Article by Kiana Duncan
From backpackers to lonely hearts, dating apps are more useful than ever. Want to avoid drinking alone in a new city? Better yet, why not get a local to show you around Sharing a bowl of noodles, meeting a new friend to see the Terra Cotta warriors or have a casual night out on the town—the possibilities of swiping are endless.
In the West, the uses of online dating are relatively straightforward. But this made me wonder, with such different cultures at play in a city like Xi’an, which app is an expat’s best hope for someone to take in those Wild Goose Pagoda views with?
Tinder’s uncomplicated interface invites even users who never saw themselves getting involved in the online dating world: upload a few glam shots, sort out your preferences, (such as age, distance and gender) and then simply start swiping. A popular choice among expats and heavy on Western options, Chinese people on Tinder tend to be those who have spent some portion of their life abroad, either for college or were raised in a different country, and thus have some awareness of Western dating culture.Tinder also boasts a range of people from the United States, Brazil, The Netherlands, and Germany. The only problem? There’s not so many options. You’re likely to run out of swiping material in under a half hour, but don’t be discouraged! New people pop up every week as they travel through China. This is practically your only option if you want to continue dating Western-style. Bumble and Hinge are a ghost town.
Mart Kop, a Dutch student, says he prefers Tinder.
“The cultural standards in Asia are so different from what I usually see, so Tinder is less of a shock than Tantan is,” Kop says. “I tend to be direct and I really hate playing that game of ‘let’s keep a guy waiting, keep a girl waiting.’” He says he prefers to be honest about intentions, something that’s not necessarily acceptable on apps like Tantan.
Pros: A comfortable choice for expats
Cons: You need to set it up back home or with a VPN, options are scarce in Xi’an
Truly “China’s Tinder,” Tantan’s interface is nearly identical. However, the cultural differences begin the second you start swiping. If you’re unfamiliar with Chinese dating culture, the face that users put on can seem too idealistic to take seriously. After pressing “Let’s Play,” I began swiping on members self-named “Mr. Your Next Boyfriend,” and “Mr. Right.”
Tantan is more informative about the person you’re swiping on. Many candidates include information like zodiac sign, interests, recommended conversation starters, hometown, some personality traits and even albums of additional photos. Unlike Tinder, people put more time into their online appearance. Aaron Ramsey, an American teacher, found the dating culture of Tantan difficult to break into as a foreigner, as the members are overwhelmingly Chinese.
“Definitely Chinese are more shy and a little more reserved, and I think that reflects in the pictures they take of themselves,” Ramsey says. “I’ve met people [online] and they don’t want to meet, they just want to chat, they just want to text sometimes.”
Pros: The options are endless, great way to chat with locals
Cons: Some culture shock, might require some Chinese fluency
Apps like Momo are the best example of how dating apps are viewed in China. Few people will admit to ever using a dating app, and even then, Chinese dating apps often aren’t exactly meant for direct swiping or even strictly romantic or sexual contact. Many are simply a social platform designed to help users establish contact. Momo is heavy on expats and is used worldwide to make friends. Momo encourages sending videos, joining user-generated games, and locating people near you. While many people on the app speak English, setting up your profile takes some Chinese knowledge. If you’re expecting a booty call, you’ve come to the wrong place. Apps like Momoand Soul (one of its competitors) focus more on creating conversation. WeChat also has a ‘people near me,’ feature, which encourages the same type of contact. Raelyn Yang, a local student, says foreigners are changing the way dating apps are used in China.
“People I know that [use] dating apps, they take it as a “talking place,” not a dating app,” Yang says. “Most of us are from the ‘single child policy,’ we don’t have close siblings to talk [to].”
She says she used Soul briefly, but didn’t take it very seriously and never went on a date.
Pros: International and fun
Cons: Must have some Chinese fluency, lack of direct romantic contact
When it comes to choosing an app, it’s better to focus on what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a quick “yes,” on a beer, Tinder is the best way to have an international experience. However, if you’re adamant on getting to know the locals and don’t mind a longer “talking phase” before meeting, or if an in-person meeting isn’t all that important to you, Momo or Soul are perfect. Can’t decide? Give Tantan a shot!
Kiana Duncan is a writer for Xianease and is taking back the term “strangers from the internet.”