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Split the bill or offer drinks/meals in France?


John Talbott
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A blurb in the freebie newspaper Metro today stated that 73% of French respondants in a survey done by SABMiller, prefer to buy others drinks rather than offer to split the check versus say Germany where 63% prefer to split the check and carefully calculate who's had what.

Now, I recall when I moved here being told by an American friend that the custom was to take someone or couple out and pay in full and they would reciprocate the next time. Me, being paranoid, thought that could lead to striking disparities, so I proposed to French colleagues that we go "Dutch" (who were not mentioned in the SABMiller survey) and for 20 years no one has differed.

Thoughts? For instance, is there an age factor involved (as there is in the Sarko/Carla in the public eye discussion).

John Talbott

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For me it depends on intention. If we have a meal where the attendees are my guests, then I feel it is my duty to pay. Especially if this is a restaurant or a type of cuisine unfamiliar to my guests. If I feel like my guests would feel guilty about what they order based on the price, I've been known to arrange ahead of time for the restaurant to print up menus with no prices. This seems to allow people to actually order what they want. But this is usually the finer dining establishments.

If I'm simply the organizer of a meal (or the one being organized), I am absolutely fine with splitting the check appropriately.

For small things (cup of coffee), I find myself doing the "I'll get this time, you get the next."

If my dining companion(s) are of an age where they are still in school (college included) or just getting started in their careers, I'll more than likely just pick up the check.

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Usually most of my friends know what they're getting into when they go out with me (ie there will be a good bottle or 2 of wine but I always ask for a budget when looking at the list), so we just split it evenly. If someone had way less than everyone else or didn't drink anything, then we adjust things accordingly.

When I was single and on dates in Paris, I somehow always ended paying for the women... :rolleyes:

Cheers! :cool:

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For me it depends on intention. If we have a meal where the attendees are my guests, then I feel it is my duty to pay........

If my dining companion(s) are of an age where they are still in school (college included) or just getting started in their careers, I'll more than likely just pick up the check.

I should have specified equal status meals, non-business, non-Congress, non-student backpacker relatives, non-neighbors one is thanking for keeping an eye on the apartment, etc. That is, I believe, the intent of the SABMiller Survey.

John Talbott

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We split the bill equally (generally by using two credit cards and asking the waiter to do an even split), and pay no attention whatsoever to what anybody ate or drank, figuring that it will even out in the end. We eat out with friends a lot, and could alternate paying, but that would require that somebody keep track of who paid last time, and that's not something that I care to keep track of.

If there's a more complicated split, I'll usually pay (by credit card) and trust the others to cover theirs with cash. As my friends are generous sorts I typically end up making money on that proposal.

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We split the bill equally (generally by using two credit cards and asking the waiter to do an even split),.....

Sure, I do recall splitting a bill this way with someone from Atlanta, but I was raising the question of American/French, French/German, etc. splitting customs.

Since we've not heard from any of our French cousins, this may be a distinction of little consequence, one more instance of the press selling newspapers.

John Talbott

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We split the bill equally (generally by using two credit cards and asking the waiter to do an even split),.....

Sure, I do recall splitting a bill this way with someone from Atlanta, but I was raising the question of American/French, French/German, etc. splitting customs.

Since we've not heard from any of our French cousins, this may be a distinction of little consequence, one more instance of the press selling newspapers.

possibly a bit off topic (and bound to cause some haeted debate) but when dining in same sex groups i have noticed that men are far happier to split the bill equally whereas women tend to work it out to the last penny....

"Experience is something you gain just after you needed it" ....A Wise man

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Sure, I do recall splitting a bill this way with someone from Atlanta, but I was raising the question of American/French, French/German, etc. splitting customs.

Since we've not heard from any of our French cousins, this may be a distinction of little consequence, one more instance of the press selling newspapers.

Ah, sorry, didn't quite read the question through.

When dining with colleagues and/or friends from France, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Spain, UK, and Denmark (and probably some others that I can't recall) we have generally split the bill, whether we are dining in the U.S. or somewhere in Europe.

Can you pee in the ocean?

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Actually I can think of one exception, a French woman about 10 years my senior, who absolutely will not hear of my paying or of our splitting the bill, ever, when dining with her (generally in Montpellier, where she lives and works). She sees herself as my host (because I don't live in France, obviously) and wouldn't dream of making her guest pay to eat. We've never dined together in the U.S.

So I just make a point of bringing her a really nice gift whenever I see her.

Can you pee in the ocean?

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Actually I can think of one exception, a French woman about 10 years my senior, who absolutely will not hear of my paying or of our splitting the bill, ever, when dining with her (generally in Montpellier, where she lives and works). She sees herself as my host (because I don't live in France, obviously) and wouldn't dream of making her guest pay to eat. We've never dined together in the U.S.

So I just make a point of bringing her a really nice gift whenever I see her.

Disclosure: On my part, there are four occasions on which I don't split; 1) Because, yearly at a national meeting in the US, I treat my French colleagues to a locally-focused American lunch (eg creole food in NO, Mexican in San Diego, crabs in Baltimore, etc.,) I let them pay for me when back in France (a great deal for me); 2) Persons who feel I've done them an exceptional favor (not really more than I'd do for anyone) and when, whether because of "old school," old age or old tradition, I accept graciously, 3) The inverse, when I owe a debt unpayable otherwise, for some wonderful favor (I make clear on the phone when reserving and/or "go to the bathroom" and pay) and 4) When someone who's getting reimbursed for writing about the resto, pays. But these are really the tiny minority. For the most part with same-income, same-age, same-passion French folk, we split. Truth: It's easier that way: I can't keep track of who owes whom what.

