Dating abroad: Who pays the bill?

  • couple paying the bill at restaurant
Published on 2022-09-16 at 14:00 by Asaël Häzaq
"Who will pay?" For some, this question ruins the beauty of the moment. For others, it simply solves a practical issue. We just surely pay before leaving the restaurant. What are the different approaches in various countries? What is women's stance on this? How is the practice of going Dutch perceived?  

Who pays at the restaurant?

In general, in Western culture, it's the person who's extended the dinner invitation who pays. In practice, it's more of a global tradition for the man to pay. A tradition and cultural heritage that's more widespread in conservative countries. But even in France and the United States, the implied norm that men pay (especially on the first date) is still prevalent. In practice, men are encouraged to take the first step. Here too, it's a cultural heritage that's very much present in many countries around the world.

The issue of whether to split the bill or not is much less benign than it seems. Underlying it is what feminists called “benevolent sexism.” The man acts, and the woman waits. In this understanding of gender relations, there can be no going Dutch. In Poland and many other European countries, men are expected to pay. Even waiters tend to head naturally towards men as if it were silently agreed that they'll pick up the tab.

However, we can't make generalizations about countries or genders. It's best to look at it according to generation. Younger generations are less willing to replicate their elders' behavioral patterns. Multiple economic crises, as well as global movements like #MeToo, have made them question their relationship with themselves and with others. Splitting the bill has become a social issue.

A return to tradition on the first date?

Last year, an American study carried out a little before Valentine's Day revealed that over 80% of men believe that they should pay the bill on the first date. Over 70% of women share their views. A similar British study revealed that one out of four women interviewed expected the man to pay on the first date. What worries the researchers is that most women who favor this custom are aged between 25 and 35. Does this represent a step backward?

For these women, getting a treat on the first date shows that they are desired. This point of view is more widespread among straight couples. Men talk about a duty they need to fulfill (they learned it from their elders), a sign of chivalry, romance, etc. But for the researchers, splitting the bill is, first and foremost, a display of dominance.

Other studies reveal three types of behaviors among women: that of refusing to pay (men must pay, it's a matter of principle); that of insisting on paying in order to reject having an inferior position to men; and that of being pragmatic. The latter behavior doesn't see money as a tool for seduction or a sign of power. Money is just a means of obtaining products or services, that's all. In South Korea, for instance, men still tend to pay on the first date, but women will pay on the second date, and they will keep taking turns like this (of course, though, it all depends on the specific couple).

The implications of splitting the bill

A lack of romance or even respect, coldness, stinginess, a calculating attitude… Splitting the bill is not unanimously welcomed around the world. Objecting to pragmatism, they lean more towards the traditional way of doing things. It's the man's responsibility to pay (especially on the first date). Women who defend this custom see it as romantic. Asking them to pay would be a lack of respect. For their part, some men consider splitting the bill to be rude and an insult to their masculinity.

But nuances can also be observed in certain couples. When they are still at the flirting stage, both men and women tend to stick to tradition. Men will tend to pay more. When they are married or in a serious relationship, the lines become more blurred. Splitting the bill or taking turns to pay becomes more common. In Vietnam, for example, when a couple is married, splitting the bill is not a problem. But the man tends to pay when the couple is still in the dating stage. Once more, we must keep in mind that these rules are not set in stone.

The slow death of this social norm?

Young men no longer want to be restricted by this gender role.

In Japan, young men refuse to be confined by this gendered norm. The famous “Who'll pay?” harks back to a patriarchal system which they reject. It's the image of the salaryman who's forced to comply with the social rules, even when it comes to dating. “Why should it be the man's responsibility to pay?,” complain men who've been affected by the economic slump since the bursting of the financial bubble. They don't have a lot of money. Their dates or girlfriends don't have a lot of money either. So they split the bill.

Others are even encouraging women to “surpass them.” Too bad if it brings family shame onto them. Unlike in the traditional view of gender relations, they don't associate money with masculinity. “Money is just money, and if my girlfriend earns more than me, then good for her,” says a young Japanese employee. He has been in a relationship for 4 years now and doesn't have lofty career goals. His girlfriend, who is a committed feminist, wants to climb up the corporate ladder. He wouldn't mind being a househusband who takes care of the kids. These young Japanese men want to take a “break.” Paying a restaurant tab shouldn't be a source of conflict or a question of proving your masculinity. A view that is spreading around the world. In France, the majority of men under 30 find it normal for a woman to pay the restaurant bill.

Women are claiming the power of paying the bill

In 2016, Marlène Schiappa, who was then the Minister delegate in charge of French Citizenship, signed a manifesto for women to pay at the restaurant and elsewhere. For her, the tradition of men paying for things is a subtle display of dominance. The culture around picking up the tab was born from patriarchal history. These unwritten codes are not always wholeheartedly accepted. Some men pay only out of “duty.” Some women remain passive just because of “tradition.” Under these conditions, we wonder if the meal is truly enjoyed.

Most importantly, when a woman pays, she claims a kind of freedom. In the French collective consciousness, chivalry requires the man to pay. The manifesto signed by the former minister makes a case for an appropriate balance. Paying shouldn't be a display of dominance but an expression of the pleasure of treating someone. A pleasure that shouldn't be exclusively reserved for men.