What is a little money between friends? It’s funny how the relationship between money and friends has so many cultural overlays. In Europe, for instance, people openly share their salary details with one another. Not so much as to compare their situation or show off, but rather to bitch about their sorry lot. Salaries in the UK are some of the lowest in the world relative to the cost of living. The divide between rich and poor is mammoth (hence we have Brexit).
I first realised this laissez-faire approach to money in London when I was down at the pub one night. There were five of us on a night out to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee. After finishing our first round of drinks, we started debating whether we should stick with beer or go for a bottle of wine next and if so, whose “shout” would it be? Bonnie, a largish girl with bleached hair, exclaimed:
“It should be Jerry’s round, since he earns more than £40,000 a year. Come on Jerry, don’t be a cheap shit and go buy us some drinks!”
Jerry retorted, “Yeah but you’re the one who just got the £5,000 redundancy payout!”
As numbers were being hurtled across the table, it dawned on me that everyone at the table knew each other’s salary. I had quietly told Jerry my salary in confidence a few weeks earlier and it was clear he had told everybody else at the table.
In the end, we ended up getting really boozed up on several bottles of Pinot Grigio followed by Jager Bombs, thanks to Bonnie’s timely redundancy payout.
Beer for Everyone with the Socialist Way
I lived in London for 8 years, and some of my fondest memories were of bitching about money. That is how people bond over there. Crappy salaries are also the reason why it’s perfectly acceptable to get wasted on a Tuesday night if there is a really good Happy Hour. Even more telling is the socialist way of thinking that prevails in the UK. Everyone has a right to get drunk and therefore we need to look out for our lesser-paid drinking buddies.
Nice people living in London should have their wits about them. With such liberal sharing of information and socialist attitudes, you can easily get taken for a ride if you are too nice! That is what happened to me when I met Rubella.
Rubella and I worked together for a brief period in an office based in one of the posher neighbourhoods of London. I was a permanent employee, whereas she was a contract worker, but we were both relatively new to the organisation. Rubella and I bonded over cigarettes. We’d always pop out for a smoke break at 11am and 3pm each day.
I won’t bore you with the details, but Rubella didn’t last long. She did not have a strong work ethic and her contract ended prematurely. However Rubella and I remained in touch. Every other weekend we would go out and catch an art exhibition or movie together.
Rubella was a petite Mediterranean woman with narrow hips, glossy dark curls and a smattering of freckles across her olive-skinned face. Back then, she was the eternal single girl. Not because she was free spirited but because, as my male friends would say, she was “difficult” and gave off a negative vibe. Despite being physically attractive, she was always incredibly picky and difficult to satisfy.
Rubella was also an inactive artist. In the early 2000’s she had experienced some success with a series of artworks that were exhibited across Europe. However during the time I knew her, she was no longer painting but still living the artist’s lifestyle. She resided in a bohemian studio apartment in the middle of Soho that cost a small fortune, and she refused to accept a permanent office job on principal as that would be selling out.
I was completely puzzled when she turned down a role paying more than double what I was earning at the time. She had been offered the lucrative position of Senior Executive Assistant to the Managing Director of a prominent firm.
“Are you mad?” I exclaimed when she told me how she turned down the job, to which she responded “How will I find time to focus on my art if I’m tied down by a corporate role?”
It was only a matter of time before Rubella hit me up for money. She was in between temping jobs and couldn’t afford her expensive Soho rent. I lent her £1,500, which was a lot of money back then (it still is!).
Sure enough, the following month Rubella hit me up for another £1,500. It was preceded by a long speech on the values of friendship and how it is only during the “tough times” you can really see who your true friends are. I was cautious about giving a further loan and, quite frankly, I didn’t really have the money to do so. It is just as well that I didn’t lend Rubella anymore money as I never saw a penny of it ever again.
You see, under European socialist thinking, because I worked for a corporation but Rubella was the struggling artist, I am morally obligated to financially support her. Although I am politically inclined to the left, since Rubella was not contributing anything worthy to the artistic community, I struggled with this reality.
Keeping up Appearances in Japan
In Japan, you would never dare to ask a friend for money. In Japanese society, observing social norms and portraying a confident and capable front is of utmost importance. You could say, it is all about keeping up appearances. To ask someone, even a friend or family member, for money would be the ultimate degradation. It would mean you are a failure.
I recently asked my Japanese colleague if he would lend $1,000 to a friend who was in financial difficulty. His expression took on an anime-like quality. His eyes turned circle-like and his mouth transformed into a surprised o-shape. He responded “In Japan, none of my friends would ask me for money, not even for lunch. It just wouldn’t happen.”
In Japan, openly discussing salary information is another no-no. It is considered vulgar and very poor taste to do so. Your personal financial matters are your own business. It may sound weird, but this is probably a healthy approach towards money and helps to keep many friendships in tact.
Pay for your own beer in Australia
Funnily enough, despite the stark difference in cultures, when it comes to money-matters Australia adopts a similar approach to Japan. In Australia, it is also considered bad dinner talk to discuss salaries. The closest of friends do not divulge what they earn. If you’re hard up for cash, tough shit. Nobody is going to shout you drinks. That’s because Australia was built on principles of entrepreneurialism and hard work. You better earn your own money and pay for your own damn beer, otherwise stay home and suck it up!
However, whilst Australians don’t like to talk about their salaries it does not mean that all money matters are taboo. Small business owners are usually happy to talk about profits and losses and, like the English, they love to complain. Financial hardship is a favourite topic of Australian small business owners.
Cash is King in Singapore
In Singapore, it is all about money, money, money. Everybody flashes their cash in the most obvious of ways. On Orchard Road you will see plenty of designer handbags, large logos, flashy cars, custom plates, expensive watches and always, rich people with multiple nannies in tow.
People openly talk about money in Singapore but with exaggeration. A favourite pastime of most residents is to go for a casual coffee with a recruiter. The market is saturated with recruitment firms – there are even recruiters for recruiters (!) – covering every industry. Most professionals will catch up with a recruiter at least once per quarter to find out their “worth” and see if there are better opportunities out there. It is totally normally for people to change jobs every two years.
Now that I live in Singapore, would I lend money to a friend again? I’ve already been burned once, however I’m not opposed to shouting a friend lunch from time-to-time. That’s another way to flaunt the cash as well (wink wink).