Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Is it rude to go dutch/ AA制?

Delicious... up until pay time when it goes sour...

A friend of mine (male, early 30ies, laowai) expressed a small concern the other day over dinner. He had been invited to meet up with two of his Chinese female friends the next day for a game of pool.

However, the game of pool had suddenly snowballed into a game of pool followed dinner (which he was OK with), until it became a game of pool, dinner, AND karaoke.

For starters he wasn't into karaoke.

Second of all, he wasn't keen to pay for it all.

-Well, why don't you just split the bill then? I asked.

-They are Shanghai girls. They expect me to fork the bill.


-Yeah, last time we went out for dinner and drinks. They even brought an extra friend. All of them have boyfriends so it wasn't like a date or anything. Still, when the bill came no one did an even slight attempt to reach for their wallet. All was paid by me.

-So why didn't you say anything?

-I don't know... I guess I am just bad at that sort of things. I feel so uncomfortable asking them to chip in. Mainly because they are all expecting me to pay.

I have heard similar stories to this one before, although that time from my Taiwanese male friend who asked a girl out for a date. When he turned up for dinner, however, he realized that she had brought her 2 girlfriends and he ended up having to pay the dinner for all of them. When my friend told me this he said it was nothing strange about that, but rather, that it was the common standard over here.

(really? Going for a date and bringing your two girlfriends? Ladies -anyone- have you done that?!?)

But back to my laowai friend.

He felt it was 'rude' of him to ask them to chip in for the bill, as they believe it is the man who should pay. Always. Friendly dinner or date.

But I have to say that I personally find this sort of thinking kind of.... out of date. Sure, if the guy asks the girl out on a date. Then many men and women consider it to be the guy's job to take care of the bill. But when going out with a friend, who already has a hubby/boyfriend back home, and who in addition to getting a free dinner herself brings some girlfriends who wants to eat too? Then I reckon going dutch is the thing. I mean, if you don't even know that third person, then why should you pay for her food? Just because she is a girl? Not every single guy is loaded -Chinese or laowai.

I told my male friend this, and even though he nodded in agreement I could see in his eyes that he wasn't likely to ask the girls to split the bills with him the next time he ended up in a similar situation.  

Gosh, sometimes it is good to be a girl and not to have to worry to be considered 'rude' when you ask to split the bill. I always go dutch. Female or male friend -why should they pay for my dinner? (or why should I pay for theirs -I am far from the loaded laowai). Unless they have specifically invited me out for a dinner treat I reckon there is nothing wrong with AA制 as it is called in China. (AA制 means 平均分担帐单 -each person in a group of people equally shares the bill of a dinner/ a drink).

What do you guys think? Is it considered rude by a guy to ask his female friend to AA制? Or shall he just pay, every single time, with a smile on his face?


sheri amor said...

you always post blogs that are interesting nice!

Rie said...

You're right. Whomever does the asking does the paying, in my book. If its a mutual thing or a spontaneous event, dutch is best. Maybe your laowai friend could make the terms clear up front when situations arrise? "hey, your friends just showed up and we're about to order dinner... how are we paying for this?"

Lost in Americana said...

There are a lot of Gold diggers in China, men and women. They all expect "lao wai" to be rich (the Shanghainese in particular), often to their disappointment. It's difficult to get through to Chinese people about your actual wealth, but I guess, if you look non-Chinese, it's hard to avoid it! I'm sorry.

Of course there are also "lao wai" who abuse this power, the image that they are wealthy, in order to get into bed with Chinese women, but that's another story!

Jonna Wibelius said...

Lost in Amreicana -Hm... the things is, that I don't think these girls were gold diggers, rather, I think they just felt that 'the man SHOULD pay' and that it was more of a cultural thing...

Lilly said...

If I were in the situation, I would pay for my food, it is natural. If guys pay all is a part of the culture, let him pay. but pay him later. Or at least treat him later. Otherwise, it is not fair. He must be uncomfortable...
If he feels uncomfortable to be treated, say and show gratutude. In this case, I think girls should care.

Ramesh said...

Its a cultural thing. In many parts of Asia, the man has to pay, even in many of the situations you describe. It may not look fair to an European or an American, but its "fair" in the eyes of an Asian. I know of quite a few laowais who took their Chinese girlfriend and their families out for dinner and expected everybody to go Dutch. And lost serious face.

That's the rules of the game. As with all rules, some make sense and some don't but they are the rules !

