Is Splitting the Bill Part of White Culture?

MJ Adia
6 min readJun 10, 2022

Let’s look at the US’s obsession with fairness and tit-for-tat when eating out with friends and family: Is this another symptom of Call-Out Culture?

Two women eating, the scales of justice
Photo by Adrienn: Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash Adapted by Author on Canva

When I was around twenty-two, I visited one of my good college friends in her home country, Nepal. Frequently we would go out to eat, along with another young woman from the United States who was doing a Fulbright in photography. When it came time to pay the bill, we US citizens would pull out our calculators on our phones and divide up the bill fair and square so that everyone paid for their own meal. My Nepali friend once said, “This is so American. In my culture, we don’t spend the end of the meal divvying up everything, someone just pays.” Or something to that effect.

This is true. Oftentimes, friends or family can get very exacting with money, especially around eating out, or I Owe You’s. Some people might call this “fair,” that each person is responsible for the exact amount they ordered and ate. I could understand this. As an adopted person, I have a high sensitivity to not being a burden, even financially, to others, so it is sometimes part of my own adoption issues of self-worth to make sure I “pay people back,” or “pay people properly,” or that I am not making someone pay more than their share on my account. On the other hand, I am trying to free myself from the idea that money is linear.

What do I mean by that? Of course, I understand that people make a certain amount of money every month, provided they have a job. What comes in goes out in monthly expenses as well. During graduate school, I enrolled in a savings match program that taught budgeting classes where we literally nickel and dimed our whole lives down to the very day, not in an effort to be strict on ourselves but to have a good sense of what comes in and what goes out. My Nepali friend’s comparison between divvying up the bill or having one person pay reflected a “people-centered” approach that I witnessed in Peru with respect to time. Whereas Western societies (read white) prize time and also product-oriented approaches, Peru was more driven by connection than timeliness.

For example, I lived nearly six years in Peru I learned that a friend could show up an hour (and a half) late for an agreed-upon meeting, and the other doesn’t get mad because they…

MJ Adia

Black-Filipina. Lived in Peru for 5 years. LICSW, dancer, meditator. Writes about multiculturalism, cinema, race, social issues.