No, let me pay!

October 01, 2010 By: erik Category: Complaining, Fighting Stupidity, Musings, Spain 726 views

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Fourteen Thousand EurosThere are many, many social customs that confuse the hell out of me, but one of the most strange is the insistence of adults to pay for each others’ meals. In the US, when I would go out to eat with my coworkers, we’d always split the bill among everyone. Each person would pull out their credit card, and the waiter or waitress would give us each individual bills. Simple and fair.

In Spain, however, there is a big “buying rounds” culture that was very foreign to me at first. While this somewhat extends to meals, in Spain the “no, let me pay!” issue comes up more often with buying rounds of drinks. Due to the geographical layout of towns and the prevalence of bars, there is a big bar-hopping culture. So it’s very common to visit several bars on a midday walk with your friends, and in each bar, only one person in the group pays for the drinks. It rotates at each bar, and if you go an outing or two without paying for any rounds, people notice. I’m fine with this. The drinks are so cheap and the company so good that I rather enjoy it. You pay for a round, and then it feels, emotionally, that you get a bunch of “free” drinks after that.

What I don’t get is when people get insistent, or even angry, about the right to pay. This is not unique to Spaniards. Americans do this too, but mostly over whole meals, which is even stupider.

First of all, let’s admit that the person that pays for everyone’s meal comes off worse than everyone else who just had a free meal. It’s true. There may be some pride of “providing for loved ones” or something, but you’re still out a bunch of money that no one else spent. Why would people fight over wanting to be the losing party? In Spain, I have seen people take the money someone else has put on the bar to pay and throw it on the floor, or forcibly put it in the attempted owner’s pocket in order to pay themselves. So sacred is this “right to pay” that people go a little crazy. I’ve never seen it reach actual physical violence, but I’ve seen some nasty name calling.

I have friends with whom I have had dinner on half a dozen occasions, and they have insisted on paying every time. At some point it becomes insulting, like they think they are better than me or that I am too poor to pay. Ironically (or perhaps not), it’s almost always someone poorer than me that exhibits this behavior.

How many times have you heard this conversation at a table when the bill arrives?

A: “I’ll get this.”

B: “No, let me pay.”

A: “No, I’ll pay.”

B: “No, really, I’ll pay.”

A: “No, let me pay.”

B: “No, I’ve got this.”

It’s fighting over who will have the “privilege” of leaving the restaurant with less money.

I absolutely refuse to participate in this bullshit. I’ve decided to no longer be insulted or feel guilty about letting you pay even when it’s my turn. If you want to choose to be the loser in our social relationship, that’s your prerogative.

My Policy

If you ever go out to dinner with me, and we aren’t splitting the check, remember this:

I will offer to pay ONLY ONCE.

If you get to the bill first and declare you will pay for it, I will say, “No, let me pay,” once. At that point, you can either agree to let me pay or not. If you say, “No, let me pay,” after that, I will let you pay. Every time. This policy will result in one of three outcomes:

  1. You will always pay. I win.
  2. Eventually you will get tired of always paying and will accept my offer. We both win.
  3. You will become so annoyed with my unwillingness to ask to pay six times that you will stop going out with me. In which case perhaps we shouldn’t be friends anyway.

Society has some truly ridiculous rituals, and this wallet martyring is one I will never understand.

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  • uncle Neil

    My opinion is that people who do this so you notice it do not feel as confident as you. They do not feel as good about their lives and themselves as you do. Probably complicated by the fact that you are American and seem to have no problem with resources which have been more difficult, or a big problem, for them yet it is one thing they can do in your presence at least once in a while. Of your three outcomes I think you should change annoyed to trouble paying life expenses to continue eating out socially with you.

    I sympathize with you though. I have told people I don’t like to go out to eat at all. I would rather make food and share at home and do other things together socially besides spend money. Some people insist and drag me off someplace and pay.

  • This happens every time I take my parents out to dinner.

    • Bloody Westerners…

      Incidentally, I’d be curious to know how my Asian brethren handle this issue.

    • Paul

      In defense of all parents, it is likely that their parents constantly treated them. Those of us blessed with great parents sometimes have trouble changing the mold.

  • pete wood

    Playing the bill at a restaurant is a display of dominance. You will notice that fighting over the check is primarily a male behavior. Women almost never engage in it.

