Sunday, November 24, 2013

Fighting Over The Check: Society in its funniest form

Oh society, why do you make yourself so appealing?

The sheer hilarity of paying dinner has been swirling around my head just like a delicious soft ice cream would atop a cone. As tongues lick the final remnants of dessert on their lips and the "to-go" doggy bag arrives, eyes begin to shift nervously, while hands quickly reach for a wallet, a card, some cash. The waiter is blissfully ignoring our table, providing time for a little dance. One that is very well choreographed, the adults at the table begin to fight over the check. Meticulously practiced for years, the dance could either end in shambles or lip-tight agreement. 

A Pool of Intrigue
Union Square, NY

In our twenties, we split the check evenly, knowing that no one actually has the balls to cover the entire bill. By the time we enter the big 3-0, based on my observation, one begins to slide into this socially-constructed idea of hierarchy, whether it is based on profession, paycheck, education-level, or gender. Of course, the relationship between the patrons of the dinner table also factor in, as well as the whole debacle of who invited whom. Beyond forty everyone is used to it. No one really breaks a sweat when the check comes, as the choreography has become as familiar as eating dinner itself. 

Yet, when one moves from one society to another, things can get more than uncomfortably murky. In some countries, such as Indonesia, it depends on who you are hanging out with. Women who dine together without their husbands commonly split the check. However, when the husbands are present it is a whole different ballgame. In the U.S., the determinants lay heavily on the occasion and the relationship between members of the group. 

That's Why Some of Us Need Others to Pay!
Why am I babbling about the simple, albeit complicated act of paying the check, you ask? 

Well, one thing is true, the ramifications of a slip or two left feet can be diabolical. For instance, a man brings his family to meet a mother and son in a restaurant. All of the children are below the age of paying for the check. It isn't clear who invited whom. When the check comes, the man quickly pays for dinner, although it is the woman's turn to pay. Sitting there, you might realize the significance of paying the bill towards one identity. The man, I believe based on personal experience, would want to get the check because he is the man. Masculinity is tightly associated with the ability to support a family, as well as others. To provide is to be a man, so to speak. Therefore, to deny a man from paying could perhaps be seen as denying his masculinity. When we talk about it in that sense, suddenly it doesn't seem so preposterous for him to fight over the check on the dinner table. 

On the other hand, the woman may feel like a burden if this continues on regularly. Imagine having someone else pay for your son's and your dinner every single time you have dinner together. Wouldn't you feel like a heavy sack of rice? Perhaps, this is one of the more subtle indicators of women's awkward position in society. Although we are past the women's rights movement, women continue to be denied of paying dinner.

Another salient aspect of this entire situation is money. Money is the symbol of class, success, and even gender and race. Try over thinking the symbolism behind paying the check. It proves how money belongs to one person and not to the other, in one way or another. Furthermore it points out the haves and the have nots, whether it is money or privilege. 

The privilege to get the check is one that extends to our identity, and perhaps that is what makes it intriguing to observe and analyze. Again, society, oh society, how you make me so fascinated and funny hard to fathom but the sheer amount of facets that you embody clearly makes for a good, albeit complicated, conversation.
*Author owns rights to all photos above

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