Going Dutch

Going Dutch‘ is a term that indicates that each person participating in a group activity pays for himself, rather than any person paying for anyone else, particularly in a restaurant bill. There are two possible senses—each person paying his own expenses, or the entire bill being split (divided evenly) between all participants. In strict usage, ‘Going Dutch’ refers to the former, paying one’s own expenses, and the latter is referred to as ‘splitting the bill,’ but in casual usage these may both be referred to as ‘going Dutch.’ Splitting the bill is generally easier to compute, as it does not require checking what each individual ordered, but has the downside that people who ordered more expensive items are subsidized by others.

One suggestion is that the phrase ‘going Dutch’ originates from the concept of a Dutch door. Previously on farmhouses this consisted of two equal parts. Another school of thought is that it may be related to Dutch etiquette. In the Netherlands, it was not unusual to pay separately when going out as a group. When dating in a one-on-one situation, however, the man will most commonly pay for meals and drinks. The ‘Oxford English Dictionary’ connects ‘go Dutch’ with ‘Dutch treat’ and other phrases many of which have ‘an opprobrious or derisive application, largely due to the rivalry and enmity between the English and Dutch in the 17th c[entury],’ the period of the Anglo-Dutch Wars. Another example is ‘Dutch courage.’

The gambling term ‘dutching’ may be related to ‘go Dutch,’ as it describes a system that shares stakes across a number of bets. It is commonly believed, however, that the Dutch reference here was in fact derived from a gangster, Dutch Schultz, who used this strategy to profit from racing.

In the United States, during the advent of second wave feminism, 1960s and 1970s, the Women’s Movement encouraged women to pay their own way or to pay for men’s meals. It is accepted by some that, on a date between a woman and man, the man takes initiative when it comes to paying the bill, meaning he is the one to pay. However, in countries like Sweden and Norway where social/gender equality is more prevalent, that is to a lesser degree the case.

In Germany, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Canada, Norway, Austria, Switzerland and Australia, the practice of splitting the bill in restaurants is common. In a courtship situation where both parties have a similar financial standing, which is commonplace in the aforementioned nations, the traditional custom of the man always paying in restaurants has largely fallen out of use and is by many, including etiquette authorities, considered old fashioned. Generally a romantic couple will take turns paying the bill or split it. Generally it is assumed that everyone pays for himself or herself in restaurants unless the invitation stated otherwise.

In most of northern Europe, central Europe and Australia the practice of splitting the bill is common. On a dinner date, the man may pay the bill as a way of overtly stating that he views this as a romantic situation and that he has some hopes or expectations for a future development. Some women object to this or even find it offensive so it is a judgment call. Younger urban women especially tend not to accept men paying for them; or will in turn insist to pay for the next dinner or drink. In south European countries such as Italy, Portugal, Greece it is rather uncommon for locals to have separate bills, sometimes even regarded rude, especially when in larger groups. But in urban areas or places frequented by tourists this has changed over the last decades. In Greece the practice is sometimes called ‘refenes.’

In Middle Eastern cultures, ‘going Dutch’ is seen as being extremely rude. Traditions of hospitality play a great part in determining who pays, therefore an invitation will be given only when the host feels that he is able to afford the expenses of all. Similarly, gender roles and age play a more important role than they would in Western societies. In India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran it is even considered taboo to ask people to pay their own bills. The bills are generally paid by the elder of a group, the male in a couple, the local of the area, or by the one who made the invitation if there is no significant age gap. Invitations are only given if someone understands that they can pay for all of the guests.

In North Korea and South Korea where rigid social systems are still in place, it is most common for the person of the highest social standing, such as a boss or an elder figure, to pay the bill. This not only applies in a 1 to 1 situation but also in groups. Among the younger generation, it is quite common for friends to alternate when paying the bill, or for one to pay for dinner and another to pay for drinks. In South Korea, ‘going Dutch’ is called ‘Dutch Pay,’ a konglish (Korean language style English) loan phrase.

In Colombia, this practice is referred to as ‘estilo Americano’ (‘American style’ in Spanish), particularly when referring to dates involving men and women. In some parts of Italy (especially the south), the expression ‘pagare alla romana’ can be translated as: ‘To pay like people of Rome’ or ‘to pay like they do in Rome.’ It has the same meaning as ‘going Dutch.’ This can lead to misunderstanding, because in other parts of Italy ‘pagare alla romana’ means to divide equally the total cost between all the commensals. The corresponding phrase in Turkish can be translated into English as ‘to pay the bill the German way.’ In France, it is close to ‘each one pays half of the bill.’ This usually does not include women, who according to traditional French étiquette should not pay when there are also men present. In a business meeting, the receiving party usually pays for all – it is considered rude not to do so, and rarely (if ever) occurs. In Egypt, it translates to ‘English style.’ In India, in Hindi, the practice is called as TTMM (Tu Tera Mein Mera Hindi), meaning  ‘You pay yours and I pay mine.’ Generally though, since the concept of dating is very new this act is not applied to dating. When the expression going Dutch is used, it often refers to splitting the bill equally.

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