Q – Our friends from Portland recently joined us on a custom arranged vacation that took in portions of Switzerland, northern Italy, and almost ten days in Germany. We loved this vacation and being with our friends of twenty-five or so years, was terrific. But we ran into one problem that we just didn’t understand. Our practice has always been to just split the dinner bill equally. We figure that it all comes out in the end. But every time we tried to do that in a German restaurant it seemed to cause consternation and confusion. In one or two cases, there were raised voices. We never did find out the cause. What had we done wrong?
A – You did nothing wrong. But your experience can really shed some light on the German position vis-a-vis the debt of some of its neighbors like Greece, Portugal, Italy, and Spain. You ran into a cultural characteristic – Germans hate to be in anyone’s debt. They never wish to feel that they owe anyone anything. It is a “pay-as-you-go” mindset. You were doing something that no German would do. You probably noticed that the wait staff was wearing little pocketbooks to make exact change. The Germans feel that people should only pay for exactly what they have eaten – no more – no less. And, for what it’s worth, they believe that if everyone was as fastidious as they are about paying their bills to the penny, the world would be a better place.