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Navigating the Bill Battle

posted on: Sep 6, 2023

Fighting Over The Bill. Photo: Youtube

By: Joud Sleilaty / Arab America Contributing Writer

Two years ago, when I first moved to Washington DC, I had a memorable dinner with my family and our close friends. However, when the time came to settle the bill, a rather amusing yet spirited dispute erupted among the parents at our table. Their determination to cover the bill escalated to such an extent that it caught the attention of the neighboring table. In a lighthearted jest, the family sitting nearby playfully advised our waiter that if our table was so eager to pay, they might as well cover their bill too. This unexpected turn of events left us, especially the children, feeling quite embarrassed as all eyes in the restaurant turned in our direction.

If you’re of Arab descent, chances are you’ve encountered a similar “bill battle” scenario. And if you’ve dined in an Arab country, you might have witnessed this scenario unfolding at a neighboring table, especially if it involved older individuals.

How to Win The Bill Battle

Over time, people have developed clever strategies to win this battle of generosity. One tactic is to wear an item of clothing that stands out like my aunt’s conspicuously large hat. Regardless of the season or the indoor setting, you’ll always find her wearing her oversized hat when dining out. Why, you might wonder? It turns out that upon entering the restaurant, she strategically asks the host or hostess to hand the bill to the “lady in the big hat.” Without fail, every time, the bill ends up in her hands, much to the frustration of those attempting to wrestle it away.

Another sneaky maneuver is the “going to the bathroom” trick. As the meal nears its end and the battle for the bill starts, one sneaky individual announces their intention to visit the restroom. Instead of heading to the bathroom, they discreetly approach the waiter and hand over their credit card. While the rest of the table remains involved in the bill-fighting drama, this strategist already knows they’ve secured victory by covering the bill. It’s a crafty, yet effective, way to emerge a winner in the battle for the check.

Fighting Over The Bill. Video: KvonComedy

What Has The Bill Battle Evolved Into

As generations evolve, it’s becoming increasingly evident that the younger members of Arab families are slowly departing from the traditional “bill battle” scenario. My sister and I, for instance, have witnessed how our mom and aunt or our dad and his brothers frequently engage in these debates over who will pay the bill. In response, we’ve made a pact that when we grow up, we’ll opt for a simpler approach – either splitting the bill evenly or taking turns covering different meals. This shift in attitude reflects a generational change where the younger members of the family prioritize convenience over the dramatic battles of generosity that were once common.

Even with my friends from back home in Lebanon, a similar shift in dining customs has occurred. We grew up with the practice of simply splitting the bill whenever we went out together. However, what’s remarkable is that we’ve always operated under an unspoken understanding – when the need arises, covering for one another is done without hesitation or questions. This sense of shared responsibility is a proof to the fact that, regardless of our backgrounds, the spirit of generosity and mutual support remains a cherished value among friends and family in Arab culture. In times of need, we seamlessly return to the old norms of fighting for the bill that we inherited from our parents, reinforcing the strength of our friendships.

Americans and The Bill Battle

In the United States, the dynamics surrounding restaurant bills are often quite different. Offering to pay the bill is generally met with gratitude rather than resistance. However, it’s crucial to know the sincerity of the gesture, as not everyone may reciprocate in kind. While no one will typically engage in a heated dispute over the bill, there’s a subtle dance of generosity and reciprocity at play. Understanding when someone is genuinely appreciative of your offer or when they might be taking advantage of your kindness is a skill that comes with time and experience. In the end, it’s a delicate balance of maintaining the spirit of generosity while being mindful of genuine intentions in this diverse culinary landscape.

Funny Video Comparing Arabs and Americans Paying a Restaurant Bill. Post: @anwar via @arab_america on Instagram


The clash over the restaurant bill is more than just a financial matter; it’s a cultural phenomenon that reflects the values of generosity and hospitality deeply ingrained in Arab cultures. While it can be amusing and even a bit embarrassing at times, it’s a testament to the enduring tradition of showing love and respect through the act of treating others to a meal. So, the next time you find yourself at an Arab restaurant, keep an eye out for the bill battle – it’s all part of the experience.

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