When I was in Beijing for school, I went to a restaurant and correctly ordered “麻婆豆腐 (Mápódòufu) Mapo Tofu” and “宫保鸡丁 (Gōngbǎojīdīng) Kung-Pao Chicken.” I can’t express how excited I was at the time. Back in Europe, I recited common Chinese menus endlessly to invisible waiters and at times in Mandarin class. After the meal, I stood up and happily shouted “算账！ (suànzhàng) check, please.” However, everyone turned around and stared at me. It seemed my Chinese lessons weren’t over and I realized people nowadays just say “买单 (mǎidān)” to ask for a check.
Actually, in Chinese, the term “算账 (suànzhàng)” means to calculate the cost of something, but now people use it as a term for getting revenge or sorting somebody out. For example, Jim made a fool out of Eric and so Eric says:
Nǐ děngzhe, wǒ chízǎo huì zhǎo nǐ suànzhàng de.
你 等着， 我 迟早 会 找 你 算账 的。
You just wait, I’ll sort you out sooner or later.
Years ago, when people wanted to pay the bill, “算账 (suànzhàng)” was the popular phrase, but now “买单 (mǎidān),” originating from Cantonese, has taken over as the commonplace term. It also carries the meaning of being responsible for something. In this usage, we might see it expressed in newspaper and magazine headlines for example,
Shuí lái wèi lóushì jiàngjià mǎidān?
谁 来 为 楼市 降价 买单？
Who will be responsible for the price reduction in real estate?
算账 (suànzhàng) v. to revenge/to sort somebody out
Nǐ zhècì rě lǎobǎn shēngqì, tā yídìng huì zhǎo nǐ suànzhàng de.
你 这次 惹 老板 生气， 他 一定 会 找 你 算账 的。
You really made the boss angry this time; he’ll sort you out for sure.
买单 (mǎidān) v. to pay for the bill/to be responsible for something
Jīntiān wǒ mǎidān, dàjiā jǐnguǎn chī ba.
今天 我 买单， 大家 尽管 吃 吧。
I’ll pay for the bill today, just enjoy yourselves.
Zhè bù diànyǐng gàosu dàjiā: zuìzhōng wèi nǐ de àiqíng mǎidān de zhǐyǒu nǐ zìjǐ.
这 部 电影 告诉 大家：最终 为 你 的爱情 买单 的 只有 你自己。
This movie tells us that in the end, only you will be responsible for your love.
Choose the correct answer to fill in the blank.
1. Fúwùyuán, ____.
Hǎo de, yígòng shì 245 yuán.
Waitress: 好 的，一共 是 245 元。
OK, in total it’s 245 Yuan.
A. 算账 (suànzhàng) B. 买单 (mǎidān) C. 卖单 (màidān)
2. Mike makes Jack lose his chance at a promotion. Jack grumbles to Mike:
Nǐ děngzhe, wǒ chízǎo huì zhǎo nǐ ____ de.
你 等着， 我 迟早 会 找 你____ 的。
You wait, I will ____ sooner or later.
A. 算账 (suànzhàng) B. 买单 (mǎidān) C. 帮忙 (bāngmáng)
Answers to the practice questions: 1. B 2. A