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A Chinese friend said she recently met an American man and they have eaten together quite a few times, but they split the bill every time. She thinks this American man is too stingy, never taking the initiative to pay the bill. I roared with laughter when I heard this, and told her that treating a guest to dinner in Chinese and Western cultures are different matters.
Chinese people generally believe that treating a guest to dinner is a face-gaining/saving event, and to Chinese people ‘face’ is very important. There’s a commonly used sentence saying “打肿脸充胖子‘’ (dǎzhǒng liǎn chōng pàngzi, lit. ‘beat one’s face until swollen and pretend to be fat’), meaning ‘to do things that exceed one’s capabilities on account of face’. And in China, if a guy and a girl eat together, people generally believe that the man should pay. In one regard it’s because men must maintain their reputation, and can’t appear too stingy. Another aspect is because in traditional Chinese thinking, women are the weaker party and should be cherished, protected, and taken care of by men. If these two people are sweethearts, unless the girl insists on paying the bill, in all other situations it is up to the man to pay the bill.
Although nowadays some young people have accepted western ideas and when eating out like to split the bill, on the whole splitting the bill is believed to be an indicator of a lack of feeling in China. The Chinese believe that amongst good friends, you can’t discuss money too much. But sometimes when there are quite a lot of people eating together, and the cost of the meal is quite high, it is very likely that the bill will be shared equally. Besides, after a Chinese person has finished eating with their friend, they will scramble to pay the bill. It may be that some people don’t really wish to pay the bill, it’s only for the sake of saving face, or stemming from manners and politeness, so they act like they want to pay, sometimes even to the point of creating an argument over who will pay. This is a very interesting cultural phenomenon.
Chinese are particular about ‘礼尚往来’ (lǐshàngwǎnglái), which means only if presents are mutually given will contacts be able to last for a long time. Nobody wishes to pay the bill every time. If your friend pays for your meal this time, then next time you should take the initiative to pay. Ok, with regard to treating people to dinner, today we’ll just introduce these few first. If anyone has any problems, feel welcome to leave a message and discuss online.