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Why and How to Not Go Dutch

February 20th, 2020 by dk

I have nothing against the people and heritage of Holland, but I don’t feel indebted either. I’ve never forgiven them for their wooden shoes. We Oregonians know something about both footwear and lumber. I can say with some authority they should never be combined.

And so it is, with malice toward none, that I refuse to split the check when I’m dining with friends. I’m not willing to go Dutch. Please consider my case. I start with two beliefs — the first is simple and straightforward. The second is debatable, but worthy of the debate.

Start with what’s simple. No two things are ever completely equal. Unless you and your dining partner order the same items off the menu, one of you is likely to be spending a bit less than the other. Drinks are frequently the culprit, where individual tastes and habits vary more widely. Splitting the check is inevitably unfair to one of you.

We say we don’t care about that, because our meal mate is somebody whose company we enjoy. Whoever paid a bit extra was compensated with conversation and companionship. The transaction’s most important elements are not strictly economic.

So why not acknowledge that truth in a more full-throated way, by either paying the whole bill or allowing your partner to pay it? This is where it gets less simple, in two dimensions at once. But again I say, it’s worth the trouble to think through both why and how we could do things differently.

Splitting the check allows all parties to feel self-sufficient. Why should that matter when we’re with friends? Do we really want to end each shared meal with a signal that there may never be another? I’d rather do the opposite. Taking turns picking up the check is a way of ending each event with a very different message: “Let’s do this again.” Isn’t that what we’d rather convey?

Even if I’ve made a compelling case for why, we then must confront the question of how. Who can remember who paid the bill last time, when it was weeks or months ago? I’ve developed a solution.

My smart phone allows me to attach a customized date to any contact I’ve stored. People use this feature to keep track of the day they met, or the date they were hired, or any other significant event. I’ve added two customized date fields and labeled them “I paid” and “They paid.” I update the contact information after each meal we share.

This way, next time, I not only remember whether it’s my turn or theirs. I also know how long it’s been since we last shared a meal. Most of my recurring lunches occur quite a bit less frequently than we both believe.

Does this make things equal? No. (See simple belief No. 1, above.) The goal is never to make things equal or fair or easy. It’s only to deepen the friendships we’re celebrating.

My one-person campaign against going Dutch isn’t likely to succeed. I’m tilting against windmills here, which are far more useful than shoes that give you splinters.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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