Hui2 said...

me a Singaporean Chinese, and while I dunno the norm in China, over here friends do go dutch, laowai or not. Unless if it's a date of course, in which case no sensible female would bring her friends along, unless she's not interested in the guy & wants a chaperone!

On the other hand, any guy bringing their girlfriend AND family out to a meal, IS expected to pay for all. How else to impress upon the gal's family that the guy is capable of providing for their darling girl????

JustBreathe said...

This is where you step in for your friend, Jonna. Be the friendly foreigner and mention to the girls that it is slightly odd that he would be paying for their meals and such. . . of course, in a friendly and diplomatic way. "Wow! Is this how it works here?!" Something like that, then your friend can save face and make the point to those girls anyway. . .

Anonymous said...

Hi! New follower of your blog, and very jealous of the fact that you are in China, haha. I'm an ABC [American Born Chinese], and my parents don't think I'm ready to go yet. D:

But anyways, I thought this was a very interesting post. Here, Chinese people will fight to pay for the bill, including both [or more] parties' share. I've always been taught to never let someone else pay for me. Hm, but then again, when we fight for the bill, my parents and I go out as a family, so there's not so much the whole man pays, woman doesn't part of it.

It's so funny, comparing your experiences in China to how I've been influenced from my parents who were born in China. Like your previous post about privacy and the security guard reading the girl's paper. My parents have always taught me to be super polite and not worry about other people's business at all.

Anyways, thanks for writing this blog. :) It's very interesting and fun for me to read~


Anonymous said...

I used to go out with this Chinese born Canadian and he would get insulted if I even hinted about going dutch. If I offered to pay my part he would tell me to pay the whole bill or not pay at all. Apparently, it was rude for him to have me pay half. Same thing when we went out with our other Asian friends; one person would always end up paying the bill.

In Korea I went out with friends of a firend of my sister. We went to four different places, partied all night and I only ended up paying 10$.

It is fun to have the bill paid for you, but to bring your friends at a date and expect the man to pay for everyone is going to far.

Now I'm married with a Japanese man, and we usually go dutch... It was kind of a shock after that Chinese boyfriend!

Anonymous said...

We are in a global village now. China girls are so modern in their dressing and behavior already, why don't their socialising behavior change? DUTCH IS THE WAY TO GO otherwise the one always paying will be broke very soon and that's the end of socialising for him and his gang. Paying for whatever you consume is the fairest and most intelligent way to go.

Nobody said...

Answer to your title: Not at all.

People expecting others (especially strangers) to pay for their bills are considered rude, instead, unless they get the clear message that they are treated.

P.S. I'm also a new follower of your blog, which is very interesting. As a native Chinese, I'm curious about what laowais think of us. Good job! Keep writing! :-)

Jason said...

AA制 is the best way to solve this problem.

Niel said...

it is common knowledge that Chinese ppl nowadays like to take advantage of ppl, and in ur case, they ammeded the 'common law' for their own benefit. that is why i always stress b4 going out with anyone, be it guy or girl- we will pay according to the AA system xD. and capped it with a smile. lol.

p/s:im impressed that u can write Chinese. cool. haha. seriously :D

Anonymous said...

I've been in this situation many times after 10 years in China. For many girls, it is expected that the guy pays but that is regardless of whether you are western or local. And in some cases the (local) guy would not want it any other way as he would lose "face" if he had to share.

Dinner, drinks and then Karaoke - me and 4 to 5 girls. It's expensive. But what I would say is that you manage it in a variety of ways. For example, invite a few other guys along.

bkbj said...

Very interesting topic. I know girls who do this, but I personally never let a guy pay for me unless it's later into the relationship, then if he pays for one dinner, I pay for the next. Gives me greater freedom as I don't feel I owe the guy anything :P

小一 said...

Haha, it's so funny!
I'm a chinese man, in fact, there are different between each province.
In my opinion, I don't like AA 制, because that's make you like A and A, not together. In other words, that's make you not as thick as thieves. I'd like to pay it one at a time. That's make you intimate.

Nice post~ thanks...

Jonna Wibelius said...

A lot of different opinions on this one... I understand that in general in China, the man pays... but I still find it a bit funny when u r just going out as a big group of friends? Why would it be losing face to ask everyone to pay for themselves? Men in China must be ruining themselves as they have to pay for dinner all the time.. I guess the best thing is to do what Woai suggested, invite some other guys!

