As India reluctantly and slowly moves towards a cashless economy, there has been a huge attitudinal change in the way we transact in our personal lives as well. It was bound to happen. Uber Pool allows you to share your ride and split the cost with another commuter headed in the same direction. Gyms and salons offer points and group discounts for new referrals, as do airlines and hotels. Through the Paytm Wallet, you can send and accept payments anywhere, including friends and family. Unwittingly, a collaborative approach to city living has become the norm, altering the way we spend.
Now that cash is less visible (because we all know money is so, well, icky) it’s interesting to see how that impacts the culture. Two 25-year-old girls I met recently told me they always pay for their own drinks on a night out. Since it’s from an e-wallet, a swipe of a mobile, it takes the awkwardness away from any man accompanying them, who may otherwise feel compelled to pay. That does not necessarily mean the age of chivalry is gone, just that it’s changed irrevocably, and the rules no longer include men being forced to buy women drinks. Similarly among friends, there is possibly no more contentious (and unspoken of issue) than the splitting of bills with the eternal question — should everyone pay the same even if they didn’t order the same thing?
How you view this depends on your age, and gender. People in their 20s are perfectly comfortable paying only for what they consume, and don’t consider it rude or strange or a sign of cheapness when they ask for five separate bills at a restaurant. The cashlessness of e-wallets have, in any case, considerably dampened the stickiness around the issue. It’s a time in life where friends’ circles are much more diverse, with vastly varying income levels. The understanding is they’re there to enjoy each other’s company, not to stick someone with the cost of a pomfret or a bottle of wine they might not have consumed. However, in my own circle of 40-somethings, my friends would be outraged and think I’ve lost my mind if I were to suggest anything but an even split: though one is vegetarian and another, a teetotaler. Besides, calculating the bill would be a nightmare for the waiter. If one must be a stickler for correctness, it’s up to the consumers of the prawns and single malts on the table to speak up and insist that the teetotaler pay less.
I remember my grandmother painstakingly making a note of who gave what, after a birthday party, so she could reciprocate, exactly, when the time came. People are uncomfortable acknowledging that relationships are subliminally transactional even among close friends. While you’re doomed if you keep a running ledger in your head, putting up a shallow show of magnanimity for years on end isn’t the solution either. In fact, for relationships to thrive, there should be no ambiguity about money, and an ongoing effort to keep it fair ensures many more enjoyable evenings. There is no one etiquette rule when it comes to friendships and there are plenty of intricate and intangible aspects that can’t ever be fully articulated. Delightfully enough, some relationships exist for no particular reason and if you use a quid pro quo approach, you lose out. Yet, valuing value, while not obsessing over meaningless amounts, is a way to ensure that childish misunderstandings are kept at bay.