Get togethers and going Dutch

So the wife has written a fairly insightful blog post about why South Indians from the previous generation don’t meet often “without an occasion”. The basic idea is that that generation never learnt how to split bills, or go Dutch. I had a few anecdotes that would add data points to this, hence this blog post.

I had mentioned in an earlier blogpost that my parents used to work at KEB. I remember going to their offices occasionally (I’d visit my mother more often than my father), and though I was rather young then, I remember that my mother and her colleagues had a policy that they would pay for their afternoon tea by rotation.

It was a rather informal practice (don’t think they kept formal track of who paid when), but I don’t remember a single occasion (ok my age was in single digits, and I don’t have too many data points, but I trust my long-term memory) when more than one person paid for the same round of tea.

During a conversation about splitting bills (this was when I was older, and had started going out with friends), I remember my parents having bitched about two of their colleagues, who used to unfailingly split their tea bills. Back in those days, tea in the subsidised KEB canteen cost 35 paise (one paisa is one-hundredth of a rupee), which made it hard to split (since there were no half-paisa coins). So it seems these two worthies had an arrangement where they would alternately contribute seventeen and eighteen paise respectively (story from the early 80s, so one, two and three paisa coins were quite common back then). And my parents looked down upon them, that they couldn’t be so trusting to not “lend” a full half-cup of tea to the other person!

The other data point is the choice of words – my parents referred to the practice of going Dutch as “military style” and that phrase was uttered with a sneer. So when I would tell them that my friends and I had split the bill when we went out, my mother would say “oh military style-aa?”. It was as if civil people (pun intended) never split the bills and were willing to spend for each other occasionally.

This is one of those classic counterproductive things – while it might be noble to pay for each other once in a while, going out only when someone is willing to pay for you (or vice versa) puts a cap on the number of times when you can meet. Of course you need to adjust for the fact that this generation grew up in relative poverty compared to us, and that old frugal habits (of not going out too often) are hard to shake off!