THERE is an honesty to this recession, with a growing sensitivity to the fiscal limitations of people. When it comes to social engagements, excuses of money constraints as a reason to abstain are honestly put forward and wholly accepted without issue or judgement. Yet we still have some distance to cover because when people do actually commit socially, a conundrum has emerged. It is a conundrum that may have always existed but which the boom in all its glory and arrogance may well have camouflaged and denied.
During the heady days, it appeared the vast population of Ireland were eating out. Depending on how successful your host was or how big an impression was sought to create, you could have eaten out for days without so much as putting a hand in your pocket.
I have to admit it was all very nice while it lasted. However, for those evenings when the bill was divided, shared and rounded off with an exaggerated tip (in an effort to fall over each other in displaying our unlimited gregariousness and so-called wealth), any real scrutiny of the bill would have been akin to spitting in the eye of the tiger and marking you out forever as a social pariah. At the core of the roar, the bill was settled and whoever ordered the additional side portion of chips or consumed that extra bottle of Bordeaux were welcome to it. Everything was equal amongst friends.
However, the agenda has changed and so too that equality. Taking care of a dinner bill has shifted gear. For those who can afford a social life, but on an altogether tighter rein, handling the bill at the end of an evening can be a social minefield. No one wants to be perceived as petty nor does anyone want to conduct a forensic analysis, yet dividing the bill equally is not always fair.
Take a big group of people around a table. One couple doesn't have so much as a soft drink between them whilst another polishes off two bottles of the chilled stuff. So when it comes to the bill, in these frugal times, should those on the water have to subsidise those on the Chardonnay? It's a situation that is difficult to conquer without one party sounding patronising or the other sounding mean. The recession might bring honesty but pride has not altogether surrendered to austerity.
We could all stay at home, abstain at the starting block and avoid the whole conundrum but this would serve neither our humour nor our country. However, going out doesn't need to be a big blow-out meal, nor does it need to be a rota of drink rounds. In getting together, we can keep things individual. We might all like to be back in the position of taking care of the bill but perhaps now is the time to take care of each other instead.