Tinder in Taipei

In my last post I shared with you how I ended up on Tinder, and how I found Tinder to be a strange but ultimately insightful tool with which to look at and assess a culture and it’s values. In that post I shared some brief observations of Budapest and of Langley, the town where I grew up in Canada. This brings me to Taipei, and my some of my most recent Tinder observations.

I moved to Taipei last August, and since then I have had almost a year to get to know the country and its people. I have many Taiwanese friends, I work at a Taiwanese company, and I have travelled around and observed many cultural differences in day to day life. There are many things that might tell you about a culture; the way people dress, the media they follow, the language they use, the social interactions in a workplace, etc. Other interactions aside, what I’ve been noticing during my Tinder adventures is what people value in a partner, what they value in themselves, and conversely what they think is attractive to others; after all, that’s what Tinder is all about, right? Putting your best foot forward and looking as appealing as possible in order to find a match. So you’ll want to show through your photos (and write up; but honestly, do we really all read those? My experience says this is not always the case) who you are; your interests, lifestyle, and what makes you attractive.

Like I’ve said before, many people in Budapest seemed to want to show off their capacity for a good time, through drunk party photos, and many people in Canada wanted to show off their outdoorsy-ness through plaid, beards, lake fishing and big trucks. These are just some specific cases of obvious profile types on Tinder in those places, but you get the picture – people show off what they think is most attractive about themselves to the prospective matches on Tinder.

So what do Taiwanese people seem to value? What do they think is most attractive?

Cats, apparently.

You might think I’m joking, but I swear I’m not. One of the most common profile themes is a love of cats. This doesn’t usually apply to the foreign guys, but even they have jumped on this cat bandwagon, and started posting photos with cats (probably because they are looking for a Taiwanese lady and have clued into the fact that Taiwanese women love cats). So while in the West people might think that a profile with 5 out of 6 photos being with or of a cat is a bit strange, it is apparently not so here. People love cats here, and apparently it’s a pretty cool character trait here. Who knew that the way to a ladies heart was through cat photos? I sure didn’t.

Also, food. Food is a big thing in Taiwanese culture. People here love their food. Which makes sense, because the food here is amazing. I’m not talking about artsy, hipster, food photos of avocadoes on toast though, I’m talking about really mundane and often just terrible food photos. I’ve seen pictures of ramen or curry in rather poorly lit restaurants, and beef noodle soup being stirred on the stove. I’ve also seen several pictures of guys eating – and not in any kind of sexy way. I came across a good one a few months ago of a guy gnawing on crab legs in a seafood restaurant, and I’ve actually seen several guys with noodles hanging out of their mouths. This seems strange to me – but I guess Taiwanese girls like it?

Another thing I’ve noticed are the travel photos, which I actually really appreciate in a man’s profile, so it’s good to see. Granted, some Taiwanese guys have super awkward travel photos that I would think would have been embarrassing to take. Then again, I’ve noticed there’s a certain shamelessness when it comes to selfies and photo taking that definitely seems to be a commonality over here, so it’s not surprising I suppose. In any case, many Taiwanese guys have various travel photos in their profiles. It’s pretty common to see photos in recognizable places, like Paris, New York, London, Budapest, and Istanbul. I’ve noticed that not only do Taiwanese people love to travel, but they don’t just travel Taiwan, or the countries that are closest. They really love exploring the faraway places too. This is definitely nice to see, and frankly just impressive that they have the motivation to travel, given that flying from Asia to Europe or North America isn’t cheap or quick, and many guys have photos in a lot of really faraway places. So this is one thing that I can definitely get on board with.

One thing that I really don’t understand about Tinder profiles here is the tendency that many men have to hide their faces. I don’t think it’s entirely unreasonable to want to see a person’s face before meeting them, and I’m probably not the only one that feels this way. My gay friends here say that in the gay community this is called being a ‘shrimp,’ because shrimp don’t have heads… and I love that term. Really though, so many guys either post just photos of random places, or food, or cats, they’ll cover their face with their phone in a mirror selfie, or they’ll post photos of just their torso (this is the shrimp thing), which is hilarious, because in most cases it isn’t even a good photo! We’re not talking about Chris Hemsworth like torsos; we’re talking about skinny, pale guys in dark bathrooms. This isn’t particularly enticing to me personally, but what really gets me though are the guys that post photos of themselves wearing a mask. This is a super Asian thing, wearing a surgical mask out and about; what started as a way of avoiding the spread of illness and combatting the issues of poor air quality has turned into a sort of fashion trend over the past few years. Now you can even buy colorful, bedazzled, Hello Kitty masks (among others) in various stores here. Honestly, I’m not into the look, but personal preference aside I think we can all agree that the last place a surgical mask belongs is in a Tinder profile. If you think that your most attractive photos are the ones with something covering your face, we have a problem.

So I’d say those are the biggest observations I’ve made about straight guys on Tinder here. Of course there are other things, such as guys using those filters that make your eyes bigger or your smile whiter, or using silly names like Little Rain, Big Bear and Cream Lion (I swear I really saw those and my flat mate translated them for me), or taking photos with or of unusual animals, such as deer, emus, and chickens. I’ve also seen a rather surprising amount of guys posing in flower bushes, flower fields or in front of paintings of flowers.

What do all these things say about the relationships here? Well, I was thinking about this and decided to consult my flat mates (one being a Taiwanese man and the other being a woman from Macau), and we came up with some theories. I suppose the travel photos tell me that Taiwanese people value travel, and I’ve been told by my flat mate that women here don’t want a guy who sits at home playing games (apparently this is common?); so perhaps the travel photos are a way of showing that they aren’t one of those guys and they like to get out and do things. I think we have also concluded that Taiwanese people love food, so the food photos are just showing that they value tasty food – although why they are often such bad photos remains a mystery. We have decided that perhaps the reason that guys post pictures of cats is just that cats are pretty cool here, and that girls here love cute things, especially cats (I’m sure this is true, because my flat mate mentions the cute cats every time we swipe past them). However, we also reasoned that showing pictures of pets is a way of showing women that they are responsible and able to take care of something. I’ve noticed a slightly disturbing trend in straight couples here, both through this app, and also out on the street; that the man really likes to take care of the woman (like you might with a helpless child). So perhaps there is more than one reason for the multitude of cat photos. As for the shrimp photos, photos with masks, or photos that don’t show the people at all, I’d say this speaks to a serious level of insecurity. I’ve talked it out with my friends, and unlike on the gay dating apps, it’s unlikely this is due to a need to be anonymous for religious or cultural reasons. Rather, it seems most likely that these men are simply not confident enough to show their faces on the app. This would also explain the filters that people use on their photos. This seems like a bigger societal issue, seeing it is so common in the profiles here, as opposed to the occasional case in other cities.

As for the rest, such as the flowers, and the odd animals, and weird names; those remain a mystery. My flat mates and I have no idea what a name like Cream Lion or Little Rain is supposed to convey, or why so many men like to stand near flower beds, so these things will continue to puzzle me for now.

Overall, Tinder here in Taipei has been an experience. I’ve made some interesting observations about people here, developed a Tinder Drinking Game, and had quite a few good laughs. Likewise, I have been on some awesome dates and met some genuinely wonderful men. It’s been an adventure, to be sure.

Sometime in the near future, after some more research, I’ll share some observations of the gay Tinder scene, and the women on straight Tinder, so stay tuned for that!