To go Dutch, also known as a Dutch treat or a Dutch date, implies an informal agreement for each person to pay for his or her own expenses during a planned date or outing. The decision to do this is usually made in advance in order to avoid any confusion when the bill arrives or the tickets are purchased. Under certain social and financial circumstances, the idea allows larger groups of friends or co-workers to enjoy a night on the town without the worry of one host footing the entire bill. During a romantic dating situation, however, the suggestion to go Dutch may not be as well received.
Many people agree to going Dutch as a tactful way to level the financial playing field. One friend may feel uncomfortable with the idea of another friend in better financial shape always footing the bill. When two or more people agree to pay for their own bills, each is free to spend within his or her personal entertainment budget. Even if one person can afford to order the most expensive item on the menu, the rest of the group is not obligated to spend outside their own limits.
When it comes to social dating, however, the idea of going Dutch is not universally accepted. Traditionally, the person who invites a companion for dinner or other entertainment is obligated to pick up the entire tab. Modern dating etiquette now allows women to assume the same role as men when it comes to financing a date, but there is still a clear division between the inviter and the invited. Some couples, however, are very comfortable with the decision to go Dutch, especially during early casual dates. By agreeing on a Dutch date, neither party feels obligated or indebted romantically to the other party for picking up the entire bill.
The origin of the phrase can be traced back to a time when England and the Netherlands fought constantly over trade routes and political boundaries during the 17th century. The British used the term Dutch in a number or derogatory or demeaning ways, including Dutch courage (bravery through alcohol) and Dutch treat, which was actually no treat at all. The Dutch were said to be very stingy with their wealth, almost miserly.
While many of these derogatory Dutch references fell out of common usage, Americans did retain the idea of a "Dutch treat" when a number of German (Deutsch) immigrants arrived. A corruption of Deutsch led to the designation of German immigrants living in Pennsylvania as "Pennsylvanian Dutch". Even though the original British slur was against the actual Dutch, some Americans perpetuated the negative connotation of "Dutch treat" to include the German Dutch as well.
The modern idea to go Dutch no longer carries the stigma of the term's original intentions. It is simply a recognized bit of social jargon which allows each party to know the financial arrangements of a date or social outing.