A bunch of my friends are away on a 'stag weekend' at the moment.
Until a week ago, I had expected to be working this Friday and this Sunday, which provided a convenient excuse to abstain from the party. Even when my work commitments suddenly evaporated, I still had the - rather embarrassing but even more pressing - excuse that I just couldn't afford it at the moment.
Ah well, at least I got to have dinner and a few drinks with them here in Beijing before they flew out for parts west (a fortuitous change of plans forced on them by the last-minute cancellation of their original flight yesterday afternoon).
I hope they won't hold my non-participation against me. I am very fond of them all, but.... it just wasn't really going to be my kind of thing.
They're quite a bit younger than me. They are, mostly, quite a bit more affluent than me. They enjoy doing rather different things: there's likely to be much raucousness and lewdness, which I feel very uncomfortable with; and there will almost certainly be extended visits to nightclubs (which I HATE), and possibly KTV bars too (which I don't have a lot of time for), and probably also a fair amount of flirting (though, I hope, nothing more) with young women of easy morals. Whereas I'd be more in favour of a late-night exploration of the city on foot or by rickshaw, finding some decent live music somewhere (perhaps even a classical concert, or a jazz club??), and then settling into a grungy 24-hour restaurant to do the drinking-and-chatting-till-dawn thing at the lowest possible prices.
I don't, in general, approve of stag weekends. They go on too long: they get to be physically, emotionally, and financially exhausting, and they start to become a bit of a bore.
It's an American idea, I believe; one that has only started to gain any currency in the UK within the past 20 years or so. I've only been on a handful of events of this type: and those were tolerable, I think, because they only lasted for one day rather than two, didn't attempt to go too far afield, and were closely based on a narrow circle of old university friends revisiting the kinds of entertainment we used to enjoy as students (most of them took place in Oxford, and involved punting, cricket, and drinking a lot in fondly remembered pubs). But even these kind of dragged at times.
The whole point of a stag - in my view - is that it is supposed to be concentrated into a single night. And ideally - traditionally - it should be the eve of the wedding. This creates an emotional intensity around the event, and an exhilarating frisson of danger (will the groom suffer a change of heart? will he overindulge so much that he's late for the church, or incapable of attending altogether? will he get himself arrested?). Yet it also tends to instil a modest degree of responsibility and self-restraint in all the participants: you become jointly responsible for making sure that the groom is in a fit condition to go ahead with his marriage the next day, and that sense of shared mission can be a profound bonding experience - even with people you don't know well, or perhaps are meeting for the first time.
You shouldn't schedule a wedding for early in the morning. You shouldn't stay out ridiculously late, or get incapably drunk - especially if your wedding time is fairly early. And if you suffer bad hangovers, it may be allowable to do the stag just a day or two earlier. In fact, if you suffer bad hangovers, you should probably dispense with a stag altogether.
A stag is about drinking, that's all there is to it. And it is about bonding with your male friends, relishing the opportunity to spend time alone with them (something you're probably never going to be able to do in quite the same way again once you're married; or not nearly so often, anyway) - to chat, to reminisce, to joke, to horse around, to play; and, of course, to drink. Ogling girls is an unwelcome distraction: you can do that any time (yes, even after you're married!).
And a stag should be done immediately before the wedding (or as close to the wedding day as possible) not only for the symbolic potency of that, but also for the more practical reason that it can take the groom's mind off his last-minute nerves, and actually makes it less likely that he may suffer from an attack of cold feet.
A stag is not about strip-shows and massage parlours and prostitutes and chatting up loose girls in dance clubs. It is not about going away on a long-weekend holiday a month or more before the actual wedding. It is not about trying to fill your day with 'fun' activities like parascending and camel-riding. It's just about drinking and talking - for one day or one night, nothing but drinking and talking with your longest-standing male friends.
A wedding represents at least the partial loss of one of your circle of male friends. The event is, therefore, for the friends to whom you are to be 'lost', very much like a death; and the appropriate rite of passage to mark this transition is properly akin to a wake. I don't think anyone would ever try to throw a three-day wake, would they? No. It's the same thing with stag weekends - a silly, silly, silly idea.
I've always fancied having a wild stag party of my own one day, a several-hour bender - perhaps a pub crawl down Edinburgh's Rose Street - on the eve of the Big Day. Stanley Holloway is probably to blame for this odd fixation.