Picture this: You’re in France and you want to invite a platonic French friend out to dinner at a restaurant. So you invite him or her — they seem delighted — mention a restaurant and time to meet, and then you both go on to have a wonderful meal. When you ask for the check, your friend doesn’t move or say anything about paying the bill or splitting it, and it just sits there on the table. Finally, you pick up the bill and leave feeling a little confused because you assumed you’d split the bill. After all it was just your idea to eat out and you guys are just friends — you didn’t volunteer to cover the cost!
But a-ha! You did!
Quick French Lesson: Get your wallet ready if you “invite” someone out to eat
In French, there’s this little word inviter that has some built-in rules if you’re French. On the surface, it means to invite.
But listen up, in France, when you use the word “invite” with a French person in the context of a restaurant, you’re in essence telling the person that the meal is “on you.” It’s your treat.
In English, we can invite a friend out to eat but it doesn’t automatically mean that the person doing the inviting is going to pay the restaurant bill. This is a cultural difference that you need to be aware of if you’re big on making plans with French folks! Watch out for this if you’re trying to translate “invite” from English to French!
Saying “je t’invite au resto ce soir” is making it clear to the other person that you’re paying and almost rewarding the person for something.
Like a manager saying thanks for all your hard work on this project, let me invite you out tonight (meaning let me treat you to this meal). Or a friend treating another friend for his or her birthday.
Using “invite” is not formal exactly, but it’s clear that you’re telling someone you’re footing the bill at the end of the night. Like in English, it sounds a little old fashioned, at least to my ear to say, “I’d like to invite you to the new Thai place tonight for dinner at 8.” I’d just say, “Want to grab dinner at the new Thai place tonight at 8?”
It’s the same in French. If you’re using the word “invite,” it’s because you’re telling the person you’re paying.
Personally speaking, I’ve gotten myself into trouble with this one. Back when I first met Tom, we were talking about a new trendy restaurant in town (with equally trendy menu prices) and one day he asked me in English if I wanted to invite him out for a meal there.
His eyes were kind of wide and he was doing a weird thing with his eyebrows. His grin should have clued me in, but like an idiot, I said sure, why not. Invite means invite in English. I thought nothing of it and said we’ll go Saturday. I thought he was just suggesting that we eat there… and he was, but I accidentally said I was paying for it! It was that Saturday night that I let Tom know that in English, inviting someone somewhere doesn’t necessarily mean the bill is on them!
Keep in mind that the “inviting” someone phrasing includes other instances as well and is not just something to watch out for when talking about restaurants. You could accidentally “invite” someone to a concert (them expecting you to pay for the ticket) or to a play or anything else that involves money.
So how do you invite someone out to eat without accidentally telling them you want to pay?
As I mentioned above, just suggest that you go out to eat and don’t translate invite in English to inviter in French to avoid a misunderstanding (unless you do want to foot the bill, that is). So in French, just say, “Est-ce que tu veux aller au resto chinois ce soir ?” That way you’ve asked someone out to eat but haven’t unintentionally told them you’re paying!
Is this news to you? Have you ever accidentally “invited” someone out to eat in France without realizing it?
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