    For men, paying the bill is a way to establish yourself, temporarily, as the alpha male of the group. It does not always work, but if a man can afford it, paying the check is an easy and cheap way to display power and dominance over others. The men who “lose” the “fight”, for this “privilege” are relegated to being beta males, leaving the restaurant like children having to thank their “father” for the meal. Many men would rather pay the bill then be subjected to this “humiliation”.

    Keep in mind that the man paying the check must have the financial means to afford to pay it, and the group must be aware that he can afford to pay it, otherwise, paying the bill can backfire. The “battle” for the check must be a battle of financial equals. A man working as a minimum wage clerk, who offers to pay the check at a table full of Wall Street executives, will look foolish, and be ridiculed if he tries.

    As I mentioned earlier, women almost never fight over the check at a restaurant. This is because women have no desire to appear like an alpha male.
    Most women possess a great degree of social awareness, and they are keenly aware of who the alpha male in the group is (assuming there is one). If a woman does attempt to pay the bill it is usually to block a male from attempting to display dominance. This happens mostly on “dates”, but I have seen it happen in groups as well, usually by the “mother hen” type (alpha female).

    If you are a male, and you don\’t “get it” then your frugality is clouding your social awareness.

    • Thank you, Pete. I was hoping someone would go all Desmond Morris on this. It’s not that I don’t notice or understand the social dynamics involved; it’s that I specifically choose not to participate.

  • pete wood

    This phenomenon has annoyed me greatly. I also do not participate, primarily because I cannot afford to play this game. I have a lot of somewhat wealthy relatives. If I could afford it, I must admit, I would. It has such a great bang for the buck, and most people are unaware of the true social dynamics involved.

    The best way to stop this behavior is to call attention to it. Point out, in a humorous way how; fighting over the bill is a power play. Get everyone to agree that splitting the bill is best for everyone.

    Just take the total bill + tip and divide it evenly among all the alphas. You will then notice, I bet, another phenomenon; some of the alphas will be unhappy with this arrangement. They will be upset for having to pay more than they should have or they may imply that another alpha is going to write off the entire meal as a business expense.
    If you don\’t notice this, you can point it out in a humorous way:

    “Hey uncle Harry, All you ate was a bowl of soup and it cost you 40 bucks, Wow, this place is expensive.”


    “I bet uncle Bob is going to expenses the whole check. He\’s going to make a profit on this meal.”

    If you can pull this off, then you control the situation, or at least the frame of reference.

    You have become the alpha of the group, and you didn\’t need to pay the whole bill to do it.

  • Jake

    just throw what you owe…it’s not complicated.

    • I agree that it shouldn’t be, but Society makes it needlessly complicated. What do you do if someone asks to pay? Do you let them? How far to you go in that fight? How about the second time in a row, and the third?

      The correct answer is somewhere between knocking the other guy down and taking the check and always letting him pay. But it’s just annoying that such a conflict should arise in the first place when “just throw what you owe” is the obviously the most fair, best strategy for all parties involved.

  • pete wood

    Throw in what you owe?


    It\’s not that simple.

    Lets say that your daughter is dating a new guy. We\’ll call him Bruce.
    You, your wife, your daughter and Bruce decide to go out to dinner together. Bruce works in his father\’s business. He\’s not a better man than you, but he makes more money, and he knows how to use it as a weapon to establish dominance. Bruce picks the restaurant. It\’s a classy place and it\’s expensive. At the end of the evening, you attempt to “throw in what you owe”, but your daughter stops you by saying Its OK daddy, Bruce already paid the bill (Bruce paid in advance, he knows all the tricks). You attempt to recover by saying something like “thanks Bruce, you\’re my kind of guy”. Bruce responds by patting you on the back and replying “Its my pleasure Jake”. At that point you realize that you just thanked some young punk, who\’s now calling you by your first name and patting you on the back like a little boy. He\’s the alpha male and that fact won\’t go unnoticed by your daughter or your wife.

    Later that night, Bruce will be busy being thanked again for his “generosity”, this time by your daughter.

    You will be arguing with your wife. She won\’t understand why you are pissed off that this kid paid the bill, patted you on the back and called you by your first name. She will point out that it was very generous of him to pay the bill. At this point I suggest that you save your breath. It\’s become “complicated”.