I still find it funny to think that a woman can just call her male friend, ask if he wants to have dinner w her, bring a girlfriend and get everything paid for. Wow.

Dr Sofea J.Ann Tan said...

Hahahaha ...its a very ASIAN rule which has passed on for many generations tht men are to pay.. but in the modern world now we do go dutch if u were to bring ur other frens.. thats diff if only two were to go on a romantic date ya...

guess to avoid such complication..such terms should be discussed way begining itself even b4 ordering !!haahhaa !!!

Nathan said...

Hiya Jonna.

Personally, I don't think it's rude. Especially when I'm on a date with a girl. It's a matter of personal choice, I'd think.

And in your friend's case, somehow I feel like he's trying to impress the girls or somewhat. Perhaps what he thought was - if he let the girls pay, the girls would not like him.

Personally, it's a big no to me to do thing like your friend did. Because if my friends are trully a 'friend', they won't let me pay all the bills by myself.

Anonymous said...

You should always share the bill. Period.

or maybe, I've just been living outside of China for too long...?


Anonymous said...

Actually, Jonna, I think girls can also run into trouble by expecting to pay the bill, or at least share it. I dated a really nice Korean-Canadian for a while (born in Canada, of Korean extraction, living in the US) and, when he paid for our delicious meal on the first date, I was like, "OK, old-fashioned but sweet, next time I'll be sure to pay." But he wouldn't let me pay next time or the time after that, and when I finally did succeed in snatching up a bill (in the Chinese fashion, sort of "play-fighting" for it) he actually got a little upset. I felt terrible afterwards when I learned from a girlfriend that in the Korean-Canadian community, the guy ALWAYS pays and I had cause him to lose face by insisting on paying this time. But, on the other hand, I used to date a Chinese guy here in China about 12 years ago and we shared the bills. I mean, we never went "Dutch," but sometimes he would pay and sometimes I would pay. We would fight over the bills, but it was just pretend; the person whose "turn" it was would always win. It was the only solution to a delicate situation. Neither of us was rich, but as I was a "foreign teacher" living rent free in university housing and he was a grad student from a very modest background, he had a lot less money than I did.

Zhela said...

As an American-born Chinese, I was raised with etiquette in both cultures: When I'm going out with American friends, we invariably go Dutch (though one time, a group of my American friends suggested that we all go out to a fairly nice restaurant for my birthday, and then made absolutely no mention of paying for the birthday girl at the end of the meal! This I actually found pretty odd and somehow rude in a way. Then I also wondered if that was just the Chinese in me kicking in - you NEVER make the guest-of-honor pay).

On the other hand, when my family goes out with Chinese friends, tradition always taught me to fight for the bill almost tooth-and-nail, whether you can barely afford it or not (though always n a friendly and joking way). It's entirely for saving face, and I had always been taught that even if you don't end up paying, it's rude not to at least fight for it and make a hassle :D . I suppose it shows generosity or good character or what have you... hehehe.

(I'm a new and avid reader of your blog. 真写得不错! Keep up the excellent work!)

m--e said...

I had a Chinese co-worker go to the US for the first time for training at our company. To be nice, a group asked her to go to supper instead of being alone. She was absolutely horrified when the waitress gave everyone their own bills. I heard later she said everyone was very rude for not paying for her meal, but I see it as they were being nice to invite her!

Since she was on a business trip, the meal was paid for in her per diem, so I'm not sure what the big deal was. She didn't have to pay in the end either way!

Anonymous said...

China or no China , the men pay out of Chivalry .. which is part of the culture here which can be alien to a western eye. Opening the doors for a girl isnt so chivalrous in Asia always as doors are to be opened by who gets to the door first. Some Asians who have been 'westernised' would open the door first though. So there are Asia and non Asian cultures which are right in their own right.It is better to look at them without being judgement on the righteousness of it but accept it at face value. No pun intended.

Blank-Socrate said...

Ok, it depend in the culture,
here in Egypt it is very rude to split the bill with a female, not only the bills but also tickets of transportations if we are traveling together and maney other things :(,
I do not agree but I have to do that avoiding to hurt her feeling ;)
but once I am sure my female friend is open mind I act normally

Brad Farless said...

I think it all depends on the situation.

In the situation you mentioned where the guy went out on a date with a girl, and she brought her friends and expected him to pay for them too... well, that's just not acceptable. A date is a date. That means two people. Bringing along company for a free ride is rude, and also would give me the idea that she wasn't particularly interested in anything but my money, since she didn't want a more intimate evening.

