This Is Why Splitting the Bill Is Called “Going Dutch”

It has to do with a European country... but it's not the Netherlands!

Anutr-Yossundara/ShutterstockThe fairest way to handle paying a restaurant tab with a large group of people usually involves splitting the check and having everyone pay his or her own share. If you’ve ever heard this habit referred to as “going Dutch,” your reaction was probably confusion. What’s “Dutch” about paying exactly what you owe? What does it have to do with a single nationality? (Here’s why you should open your car door like the Dutch.)

Well, the phrase is actually not referring to Dutch people at all… it’s referring to German people! Allow us to explain.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, many German-speaking people immigrated to the United States, Pennsylvania in particular. In Europe at that time, “High Dutch” was a nickname for people living in some parts of Germany. (The German word for “German” is “Deutsch,” after all.) The “Dutch” moniker stuck over in the United States, where these people began to be called the Pennsylvania Dutch. Learn some words only Pennsylvania natives will know, plus other funky regional slang.

Apparently, the Pennsylvania Dutch quickly developed a reputation for never leaving a debt unpaid. They would always pay their own share at restaurants and taverns, never owing anyone any money. Here are 12 great ways to save some dough at restaurants.

And “going Dutch” isn’t the only phrase that came from this association of “Dutch” with paying your share (even if it is the most widely used today). In 1873, The Daily Democrat comically suggested that drinkers in pubs might not be quite so rowdy if they chose “the Dutch treat.” In 1897, a Morning Journal writer described how he and his friends “go on the ‘Dutch lunch’ plan: everybody for himself.” In fact, “go” or “going Dutch” was the last of these phrases to gain popularity. It was first used around 1914. Here’s another habit we might be wise to copy from the Germans: “free-range” parenting.

However, splitting the bill is gradually becoming a more common—and global—practice (it’s still considered rude in many parts of the world!) In some countries, Pennsylvanians aren’t singled out. Egyptians call splitting the bill Englizy, or “English-style,” and people in Pakistan call it “the American system”! Turkey, meanwhile, avoids the German/Dutch confusion by calling it hesabi Alman usulü ödemek (“to pay the German way”). Here are some more words and phrases that might not mean what you think they do.



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