    Ironically what you dislike about Bruce will be the same things that your wife and daughter like about him.

    After a few experiences like this, it isn\’t hard to see why a guy would fight so hard to pay the bill.

    • The truth is that the issue is very, very complex. And there are thousands of different types of relationships (siblings, parent-child, corporate client, employer-employee, etc.) and personality types. As much as I would like there to be, there is no rule that covers all situations.

      When parents insist on paying, I think their motives are one of being a Provider, not so much on dominating (making the other party submissive), but there is a sense of power in being the provider. There is a lot of pride in being about to provide for your family, and being perceived as not being able to is part of why the hypothetical Jake in Pete’s story might be offended, whether it was Bruce’s intention or not to imply that.

      Personally, I think that people that would use the bill intentionally as a dominance display are being jerks (key word in italics).

    • hilltop

      Just because Daddy is a pushover doesn’t mean that Daughter isn’t a whore. And I think you are confusing Alpha with Asshole. These examples all sound like they should end with “Tired of taking a backseat to all the Alphas? Want to learn how to control your destiny with women? Just send $49.95 to…”

      • Attention readers! There is a donate link at the top of the blog.

        • pete wood

          simon, hilltop and I are donating content to your blog.

          That’s our contribution.

          Although, I wouldn’t consider hilltop’s contributions content.

          Hey hilltop, kick in 10 bucks.

          What exactly will hilltop’s donation be used for?

          I want to make sure his donation is for a good cause.

          Can he claim a tax deduction?

          • hilltop

            There is a difference between contributing content and simply increasing the word count. I know your teachers expect a 500 word essay, but it just bores the life out of me. And it insults the English language to use 30 sentences to say what can be said in 5.

            Poor logic, poor writing, poor manners… I don’t think that a lack of money is what is holding back your Alpha fantasies. Perhaps you should read Roissy’s blog? Sure you can’t be an Alpha – but you can always learn to pretend.

          • pete wood


            After that last post you only have to donate 5 bucks.

          • Hey! Excuse me, but I’ll be the one who gives the discounts around here!

            Also, congrats on figuring out the “reply” button. 🙂

          • pete wood


            Sorry hilltop.

            The discount is up to Erik

  • I don’t have time for any of this “alpha male” bullshit. If some guy wants to massage his own ego by paying the bill because he thinks it makes him “dominant”, that’s his business, but don’t think it’ll make me feel weak or “submissive”.

  • pete wood

    Nobody cares whether or not you feel “weak or “submissive”” simon (not even your mother). It\’s all about how you are perceived that counts.

    You remind me of a friend of mine who I would go to dance clubs with when I was younger. A dance club is essentially a room full of beautiful women and aggressive alpha male guys. He never hooked up because; he didn\’t have time for bullshit (games). Instead he sat in the corner sipping a beer. I guess he was hoping for an angel (who doesn\’t play bullshit games) to fall out of the sky.

    Don\’t worry simon, when the bill comes, and you just sit there and let another guy pay, the group will instinctively know that you don\’t have time for bullshit.

    What we are looking for here are ways to deal with this issue.
    This issue is as serious as if you were in a dance club talking to an attractive woman and some alpha male came up from behind and picked you up and moved you out of the way. Wow, that would suck. (Hum, maybe if I gain a lot of weigh?)

    To really understand this topic you need to live in a social network full of somewhat wealthy alpha males.

    Interestingly, BUYING A WOMAN A DRINK IN A BAR DOES NOT WORK. The social dynamics are too obvious. It\’s always that way when beautiful women are involved.

    • 1) I guess I’m lucky enough that I rarely have to worry about the perceptions of fellow diners. Anyone else at my table is likely to already be a friend or family member, and I doubt I’d plummet in their estimations just because on one occasion I let someone else pay the bill.
      2) You make it sound as if I deliberately go to restaurants expecting someone else to pay for me. If I were in the market for a partner I wouldn’t go to a dance club in the first place, because that’s not the kind of environment in which I’d expect to find someone compatible. For example, the kind of person who isn’t impressed by “alpha male” games.
      3) Again I count myself lucky that I don’t live in a “social network full of somewhat wealthy alpha males”.
      4) Buying women drinks doesn’t work because it’s “too obvious”? I suppose engaging them in conversation doesn’t work either? Does this insight come from personal experience? What does work? I’d be interested to know.

