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 http://www.italki.com/user/1680717 to get more information.
Is it not rude to self invite friends without telling the host?
I think inviting other friends without letting the host know, under the assumption that he's going to foot the bill, is extremely rude. It seems pretty weird to me. I mean, I can understand and have dealt with the whole paying thing. Faking to go the toilet and all, or inviting people over for drinks after dinner and paying for those to make up. But inviting at least 7 extra, that's just insane. Personally I would always ask the host if it's okay to bring someone and then also suggest to just go AA on it since I'm bringing others.
I mean, what are they thinking? I'd feel used and seriously wonder how those "friends" see me that they think they can just do that to me.
I think there are two issues here:
1) if it's a casual social gathering where people might go out for drinks, cinema etc, then it is acceptable to invite other friends along. Usually, people will pay for themselves in such a situation
2) If it is a dinner, I have to think that even in China, it's impolite to invite other people along, not inform the host and then let the host pay for them! At the very least, there should be an offer to give some money to the host to pay for the people who he doesn't know.
It's easy to select your friends in such a situation.
I don't think that invite other friends without letting the host know in advance is one part of our traditional culture. I must declare it committed that people who have accepted good education would ask the host whether they could invite other persons definitely. And more and more people who live in metropolises Split the bill now, only way that should be noticed is you must tell everyone before.
Two days ago, two of my American students went to Chengdu with me. My Chengdu local friend wanted to show her hospitality to us. So she drove for us the whole day, and also insisted to pay the bill for us. But my American students think that they should pay for my friend, because she shown us around and drove for us. I can understand both of their points, acctually I also think my students and I should pay the bill for my friend. So I tried to tell her that we wanted to pay the bill for her, but she became a little bit angry at that time. So I didn't insist that we should pay for the bill.
Sometimes it's easier to understand than to make it happen.