2021-06-10 17:13


Question: To AA or Not to AA in China?

When I first came to China back in 2014, I started to notice striking differences between American and Chinese culture. Much of it I could only begin to understand on the surface level for the first few years, but some, such as how generous the Chinese are when paying for meals, was something I came to realize early on.

I remember my first experience with this generosity. It was after my first short-term course ended and our class invited the teacher out for dinner. We had planned on splitting the bill among all fifteen of us and treating our teacher. Our teacher, a young masters student making around three thousand RMB per month (around 500 USD), had other plans. Towards the end of the meal she said she had to use the restroom and was gone for five minutes. Twenty minutes later when we had finished eating and asked for the bill, we were astonished to find out it had been paid by none other than our teacher, who had used going to the restroom as a ruse to quietly settle the bill. This is entirely commonplace in China.

What is known as AA in China (splitting the bill / going Dutch, and not to be confused with Alcoholics Anonymous), is usually only used among acquaintances, and then rarely. In general, if someone treats you to a meal, the next time you are together, it is your turn. This is an unspoken rule that is adhered to by all. In this way, everyone gets a turn to show their generosity. In China, it is not uncommon to see friends fighting about who gets the privilege to pay for a meal. I remember countless times witnessing quite a scuffle as one person was trying to pull out their wallet while the other had them in a hold and was trying to force the waitress to take their cash instead. Of course, however heated it gets, it isnt a real fight; its all about trying to treat others to a meal. In China, it is vital to always keep in consideration how to let your host save face.

Some basic tips when eating out:

Be sure you have the money on hand to pay for the meal! There is nothing more embarrassing than realizing after trying to pay that your WeChat Pay is out of funds, your credit card has been declined, or you dont have enough cash on hand.

Say you are a student and are treated to the local Beijing delicacy, Peking Duck. Its an expensive meal, usually between two and four hundred RMB (approximately 30C60 USD), and oftentimes a lot more. If you are a foreign student abroad in China, this can be quite a sum to spend on a meal. How do you repay them? Easy! There is no expectation of an equivalent price being paid for the meal you repay them with. Say you get the chance to treat this friend to a meal, choosing a local noodle joint or kebabs (around 15 USD) is adequate enough.

There are many ways to sneak away from the table long enough to settle the bill. Going to the restroom excuse is the most common. Be sure to do this around halfway through the meal if you hope to beat everyone else to it.

Name: Seth Mattson

Nationality: American

University: Beijing Language and Culture University

Time Spent in China: 4 years

Places of Residence: Beijing

This article is selected from the book 101 tips for living in China

You can click "Read More" below to buy this book.


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