To go Dutch

Example in use: “The whole team went out for something to eat after the meeting. It was a great chance to really get to know each other and at the end of the meal, we all went Dutch. There was such a big pile of cash – notes and coin - in the middle of the table as everyone threw in their share!”

Meaning: each person pays for their own share of a group activity or that the cost of a group activity is split equally between the participants, especially referring to a restaurant bill

Possible German equivalent: getrennte Kasse machen

Possible origin: This is one of several phrases in English which refer to the Dutch and seem to originate from the time when the British and Dutch were at war with each other. As with most forms of propaganda, the phrase has been used over the years to suggest a negative national characteristic of being tight with their money.

However, the idiom seems to have more in common with Dutch etiquette where it is not (and was not) unusual for people to split the bill. In fact, there are references of Dutch people living in New York in the mid 1700s paying for themselves and several other phrases with similar meanings appear in the United States in the late 1800s – Dutch lunch, Dutch treat, Dutch party and Dutch supper. This suggests that the phrase as we know it in fact came from America and is not old enough to be linked to the negative idioms related to the British/Dutch conflict.

There is one last theory to consider. Dutch farmhouses have doors which are equally divided into two sections in a similar way to a stable door and the original phrase about splitting the cost was “a Dutch door”. This makes sense but it is unclear whether or not this is the true origin of the expression.

By the way: when you go to a restaurant in the UK, the waiting staff will not expect to split the bill for you. If you wish to only pay your own share or to divide the amount equally, you will have to work out the share yourself and collect all the money together, including a tip, in order to pay the full amount needed. It is usual for one person at the table to take control of organising this and to communicate with the server about change, what to charge cards or how much tip to take.

Dutch / dʌtʃ


Welcome again to our weekly series that hopes to go behind the scenes of some rather typical English expressions.