I'm an American and my wife is from the Philippines. We always take turns paying the bill. We always did. I'm not sure if that's just her, or if it's part of Filipino culture, but it worked well for us. Sometimes though, she does insist on paying for things.

As for the guy that took his girlfriend and her family out for dinner, but then didn't want to pay for the family, that was just bad judgment on his part. You can't invite a girl and her family out and then not pay. That's what inviting out means.

I think most of this can be avoided by making the arrangements clear beforehand. That can be a bit awkward but it would save you trouble later.

Jewels said...

Well, when in Rome...

I think this is very strange, but after reading the comments I'm beginning to think it's common Chinese culture. We all have our strange customs and practices, but I have to say, this one would definitely discourage me from heading out for a night on the town. It's expensive enough just having to pay for yourself, nevermind an entire group. Especially if it's expected of you everytime.

I vote for inviting other guy friends along and see what happens in a mixed group setting.

Michelle said...

I never take for granted that the guy will take care of the bills unless he told me in particular.

I really think it's totally rude to expect him to pay for the bill when some friends of yours who are not invited also expect him to pay.

Gingerblossom said...

I'm a Singaporean Chinese living in China. In Singapore, we always go dutch among friend unless you're on a date, its a treat, someone in the group still a young student and unemployed!

And in Beijing, my local, taiwanese& american colleagues always go Dutch regardless of whether they're male or female. I honestly think your friend was being taken advantage of. I don't see why the girl gets to bring other freeloaders along and still get away with it. Simply perpetuating the misguided impression that all laowai's have money!!

Diane said...

OK . . . Now I'm hungry!
Great blog Jonna, funny and interesting!

nova said...

This is a tough one. Being born and raised in a Western society, I can not fathom asking somebody to pay my way, just because they are male and I am female. I actually get a bit offended when the situation arises. To me, it seems like they are asserting that I am "just" a woman, and they have to take care of me.
At the same time, though, after reading everybody's comments, it does seem like one of those weird cultural differences.
I liked Just Breathe's idea, of showing up and letting the Shanghai girls know that it does not always work that way in a laowai culture.
People always assume that their way is the only way, until show differently.
Even if it doesn't change the specific situation your friend is in, the girls may leave with a better understanding of Western culture.

Green Zen said...

If I am out to dinner with my friends we always split the bill equally. If I am on a date I will offer to pay for my portion, but I don't have a problem with the guy paying :) If I have been dating a guy for a while, then I will offer to pay for both once in a while, you have to treat the man once in a while!

Rebecca Lynch Photography said...

I understand that it is the culture, but I think it is rude. If it was just dinner that is one thing, but to turn into other events and to have friends tag along and expect him to pay is wrong.

Little Tiger said...

If a girl doesn't offer to go Dutch after the first few dates, it screams high maintenance to me.
It also shows that she doesn't have much ambition in life to be independent either. Having said that, I have been known to read too much into things!

LK said...

A date is very different to friends going out for a bit of fun. Friends should pay their own way - always; dates are more complicated and often it is the guy who pays but the couple will work out a system that suits them eventually.

This friend paying for other friends is so wrong and I agree that he should bring the issue up before the night in question even takes place. And bringing extras along is called 'taking advantage' - in any culture.

Some of our friends and family her in New Zealand consistently never paid for anything when we were out together, I guess assuming that we were the most well-off. We refuse to go out with them anymore as we actually can't afford to prop up their social habits. Assumption is an expression of a self-centered personality.

Janet said...

As an Asian w/personal damage from this bulls*** I will tell you it is STUPID. When I was growing up my dad would pay for everyone all the time to "save face" and act like a bigshot, meanwhile his family was home eating corn so complete strangers could dine on caviar at our expense. I grew up believing complete strangers were more valuable to my dad than his own children. I hate Asian culture. If your guy friend has any b***s he won't allow himself to be used by these selfish ho's.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Again -it's really interesting to read about everyone's experiences. I love when you guys share your stories.

It seems that the whole 'paying for others' and going AA very much depends on the situation. Obviously it isn't as easy as I first thought, just saying 'why not always go AA'. Like some of you pointed out (flyingfish for instance), some men will take offense when u try to pay for yourself.

Tricky one. I still believe that going AA with your friends, or, taking turns in paying is the best option. But we r all different.

Unknown said...

