When your friends can't foot the bill, do you stop inviting them to dinner?
Europe is in trouble. The debt crisis is dominating talks around the water coolers in our offices and the headlines in the news. Worrying signs that Italy and Spain are following in Greece's footsteps have divided Europe into two camps. On the one hand, the Northern European countries under the Germanic leadersip. Being grundlich and punktlich, the somewhat boring but reliable North have been bailing out the other side: the Southern European countries (and Ireland), dubbed 'the garlic nations'.
Those garlic nations, with their siestas and early retirement schemes, have been squandering money they didn't have, we keep complaining. Some important German guy (whose name I can't remember) said: "Greece is getting drunk at the party, but makes us pick up the tab". Our governments aren't sure how to handle the cash flow problems of our friends in the South. We're a union right? Old friends? Aren't we supposed to support each other in times of need? Or are we just fair weather friends?
This reminded me of a situation in my group of friends. We loved going out for dinner, drinking wine in chic little bars, and spending our hard earned money on nice holidays together.
These expensive treats were the glue of our social group...until one of our friends lost her job at a prestigious firm and was forced to reassess her budget. In the first months, my friends were sympathetic. When she declined invitations to dinner, we urged her to join in. We'll pay your bill! Don't worry! But after a few months, and a lot of jointly-paid drinks, dinners and summer festivals, our group altruism started showing cracks. Whilst still paying (partly) for the out-of-luck friend, people started to feel entitled to comment on this friend's spending pattern. Why was she still buying expensive organic products? Where did the money for the pretty suede gloves come from? The friendship became strained and this friend started meeting up with new friends who didn't have an opinion about her credit card bill. People don't like paying for friends. And friends don't like being dependent on other friends.
Back to friends on a higher level - the European Union.
"Throw them out!" is the easy solution as presented by Europe's populist voices. To be honest, this sounded like a good solution at first. Why couldn't we all return to the trusted Dutch Guilder, Deutsche Mark, or French Franc and stop paying for our old friends and their manana manana attitude? The past week it became clearer that dissolving the Euro would not be an option. Nobody seems to be able to calculate what the effects of quitting the Euro would be. It is certain, though, that if we don't close the lines we leave room to speculate against Europe's weaker brothers. And that means financial trouble for the North as well.
Slowly, we realise you can't just slam the door on your old friends, and that covering for your friend doesn't mean that you can afford to treat them with less respect.