John Talbott

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My experience in France has always been splitting the check in half (or in equal parts based on the number of people/couples); looking too closely at it is what seems to be inappropriate, but I have never seen people take turns, in restaurants.

The only thing that hasn't fit into that category has been when one person really wants to have the others discover a wine s/he likes that is more expensive than usual; that person will say, "This bottle is on me," or something like that, and pay that much more at the end of the meal.

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I usually go with the rule that the one who invites is the one who pays. Unless the one who invites specifically says that they are going dutch.

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Because I never know if the way I do it can be considered a rule and also because there's no strict rule, of course.

But sometimes I pay the check, sometime the other party pays the check (if it's a party of 2), when I go out regularly with a friend we usually take turns, many times we split the bill equally, sometimes somebody at the table thinks they can escape the splitting by offering only the wine (this is considered on the verge of bad manners); sometimes it's count the wine out, split the remaining bill equally, then someone adds the price of the bottle to their share.

I would say that splitting the check equally no matter what each person has eaten or drunk is the most frequent occurrence.

Edited by Ptipois (log)
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I can't speak to French customs, but as a young professional in America who doesn't really drink, I tend to split the bill equally, unless someone dining with me has been ordering expensive alcohol, in which case we split it according to who ordered what, or they pay for the alcohol and we split the rest evenly. It's just that as a non-drinker, if I have to share the cost of people's alcohol all the time, it really won't ever just even out.

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A blurb in the freebie newspaper Metro today stated that 73% of French respondants in a survey done by SABMiller, prefer to buy others drinks rather than offer to split the check versus say Germany where 63% prefer to split the check and carefully calculate who's had what.

Now, I recall when I moved here being told by an American friend that the custom was to take someone or couple out and pay in full and they would reciprocate the next time.  Me, being paranoid, thought that could lead to striking disparities, so I proposed to French colleagues that we go "Dutch" (who were not mentioned in the SABMiller survey) and for 20 years no one has differed.

Thoughts?  For instance, is there an age factor involved (as there is in the Sarko/Carla in the public eye discussion).

I've often thought that splitting the bill over here seems somewhat more awkward than it does in America or England, where it usually goes without saying. And people here do seem more likely to offer to pay for a round of aperitifs or something, whereas in America or England we often dispense with that round altogether, heh. So definitely it wouldn't surprise me at all to know that the French are less likely to split the bill than others.

Another funny thing I've noticed is that many people here seem to leave no tip. I mean, I know we're supposed to tip less here than in America, but I thought it was still customary to leave some small change or something. And yet I've never seen anyone do that in all the years I've lived here.

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Another funny thing I've noticed is that many people here seem to leave no tip.  I mean, I know we're supposed to tip less here than in America, but I thought it was still customary to leave some small change or something.  And yet I've never seen anyone do that in all the years I've lived here.

We've had this discussion elsewhere before and I'm going to start another topic on what could be an interesting conversation.

John Talbott

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Regarding the French tendencies on"who pays", in my view several factors support what I experience as equal splitting of a restaurant meal:

1) Certain cultural practices in France seem to reinforce the pride of the French in their “divise” or national motto: Liberté, égalité, fraternité. Equal splitting of the bill is one such example (though I admit not all cultural practices in France reflect this!)

2) The widespread use of "tickets de restaurant" provides a structural mechanism enabling colleagues. no matter what their salary level, to dine together at lunchtime with everyone able pay their own way by handing over the requisite number of meal tickets (about 8.00€) . Most bistros, cafés and many restaurants offer at least one lunchtime "formule" that is just about, or just over the average of 1 to 2 tickets (9€ or 16€). Everyone can order the "formule", plonck down 1 or 2 tickets + one or two coins and the whole meal is covered.

I do agree with other posts that context plays the most important role (who did the inviting, differences in age/relationship/socio-economic status). However, all things being equal, the French are totally appalled at those who would sit at the end of a meal calculating exactly what they ate, how much they drank, wither they had dessert or not, etc. They dislike discussing money, and even more so dislike to split hairs about it. Better to moderate one's behavior at the various stages of the process, in selecting the restaurant, or ordering courses by asking "what are you thinking of having?" or declining the dessert because others have done so.

As for French tipping practices (nearly non-existant) this is still something I find too "mean". As a former waitress who partially paid college tuition by waiting tables, I still cannot bear to exit a restaurant without leaving a few coins if the service was good. My French & Italian husband believes in the principale that people who work in restaurants should be paid a fair wage, and he believes that the French system of "service compris" indeed provides for fair wages. He therefore finds my need to tip to be an excessive behavior born out of the inherent inequalities that exist in my countries of origin (US & UK).

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  • 2 weeks later...

I agree with much of what Anne Paris said. I spend a month or two each year in Paris and often dine out with French friends. I have found that most expect to split the bill unless someone proposes something different, i.e., specifically invited me to the dinner.

With my poorer friends, I often make clear that I am inviting and they are my guests, or I may in the course of the meal announce that I want to treat everyone to a bottle of good wine. With one friend, we just take turns. But I have never done a precise calculation of "who had what and what do they owe," which is so common and annoying in the US.

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