How to take care of the bill when dining with the Chinese?
I had a funny dinner experience with a mixture of Chinese and Western friends. A male German friend of mine only invited 5 people for the dinner, 2 Germans and 3 Chinese. To our surprise, 12 people showed up for the dinner, including me and my German friend. He ended up paying for 12 people. If he had only paid for the 5 people he originally invited, other people on the table would have been offended.
I will tell you why. In Western countries, when you say “would you like to join us for a meal?”, people know that you are supposed to split the bill. If you say “I would like to invite you to a meal.”, it means you will take care of the bill. But don’t just assume that Chinese people know the difference between the two. In China, most people expect the event organizer to pay for the whole group, just like what happened to my German friend. His Chinese friends were invited and then they self-invited their Chinese friends. And the Chinese side of the table expected my German friend to pay for them.
If they were Westerners, people will just split the bill out of question. However, the Chinese will take it the wrong way that we are not friends or you hurt his/her face (mianzi) by splitting the bill. The concept of face (mianzi) plays a vital role in the Chinese culture. When a group of Chinese goes out for dinner, people often fight to pay the bill, because everybody wants to pay the bill to earn face (mianzi). Somebody even leaves the table on the pretext of going to the toilet to pay the bill .Things are more complicated when you go out with a group of Chinese people, part of who are your friends and another part is not. In China, it’s very rude to just pay for part of a group.
There might be other situations you find yourself in where you are invited by Chinese friends to a meal and then people just insist on paying for you, even female friends would do so. You wonder why? Confucius said:” Isn’t it a pleasure to have friends coming from afar.”
Chinese people always want to show hospitality when friends come for a visit. So it’s the host’s courtesy to pay everything during friends’ stay. In addition, most Chinese people are very friendly to foreigners and are very curious about the Western culture. I guess now that you know a bit more about the Chinese culture, you probably won’t be overwhelmed by the Chinese people’s hospitality any more.
My suggestions about paying the bill when you are with Chinese people
If you want to invite your Chinese friends to dinner, be very clear that how many people you intend to invite and how you want the bill to be taken care of.
Do not always let Chinese pay the bill for you. It’s always nice to return the favor and thus maintain a good relationship with the Chinese.
Being raised in a traditional Chinese family, and influenced strongly by the Western culture in my four years of experience in teaching foreigners Chinese，I’ve seen too many of my students confused or overwhelmed when going out for dinner with their Chinese friends. Hope this article is of help when you find yourself in the above cross-cultural situations.
I’m Becky, a professional business Mandarin teacher from China. If you are interested in cross culture, Chinese culture, business Mandarin or conversational Mandarin, please visit Protected content to get more information.