  • pete wood


    This thread is about dealing with individuals who insist on paying the bill at a restaurant in order to gain social status at the expense of others.

    You obviously are not experiencing this issue.

    Why are you here?

    You are like a guy who visits a cancer support web site to brag that he\’s lucky because he doesn\’t have cancer and then implies that cancer doesn\’t really exists.

    We\’re suffering Simon!

    Hey, I\’m just kidding with you.

    I understand that if you are not experiencing this issue it is hard to imagine that it exists, but it does. As I mentioned earlier, I would be engaging in it myself if had enough money to do so. It is very effective.

    All women want an alpha male.

    If you meet a woman that you are compatible with; you both have a similar sense of humor; and you both know it, the only missing ingredient to keep you out of the “lets just be friends zone” for you, is her looks, and for her its whether you are an alpha male or not. If you are an alpha male, then you are her prince; otherwise you are her putz. If you are her prince you are in heaven, if you are her putz, then you are in purgatory.

    Here is a test Simon:

    Tell your girl, “Tomorrow, we are going to rob a bank”. If she says, “what time should I be ready?” she\’s a keeper. If she says “No, I can\’t, I have a date, I\’m sorry”, run the other way.

    But remember how she answers is all up to you.

    How do you know when a woman has lost her interest in you?
    She nags.

    When a guy complains about a nagging wife. I know who’s fault it is.
    It’s his fault. He has become a beta male. She is no longer attracted to him and so she’s unhappy, and he’s unhappy too.

    Buying a woman a drink in a bar doesn\’t work for several reasons.
    1. It implies you are assuming the provider role and daddy only gets a kiss on the cheek.
    2. It implies you expect something in return. If it was only that easy, any guy could do it.
    3. Most importantly, it implies that you are not her social equal. It implies that in order for you to talk to her you must come bearing gifts, pay homage to her beauty. She wants a guy of greater social value than herself not less.

    Yes of course you have to engage a woman in conversation at a club.

    What you need to do is counter intuitive. I could tell you but it would sound like I was talking out of my ass.

    I’m not an expert anyway, and there are better web sites for that topic.

    • It’s a good thing, Pete, that you stopped short of sounding like you were talking out of your ass. Your philosophy might get you laid, but good luck making it to your second wedding anniversary with a wife with half a brain.

  • pete wood


    What part of what I wrote don\’t you agree with?

    Is it the part that all women want an alpha male?

    By definition, in any group, human or animal, the alpha male is the one that gets the females.


    Women are attracted to alpha male qualities.

    Social awareness

    Being more alpha will make you a better person and that will attract more women to you. You can then choose the one you want rather than having to take what you can get.

    And if you are already in a relationship then becoming more alpha will make your partner more attracted to you.

    Cultivating or clinging to beta male qualities has the opposite affect.

    Going into a nightclub to meet women requires courage, social awareness, and the ability to withstand a great deal of social pressure and rejection without giving up. These are traits that are highly priced by any society.

    Paying the restaurant tab by comparison is cheating your way to alpha status. All it takes is money and social awareness. That\’s why I dislike it so much.

    I told you this was counter intuitive thats why I stopped.

  • hilltop

    My problem with penis-euphemism penis-euphemism is that he won’t use the damn “Reply” link to reply to someone’s comment.

    • That would be too submissive. Only conformist beta males use the “Reply” button. Women want a man that will make his statements at the root level.

      • hilltop

        Haha. I don’t reply to you – you reply to me!

  • Pete, what I don’t like about all of this is the extent to which it sidelines the women. Men dominate and “control the situation”. Women don’t even get to take responsibility for their own nagging – that’s the man’s fault too.
    Look, I’m sorry you find yourself needing to deal with this kind of thing in your daily life, but my solution (and, I think, Erik’s too, although I don’t presume to speak for him) is not play by the rules or try to bend them but not to “play the game” at all.
    And it’s worked fine for me so far.

    • I need to find some sort of comment rating plugin so I can give this comment a thousand stars.

  • pete wood


    Let me see if I understand.

    1. Simon doesn’t play by the rules.
    2. Simon chooses not to play the game at all.

    If a woman nags Simon, it can’t possibly be his fault. It’s her fault; she’s responsible. She needs to change and stop nagging.

