Feature

Germany: A country that can’t split the tab

The German reluctance to bail out debt-ridden euro zone countries is rooted in a moral abhorrence of debt.

Brian MelicanThe Daily Telegraph (U.K.)

Sometimes stereotypes are spot on, said Brian Melican. The German reluctance to bail out debt-ridden euro zone countries is rooted in a moral abhorrence of debt. Anyone who’s ever dined out with Germans knows they are sticklers for paying exactly what they owe and not one cent more or less. It is unheard of in Germany for two or more couples dining out together to just split the check equally. Separate checks are the norm, and each waiter wears a little pouch to make change for each diner as he goes around the table settling up. The practice may seem stingy, but it actually “minimizes bad blood.” In Britain, which runs on the honor system of returning hospitality, you can end up getting stiffed. But in Germany, “no one can be accused of scrounging or round-dodging,” and conversely nobody leaves the table feeling they are owed a favor. The taboo against letting others pay is so strong that last year the German president, Christian Wulff, was forced to resign over revelations that he had allowed a friend to pick up two hotel bills totaling just more than $1,000. “Germans expect that everyone should be scrupulously punctilious about paying their way—in both private and public life—to avoid owing anyone any favors.”

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