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

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

The 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?

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. Even if you’re considerate and split the restaurant bill with your friend, you may still be making these table etiquette mistakes.

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. If you’re “going Dutch,” here are 11 great ways for both of you to save money while dining out.

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.

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”). Now that you know the origins of “going Dutch,” here are 30 more explanations behind things you always wondered about.


Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a word nerd who has been writing for since 2017. You can find her byline on pieces about grammar, fun facts, the meanings of various head-scratching words and phrases, and more. Meghan graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2017; her creative nonfiction piece “Anticipation” was published in the Spring 2017 issue of Angles literary magazine.