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Knowing when to treat, shout, or split….

August 31, 2010

Last Saturday evening I met someone originally from Hong Kong now living in the States. For some reason we got into a conversation to do with paying the restaurant bill. Being an animated person, Judy acted out the ritual undertaken by Chinese as they  go about treating their family and friends to a meal. It begins with a vocal group protest mixed with a ton of shouting as one person’s hand tries snatching the fragile receipt off someone else and stuffing it plus the money owed, into the waiter’s hands. The ritual is completed with a triumphant glow on the winner’s face and laughter from the losers. No one loses face and everyone retains their honour.

For someone who is unaccustomed to this style of “treat” the shouting and play-fighting could be intimidating the first time around. Not knowing whether to sit and watch, to look the other way, to let out a sigh of despair or an awkward laugh. And, when is it appropriate to sit back and let someone else pay, when to offer to pay the bill yourself or split the bill amongst the group?

My rule of thumb  has always been — expect the unexpected.

While Chinese may put on a show to save face, Japanese, Koreans may not. Japanese usually opt to split the bill with you, and may become embarrassed if you choose to pay the bill (speaking from personal experience). Koreans treat you if they consider you a guest, which is pretty much all the time. Young Koreans may not offer at all if you’re much older in years than them. Even Southeast Asians carry out acts of kindness beyond their financial means to honour a guest. When it comes to Buddhist monks, expect them not to offer anything other than a prayer. Here it is an honour for you to pay for them as most monks lack finances. So, if you are on a tight budget be careful when offering to take a monk out for lunch — and this can happen.

On western shores particularly in English speaking countries, I’ve found that people tend to have similar ways of going about paying for the bill. There are those who like to perform and there are those who slink off to the cash register to pay, or discreetly hand over the money to the wait staff at an opportune time.

When it comes to business dinners, well there are etiquette books to help anyone in need.

Some lingo differences to consider:

In the US  it’s “my treat”, in the UK and UK English speaking countries it’s “my shout” or I’ll shout (not literally).

“I’ll get this” means — “I’m picking up the check”.

“Tab” or “check” means bill in the US. Bill means check (tab) in UK English speaking countries

Back to the Chinese ritual. If you have the privilege of being invited to dinner with Chinese (no matter where they reside and from which country), you are considered a guest someone special, and a fuss will be made of you.

by Cate

Caffeinated Traveller

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8 Comments
  1. September 1, 2010 4:33 am

    And then you have those who insist on shouting as a means of showing off. No etiquette there, just egos!

    And I can imagine how confusing it must be for someone not accustomed to it to hear “I’ll shout you a drink” or a meal!

    Great post 🙂

    • September 2, 2010 11:19 am

      I wonder who thought of using “shout” as a means of paying for someone. Must go and investigate this.

  2. September 1, 2010 4:14 pm

    My mother-in-law has a habit of sneaking off ostensibly to the rest room and paying the bill/check before the meal is actually over. My husband has now adopted the same habit when he wants to treat/shout someone. It’s credit cards at 40 paces!

    • September 2, 2010 11:20 am

      Oh I know those kind of people. My brother-in law is a smoker, so while he is supposedly going outside for a ciggie, he is also paying the bill. He does this all the time.

  3. September 1, 2010 4:47 pm

    VERY good tips on this subject. 🙂 I have not traveled in Asia at all, so I’m rather uncertain about traditions and cultures in those countries. You have eased my worries. 🙂

    • September 2, 2010 11:21 am

      Just think this: anything is possible, and anything can happen, so go with the flow 🙂

  4. September 2, 2010 3:53 pm

    Speaking of Chinese hospitality, on a recent business trip to China, I think some Swedes in the delegation were overwhelmed by their hosts and literally escaped their hosts by dodging out of the hotel lobby when they saw that their Chinese hosts were not looking. Different cultural expectations 🙂

    • September 2, 2010 4:53 pm

      I can understand how the Swedes must have felt, but I can understand how the Chinese delegation must have felt as well to have such honoured guests, and from Sweden of all places!

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