“Going Dutch”: Learn AA制 and When To Do It

Going Dutch


“Would you like separate checks, or all together?”

Anyone who has eaten in a North American restaurant knows this question from the waiter or waitress. When the plates have been taken away and it’s time to pay the bill, payment usually happens separately. It’s quite rare, unless it’s an office dinner or lunch, for one single individual to pay the bill at a restaurant.

In English, you can say “Go Dutch” to describe sharing the bill.

However, in China, it’s a bit different. Once someone at the table has called “买单(mǎi dān) check please!”, things tend to get a bit complicated.

There is often a verbal and sometimes physical wrestling match over who pays the bill. And, in general, it’s not fighting over not paying the bill, it’s a fight over who has the privilege of paying the entire bill. In China, you will not be paying the bill if you are:

1. If you’re visiting from out of town.
2. While attending a “thank you” dinner.
3. Especially if you find yourself an outsider in the group that has invited you out.
4. Perhaps you’re in the lower rank of a company.
5. Responding to an obvious “let me buy you a dinner” invitation.

In China, “going Dutch” is seen as stingy, or bad manners. Splitting the bill is traditionally unusual, but we do have a word for it: “AA制 (zhì)”.

Paying the bill by “AA制 (zhì) Going Dutch” is common among young Chinese when they are in school and not earning an income.

Once graduated and earning money, they will generally not choose “AA制 (zhì)”; one friend, family member or colleague will pick up the entire bill for the group.

So, what does “AA制 (zhì)” mean and where does it come from?

AA制 (zhì) is used as a noun.
While the term “AA制 (zhì)” is widely used in daily life, no one is exactly sure where it comes from, just like the term “going Dutch” has a mysterious origin, too!

There are a few theories about the origin of “AA制 (zhì)”:

“AA” is the abbreviation of: “Arithmetic Average”, “All Average”, “Average Amount” and“All Apart”
制 (zhì) means a system or to control/to regulate;

Examples of AA制 (zhì) being used in a sentence:

Jīntiān wǒmen AA zhì ba!
今天     我们    AA制   吧!
Let’s go Dutch today!

Wǒmen bù xūyào AA zhì , Jack yǐjīng mǎidān le.
我们       不  需要  AA制,Jack  已经    买单 了。
We don’t need to go Dutch. Jack has paid for the dinner.

So, remember the culture of paying the bill in China is a bit different from in the west. However, “going Dutch”, or “ AA制” is not unheard of in certain situations!

HSK 3 quiz

1. In China, when the restaurant bill arrives, you could suggest AA制 (zhì) if:
A. you have clients from out of town visiting
B. you are meeting your girlfriend’s parents
C. you’re on a first date with your potential soulmate
D. you are having a midnight snack with classmates after studying late



Further Reading

Video Lesson: My Treat!
Eat in A Restaurant
4 Things You Need to Know Before Traveling in China
Buying a SIM Card in China: the Chinese You Need

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