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Splitting the bill

By Nickunj Malik - Aug 30,2017 - Last updated at Aug 30,2017

There is something comforting about going Dutch, you know, where each person who is participating in a group activity, pays for themselves, rather than any person paying for everyone else. In normal parlance it is called “splitting the bill”. But the concept, I am sad to report, is completely lost on Indians. It is non-existent in Arab society also, I must add. Both the cultures are similar in dismissing it as a foreign custom, which remains completely alien to them. On the contrary, they go overboard in showering their hospitality and most often are witnessed, fighting over the bill. 

So serious is their intention of overruling each other that when I was a child, at the end of any meal in a restaurant, I would get scared when I saw my hefty uncles tussle over the printed invoice. They would each grab the paper that was in the leather folder, and pull it in opposite directions. My fear increased with the worry that the slip might tear, inviting the ire of the management. In fact I am quite sure they thought that splitting the bill meant literally tearing it into two parts. 

Generosity towards the guests is taken very seriously in my home country. The phrase “atithi devo bhava”, which means, “the guest is equivalent to God”, is a Sanskrit verse written in our ancient scriptures that has been universally accepted as a code of conduct in India. So, to be given an opportunity to look after a visitor is understood as a chance to serve God. This belief cuts across all classes and the host families go out of their way to make the visitors feel welcomed and cherished. They open their homes and hearts and when the guests leave after a short stay, their eyes tear up while saying goodbye. 

I am acutely familiar with all this but having got accustomed to fending for myself whilst living abroad; I have to relearn my traditions. Like I mentioned right at the outset, going Dutch, has its advantages. You can drink as many carafes of wine as you want, for instance, without bothering about the escalating cost that someone else ends up settling. You are also spared from paying for somebody’s exotic sweet-dish, which you did not even order because you were on a diet. If you think from the head, there can never be a more straightforward arrangement than this, where everyone is accountable for themselves. But if you think from your heart, well, then there can hardly be anything more foolish than segregating each item according to individual consumption, despite going out together as a group. 

My sturdy uncles, who are quite elderly now, continue to fight over wanting to pay the bill. I visited them recently and got a first-hand experience of their manoeuvrings. The first day, after a sumptuous lunch, the bill was wrestled out of the grasp of the older one. The victor went away grinning with the prized slip to the cash counter. At dinner, the vanquished uncle extracted his revenge as the tab did not appear once the meal ended because he had already given his credit card to the restaurant manager earlier on.

On the final day of my trip, I tried to take charge.

“Let me contribute something,” I pleaded.

“Ok,” my uncles chorused together.

“Here you are,” they said, tearing the receipt into two.

“What are you doing?” I asked.


“Splitting the bill,” they chuckled.

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