Bill, please?

Is this how you ask for the bill?

You’ve just polished the plates clean and now it’s time to pay. What method would you employ to ask for the bill, wonders PEGGY LOH

ACTIONS speak louder than words – and if there’s one place where this saying is true, it must be in a restaurant. When the meal is over and customers are ready to pay, I notice that Malaysians generally use hand gestures to ask for their bill. In fact there’s a whole range of signals that astute waiters and merchants interpret as a request for the bill.

Of course, the simplest way is to say, “May I have the bill, please?” and many use the short-form request like, “Bill, please?” or “Check, please?”

In mamak shops and stalls, the friendly request is usually “Tolong kira, bang!” meaning, “Brother, please tally my bill!” or summarised in Tamil, “Kaanaker!” (calculate).

In Chinese shops, the colloquial way to ask is often a shouted “Siu lui!” (Teochew) or “So chien!” (Mandarin) meaning, “Collect money!” but the more refined request is to say, “Mai tan” (Cantonese) or “Tally the bill.”

But if customers prefer not to open their mouth, some simple hand gestures work equally effectively. A common signal is to raise a hand with the index finger pointing down at the table of empty dishes and moving it in a quick circular motion to indicate tallying the bill.

While this gesture is best used in establishments that do not issue bills, customers in cafes and restaurants often use gestures that incorporate “the bill”. Some use both hands with two raised index fingers to outline a rough rectangular or square shape to illustrate a bill. When the waiter sees this, he will, correctly, interpret it as a request to send the bill over.

There’s yet another interesting gesture using both hands to summon the bill in a café or restaurant. In this signal, one hand is held out in an open palm while the other hand is loosely clasped as if holding a pen or pencil. The pen-holding hand would move lightly over the open palm in a demo to show the waiter that he should do likewise, that is, “tally up the bill and present it for payment.”

Sometimes the food and the company are so good that you can get carried away, talking and leaving the premises without settling the bill. In this case, or if you are forgetful or absent-minded, you risk being red-faced when the owner runs after you with an unpaid bill in full view of other customers. So it’s always wise to check with each other if the bill has been paid before you leave.

The next time you are in a restaurant, café or stall, keep an eye on the many ways that Malaysians request for the bill and pay particular attention to how you ask for your bill. Don’t be surprised if it has become a spontaneous action but just be sure it’s not a shrill whistle, rude noises or a snap of your fingers. Eh, it’s fine to laugh at yourself because this is just one of many ways that shows how Malaysian we are!

This article was first published in The New Straits Times, Travel Times on 1 December 2009

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