up soon. Tinder travel win.
Jorge was a butcher who had been learning English for four weeks which meant the most complicated thing he could say was, "What do you like? I like to play football and eat meat." So we messaged entirely in Spanish with the help of Google Translate.
Besides football and meat, Jorge liked to salsa and was going to a bar called El Bonbón in the Gothic quarter the next night. I said I'd meet him there.
The place was packed and Jorge - broad face, dark features, Beckham stubble - was very tactile, touching and stroking my arms and hips.
He taught me some dance moves but in the end, I showed him one. The Spanish call it la cobra - leaning out to avoid someone leaning in for a smooch.
From Andreas's profile, I got the impression that he was a comedian. There were no actual photos of him, just your standard pics of male subjugation. A guy's face being used as a foot rest for a woman painting her toes. Another man, naked and bowing down to his female overlord. His blurb said in Spanish: "Only for capricious and dominant women who seek a slave for chauffeur, cheerleader, waiter, pedicurist and financial bailout." I thought it was all a joke.
"At your feet Goddess Juliette," was his first message.
"Lol too funny," I replied.
"I am moneyslave and feetslave."
"Your profile definitely grabs the attention!"
The chat became more normal and he suggested we meet at a Sandwichez - a chain cafe and FYI a good place for itinerant workers, he said. Then he returned to form.
"How do you feel about feet massages?"
"I love to give." I didn't reply.
"I am slave." Yea, you mentioned that.
"A sissy maid and piggy."
"Why piggy?", I couldn't resist asking.
"Because I clean your dirty sneakers."
It was around now that I realised Andreas didn't seem to be joking. He actually wanted to give me a foot massage, at the very least.
"So, when are we meeting at Sandwichez?", he asked.
The next day Luis messaged me, unwittingly bearing all my hopes that this Tinder experiment could work.
"Whatsup? How r u?" We had a bit of small talk, and I mentioned my Airbnb.
"Show me pics," he said. I sent one of the balcony.
"And one of you also? ;)". Oh. I sent the see-no-evil-monkey emoji and left it at that.
This Tinder travel thing kind of worked, but it took a lot of time and energy and was complicating my life. I told a well-travelled friend about it and he said he'd done the same thing.
"Well, I think it's different for girls than guys," I said.
"The expectations are different."
"Oh, you know you still have to put out right?" He seemed bemused by my naivety.
"But what about this stuff about meeting people and finding out cool places?"
"Yea, you do that. And you have lots of sex."
I was tempted to cancel my plans with Felipe. But I decided anyone whose Tinder profile featured that many photos with their dog was too nice to let down.
We met at Our Daily Beer. From Colombia, his Spanish was just mildly better than my English. But despite this, we managed to relax and sampled a selection of the 400 brews on offer.
He suggested we walk to El Santet - a small restaurant in Poblenou which, as a tourist I never would have picked thanks to its dark, bordering on grimy, appearance. But the fresh steaming mussels and salmon tartare that melted in the mouth for a trifling bill showed me Felipe had good local intel.
Two nights later, we went to Bar Centro near the city centre for burgers. Then we caught the tail-end of a free opera screening under the majestic Arc de Triomfe, before taking the metro to trendy-alternative Poble Sec where around every corner people were dancing in the streets at a neighbourhood fiesta.
The next Saturday, we walked in the Botanic Gardens at Montjuïc, then danced all night at an open-air club, La Terrazza.
So Felipe became my Barcelona guide. Three months later, we're together, and I'm still in this beautiful city. I'm tapping this out at a Sandwichez, eavesdropping on conversations in case a certain foot massage slave is nearby.
*Names changed for privacy.