There is a European intern who joined company recently. He just graduated from college and will work in the company in China for the next three months.

He doesn't read or speak Chinese, so when I took him for lunch everyday I ordered for both of us. At first, he paid his portion to me afterwards; but in the last two weeks, he hasn't mentioned the lunch money at all.

I never asked him for the money because it's not in the Chinese culture to do so and it's not THAT much money. But still I feel a little weird. Is this normal? Is he being a jerk? How should I proceed with this situation?

PS: I asked the intern "do you want to go to lunch" in English at lunch time, just to be clear.

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    imho, you should mention that you going dutch. – Strader Oct 22 '19 at 0:31
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    What are you trying to achieve? What is your position relative to the intern? Do you have to invite intern for lunch? What will happen when you travel for work and there is nobody to invite intern for lunch? – aaaaa says reinstate Monica Oct 22 '19 at 0:34
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    Well seems like your options are either ask him for the money, say nothing and keep buying him lunch, or stop going out to lunch with him (either go by yourself, or bring your own food from home). – Jayce444 Oct 22 '19 at 0:45
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    The intern and I work on different aspects of the same project. But I am not his mentor or manager. I invited him for lunch just to be nice because he doesn't speak Chinese nor read Chinese as I mentioned before. Sometimes we go to lunch in a group of four, sometimes just the two of us. But he didn't pay either way. – johnc Oct 22 '19 at 1:29
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    @johnc, He may be thinking that the company is paying for it. Next time you ask him, ask him if he has money on him. In other words, let him know in advance that you expect him to be paying for his own lunch. – Stephan Branczyk Oct 22 '19 at 2:06

At first, he paid his portion to me afterwards; but in the last two weeks, he hasn't mentioned the lunch money at all.

I would talk to him about when he is going to pay you back the money for lunch. You never know he might be waiting for his paycheck to come in to pay you. The main thing here is don't suffer in silence and communicate with the intern.

I'm half Chinese myself. While it can be uncomfortable to ask for a debt to be repaid, it's obviously bothering you. Nothing in our culture says we have to treat a colleague to free lunch every day for 2 weeks.

Just saying something like: "Hey [Insert Intern's Name Here], it's been great hanging out and eating lunch with you. I just wanted to check on when you're planning on paying me back for the last 2 week's lunches. I can cover you for a little while, but it's getting kind of long and I have bills I need to pay off."

If he gives you a date (I recommend the day after you talk to him) and he doesn't follow through, you're better off cutting off your loss and making different plans for lunch.

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    Thanks for the suggestion. I think deep down I know I will have to communicate with him about this and I am just procrastinating because of how uncomfortable the talk will be for me :/. – johnc Oct 22 '19 at 5:08
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    Just to add to this answer, note that in many latin cultures, if you invite somebody to do something you're expected to pay - this is changing, so more and more "going Dutch" is common. Make sure that you don't come across as inviting the intern to lunch, but as you're going for lunch and they can go with you to get their lunch. Something on the lines of "I'm going to lunch, are you coming too?" – Juliana Karasawa Souza Oct 22 '19 at 8:33
  • So I talked to the intern today, just casually mentioning the lunch money while we were walking together. He paid me back right away (via Wechat) and he was embarrassed and blushing. He mumbled something which if I was understanding correctly, was that he thought since the payment would be done via the social app Wechat and not in cash, it's okay to accumulate a bit. I still feel like there's some kind of culture misunderstanding between us. Do friends/coworkers pay back their lunch money right away or do they delay it for a while in western culture? – johnc Oct 25 '19 at 7:12
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    You mentioned he was Italian, I believe they are fairly relaxed about things like this. Personally, I'm UK and hate feeling indebted to people, but I my friends and I often just take turns paying instead rather than just doing £5 back and forth each time – Gamora Oct 28 '19 at 11:51

If the amount is insignificant then just stop giving him free lunch.

Write it off to experience. This isn't worth making waves over and you did learn something.


I assume that you will walk together with your food. At that point all you have to do is make sure you are first, say “he pays”, and walk off. The friendly cashier will do all the conversation that you dislike for you.

If he has no money, he will be in an embarrassing situation which will be a valuable lesson. In that case, keep an eye on the situation, and return back paying for your food.

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    Isn't that a bit passive-agressive ? – Laurent S. Oct 22 '19 at 10:17
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    Yeah, too aggressive too early. No need to alienate the guy, could be a simple misunderstanding. – rath Oct 22 '19 at 13:24
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    No need to be like that. Just ask for money politely and in worst case learn a lesson for the future. – Andrei Suvorkov Oct 22 '19 at 13:50
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    Yeah, it's unclear at this stage whether the guy is intentionally letting others pick up the bill so he gets a free lunch, or if it's a cultural misunderstanding, or something else. This response makes everyone look bad, it puts the poor cashier in a really awkward spot for no reason and risks destroying workplace relationships, or worse. – delinear Oct 22 '19 at 14:56
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    great plan, everyone involved will love it, given the intern doesn't speak Chinese and the person at the restaurant probably doesn't speak English/Italian. OP will be loved by both. – Frank Hopkins Oct 22 '19 at 19:49

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