I went for dinner with a foreign friend the other evening at a Thai restaurant. As soon as we had finished eating and the waitress had cleared our plates, she brought the bill and left it on the table. As she walked off, my friend looked at me funny and said, “Why did she bring us the bill? We didn’t ask for it.”
It takes living abroad, or interacting with foreigners visiting your own country as outsiders, to see yourself and your own habits. “Fish don’t know they’re in water,” as they say. Well this is a perfect example of a typical American habit that I had forgotten about.
In Europe, the waiter will never bring the bill to your table until you ask for it; indeed, to do so would be considered very rude. People take their time in restaurants, eating several courses and often hanging around for a while after they have finished eating, perhaps drinking another glass of wine or taking a coffee as the conversation continues.
In the US, restaurant meals tend to be a lot faster, in all respects. The waiter comes to your table more quickly to take your order, the food generally comes more quickly, people eat more quickly, and often the waiter will bring the bill (without you necessarily asking for it) shortly after you have finished eating (or sometimes – oh the horror – before you have even finished eating).
Of course, all of this depends on how fancy the restaurant is or isn’t; many lower-end eateries will make a habit of just delivering your bill to you along with the check. Nicer restaurants are less likely to bring your bill without you asking for it (or without them at least asking you if you want anything else). But generally speaking, I find restaurants in the US have a much faster customer turnaround, pushing diners out the door so they can fill their tables with the next set of paying customers.
If you do get a chance to actually ask for your bill, you can practice another Americanism by saying, “I’ll have the check, please.” This never made much sense to me, since calling a bill a check seems counter-intuitive. But whatever you call it, hurry up and pay and get out of the restaurant!