Imagine this: you’re out with your new Thai friends, eating at a restaurant. You’ve had a good night, ordered just about everything on the menu and when the bill comes it seems like you are expected to pay for everyone. What a charade you think, all the time they were out to dupe you, to take advantage of your foreign money.
Well, you can rest assured that your Thai friends will definitely not be taking advantage of you (unless you mix with the wrong crowd), and the reason the bill is dropped in your lap is because you are either the oldest or richest in the group, or it’s your birthday. I will explain.
Often when Thais go out together, the oldest or wealthiest person will pay the bill, this is inherent in Thai culture. We have, on many occasions, tried in vain to pay something towards the bill when with a group of Thais and have found that they just don’t want my money. It’s actually quite insulting, and a loss of face if you do put anything towards the cost when you are younger than others in the group.
It has also been the same when we’ve been out groups of friends; you don’t pay for a thing. Even though we may earn a considerable amount more than them, our money is not welcome. This is the way it is; don’t try and invoke your western ideals, it won’t go down too well.
So it’s your birthday, you organize a night out at a pretty expensive restaurant; again, at the end of the night, the bill comes to you. In Thailand, when it’s your birthday, you are expected to pay for the party, for the food, for everything. In return, you are given gifts as we do in Western culture. The best thing to do if you don’t have cash to throw around is not invite too many people to your party.
You may also find that when dating a Thai girl, she may expect you to cover the costs of the date; this is not always the case, but be prepared. Bear in mind too that you are probably much more flush then they are. There is a lot of ‘romance by financial osmosis’ going on here, and you may become irritated at travelling around Thailand with your new sweetheart when you are expected to pay for everything.
Just remember that your lifestyle is far more demanding than theirs and it’s likely they would never think of spending money on the luxuries you do. You may be goaded into buying gifts here and there; this is a normal way of expressing your genuine interest in them, here in Thailand.
Status can also effect who pays the bill. If by some chance you are seen as a particularly wealthy person, who has in his/her life been quite fortunate, then you may also be given the bill at the end of the night. You could say that the same is done in the West. To Thais, gaining recognition for your status is far more important to them than worrying about the cost.
Don’t expect that these rules can’t be broken. Often we go out with younger Thais and we share the bill. Customs and culture are always evolving; Thais who feel they are modern may adopt Western ideals. It’s also probable that the group who have invited you out may want to be as kind and hospitable as possible, and therefore pay for your part of the bill. Just try not to feel too hard done to if you find yourself alone at the end of the night with a large bill.