Whether you’re on a date or enjoying dinner with friends, one of the most widely-accepted ways to pay the bill is to split the tab evenly or to simply pay for your own portion. This custom is colloquially referred to as “going Dutch.” However, what is so Dutch about the habit of paying your own share? Why is splitting the bill called “going Dutch”?
The term actually has a few different backstories, depending on where in history you look. We’ll explain why this term became the accepted phrase for splitting the check, and give you some interesting trivia for the next time you find yourself sharing the tab.
What Does “Going Dutch” Mean?
Before getting into the history of the phrase, we first need to clear up just what “going Dutch” actually means.
In a casual sense, “going Dutch” can refer to two different payment methods: splitting a check evenly, or paying for your own portion of the bill. While “going Dutch” can be used to describe both practices, the latter is considered more correct in a stricter sense of the term.
Early Origins of “Going Dutch”
Many phrases similar to “going Dutch” can be traced back to the 17th century, during the cold war between England and the then-Dutch Republic (now Netherlands). Both countries were competing for naval superiority, a rivalry that eventually culminated in the Anglo-Dutch wars.
During this time of conflict, the word “Dutch” came to have a derogatory connotation in England. It was given various meanings, including cheap, selfish, alcoholic, poor, treacherous, or wrong.
The first in-print use of “Dutch” as a derogatory term appeared in 1654 in R. Whitlock’s Zworouia: “The contract is not (like Dutch Bargains) made in Drinke.” From that point on, phrases such as Dutch palate (meaning low class) and Dutch reckoning (a non-itemized bill that seems too high) began to enter the public lexicon.
Why Is Splitting the Bill Called “Going Dutch”?
While many derisive phrases with the word “Dutch” came out of that period of Dutch/English rivalry, the actual term “going Dutch” has a more American origin.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, many German immigrants would begin to migrate to the United States. In Europe at that time, “High Dutch” was a nickname for people living in some parts of Germany. Those immigrants that settled in Pennsylvania came to be known as the Pennsylvania Dutch.
The Pennsylvania Dutch prided themselves on never owing a debt and only purchasing things that they could afford. As a result, individuals in groups made a point to pay for themselves when going out to eat or to entertainment venues. Over time, “going Dutch” came to represent the practice of paying for your own portion of a bill.
Though other expressions, like “Dutch lunch” and “Dutch treat,” were more common at first, “going Dutch” would become more popular after the start of the 20th century.
Other “Dutch” Phrases
In addition to “going Dutch,” several other phrases (some derogatory) came into use around this time, including:
- Dutch courage: Drinking alcohol for a dose of bravery, dating back to 1826 when Sir Walter Scott wrote, “Laying in a store of what is called Dutch courage.”
- Dutch bargain: A contract made when someone is drunk.
- Dutch feast: When the host becomes drunk before their guests do.
- Dutch concert: When multiple tunes are being played simultaneously.
Whether you choose to split the bill or treat your friends the next time you go out, at least you’ll have a new piece of trivia to share with your table!