    If Simons girl friend, or wife nags him, he never takes it a sign that maybe he’s doing something wrong.

    Simon doesn’t understand that you can’t change others. You can only change yourself. So he tells her to stop nagging.

    Simon has rules. Only the insane act in a random manner.
    Unfortunately, nobody (including his girl friend, poor girl) knows what those rules are, except for Simon. Since Simon is the only one that knows his rules, they can change at any time and they do change. One thing is for sure, if we did know Simons rules, we could point out how they benefit Simon at the expense of everyone else.

    The fact the Simon is unwilling to accept societies rules is proof that he chooses a set of rules that benefit him.

    Simon won’t conform to societies norms.
    Simon requires others to conform to him.

    Simon, tell me how ignoring the rules has worked for you so far.

    Give me specific situations.

    • hilltop

      I don’t understand. Which post is this in reply to?

      • pete wood


        I avoid the rely button because of the excessive indenting.

        You always use reply button because your comments are valueless and can’t stand on their own.

        • In answer to your question, Pete, no, you don’t understand. I never said that I ignore ALL societal rules. I said that I don’t play the macho dominance one-upmanship game.

          “If a woman nags Simon, it can\’t possibly be his fault”. Nope, I didn’t say that either, as you would know if you’d bothered to actually read my comment. You, however, did make the blanket statement that if a woman nags it is ALWAYS the man’s fault.

          You decline to give me specific examples which support your strategy (“I could tell you but it would sound like I was talking out of my ass”), yet insist that I provide “specific situations”.

          I think this conversation has long since degenerated from being a stimulating exchange of views into a purposeless slanging match based on distortions and oversimplifications, so if you’ll excuse me, I shall retire.

  • pete wood


    You’re too young to retire.

    I respect your decision to discontinue the discussion, but you seem to be always using the same excuse “I refuse to play the game”

    What you seem to take issue with is a technique to discredit your opponent, by taking what he says to the extreme in a humorous way.

    We are both guilty of this technique Simon, Go back and read some of your posts.

    Why are we doing it?

    Because it works, that\’s why.

    At least, I admit I\’m doing it, you won\’t admit it. You try to claim that you are above it all, but obviously you\’re not.

    You\’re giving up under the guise of integrity.

    You are using integrity to hide you lack of integrity, but I won’t hold it against you.

    Seriously, don’t take what I say personally.

    What I really want to talk about is the original topic.

    In one of my first posts I mentioned that we could deal with “fighting over the bill” by pointing out the social dynamics of why men insist on doing it in a humorous way. One caveat of doing this is that if you engage these “alpha males” in that way, they will become hostile and attempt to use your words against you. It then becomes a mental wrestling match, and everyone at the table will be watching to see who wins.

    This can be dangerous. Unlike going to a bar to meet women where you have the luxury of crashing and burning (who cares you won\’t see them again anyway). When you are out at a family function, you are with folks that you, unfortunately will have to see again and again and again.

    In response to “ALWAYS the man\’s fault”
    Since you can\’t change the world, you can only change yourself, it is best to assume that everything that happens to you is your “fault”, not some one else\’s “fault”, that way you have the power to improve your situation by changing your behavior and not hopping that the world will change to suit you.

  • I agree that your original suggestion of “pointing out the social dynamics of why men insist on doing it in a humorous way” might be useful. But don’t you see the contradiction in recommending laughing at their attempts to become the alpha male as a strategy for making yourself the alpha male (“everyone at the table will be watching to see who wins”)?

    I also I fail to see where in any of my comments I distorted your arguments.

    I’m not giving up under the guise of integrity, I’m giving up out of weariness and the belief that this conversation isn’t headed anywhere useful or edifying.

    Best to assume that everything is my fault? What an exhausting and stressful way to live. Better to try to see clearly where I’ve gone wrong and correct it where I can than to attempt to tackle problems over which I have no control.

    Too young to retire? Don’t be fooled by my avatar; that photo was taken a good few years ago.

    • hilltop

      You’re not giving up trolling the cancer websites are you, Simon?

      • Of course not. You think I spend all my time here?

  • Nobody

    Pretty interesting culture!

    I guess this has someting to do with Arab customs.