Wow! Pretty much every extreme of opinions on this one.
I'll throw in my two cents. Compromise! Or at least try. On the one hand, I like the system of paying for each other and taking turns. But for me, I won't let my 'turn' extend into the whole night. Rather, each time something needs paying for. So, if I just paid for dinner, I expect my Chinese friends (women or men) to chip in for KTV.
In fact, I'd feel uncomfortable paying the whole night if the girls had boyfriends!
Nice post :)

Ty1 said...

There are many conditions,and for this Laowai male friend, if he didn't go dutch for the first time, then it would be extremly hard for him to do it later. So, ask him to try go dutch with a new friend, then it would be easier for him to keep it on.
It's not only the Chinese custom or what, I think for human beings, ppl may unconsciously take advantage of other ppl unless he/she is very mature,be well aducated and aware of the inner being well.
What do you think??

Brad Farless said...


I think you're right. The fact that some people will try to take advantage of other people is universal. That doesn't matter where you're from. And it's not always something obviously wrong.


I finally got around to asking my wife about this. She said that it's more common in the Philippines for girls to want to share the bill, or to take turns paying. However, a few decades ago the Philippines was similar to what you're describing as the norm in China. She said it still goes on sometimes.

In fact she even said that sometimes girls will do what they did to your friend. She said that one time she was even that "extra friend" that showed up. She said the girl wanted a chaperone, but she wasn't told that she had a date. The girl just asked her to go out with her and dragged her along.

I also asked a friend from the Philippines about it and he said that things are more modern there now, and it mostly depends on the girl. Some are "old-fashioned" and some are mentally living in the current year.

Anonymous said...

I think the key part here is that the girls are from Shanghai.

Yes, he is being taken for a ride. Yes, he should stand up for himself.

And if he did, the girls might act like he was being rude. But it would only be an act, because deep down I bet they knew what they were doing was cheeky.

One girl, fair enough. One girl and her two friends?- he needs to grow some new ones.

Anonymous said...

If those girls didn't care that the guy might find their behaviour rude, why should he care whether they find his behaviour rude?

Concept of losing face applies only if you accept that culture. In terms of NLP he just should "reframe" himself. Imagine that you are in the land of barbarians (and he really is in the land of barbarians, he doesn't even have to imagine it). Would you care what savages think about you? And if it still doesn't help, then he can imagine that he is among yellow monkeys. Would he care what they think about him? Hope it will help him to boost his self-esteem.

Brad Farless said...


"Yellow monkeys"

Bitter much? Though, your comment does bring up an interesting point. Sometimes it's hard to come from a so-called "first world" nation and not look down on the people around you unconsciously. It took me living in Singapore and visiting the Philippines off & on for a few months to get past that automatic negative association.

browngirlsgaming said...

i think that this is a very interesting topic. But i personally think that your friend should have just paid for his meal and let them pay for their own since they brought an extra friend. But i guess that they are used to it, because of their culture and all

Anonymous said...

"I still find it funny to think that a woman can just call her male friend, ask if he wants to have dinner w her, bring a girlfriend and get everything paid for. Wow."

That's not usually the way. Usually the person who asks others to dinner (the host) pays.

Anonymous said...

(disclaimer - I'm a guy)


This is a reoccurring issue, in both China, HK and Taiwan. A girl from where I come from (Israel) might actually feel this is offensive to her as it suggests a form of male superiority or even ownership (if he pays for my dinner, then it is expected that at somepoint I need to give something - not necessarily money - back in return, thus - he owns me).

I've never had the 2 friends coming along situation but had plenty of occasions where I was expected to pay for the female companion although we were just friends. It is a tricky situation and one that I still have trouble with.
On the other side - I've also had plenty of occasions where locals insisted to pay for me, although I repeatably asked to pay for myself (since I never understand how reciprocity is suppose to work and I dislike feeling obligated to remember when is my turn).
With that said, there are some people (Taiwan) who would never let me pay - being the foreigner "guest" - even though they're not that much better off than I am. Confronting them delicately and politely on this could prove a major loss of face.

So, you're right - it's very tricky. Very well put.

Pete In Syracuse said...

The main problem I see is that who ever goes to pay drags his/her culture into the situation. How then does one do this without offending the other except by saying "Where I come from it is proper to do this__________" ! Would this work?

Crystal Tao said...

There is also various attitude towards the idea of splitting a bill in different cities of China.
In Shanghai, for example, girls are more independent and would more readily go Dutch.

Crystal Tao