At lunch the other day, the server didn’t bring the check in one of those folded vinyl books many restaurants use. This was a more casual place, so the waitress just put the check face down on the table.

I’ve seen this done thousands of times but never understood why, so I asked my wife to speculate. She said it probably has something to do with old-time etiquette that kept a lady from knowing what a gentleman was spending on her — similar to high-end restaurants that gave women a menu with no prices on it. Then, with a smirk, Martha picked up the check, examined it without showing it to me, and gave the waitress her credit card.

Are there any places so sexist and presumptuous as to still do that? What about when two men or two women had a meal together? Could that check be face up? What if they were a same-sex couple on a date?

This odd practice reminds me of scenes in TV shows or movies when there’s some kind of negotiation going on. It could be an employer talking salary with a potential employee, or two parties engaged in the settlement of a lawsuit across a big conference table, or someone making an offer to buy something expensive. For some reason, they never say the amount out loud. Instead, they write it down on a piece of paper, fold it, and slide it across to the other person, who then unfolds it and either smiles or frowns.

Why can’t the number be verbalized? Isn’t everyone in the room in on what’s taking place? Are they afraid that Annette from accounting or Miguel the junior partner will be shocked?

Maybe the scenario never actually happens in real life, just on screen. Maybe it has to with the value of money over time. An offer of $20,000 in 1975 would be the equivalent of $111,000 today. But if you never say the figure, it doesn’t become outdated as the decades pass. Although the cars and clothes in the movie/show would be a dead giveaway.

All I know is that in my experience (e.g. while negotiating how much I’d be paid and other contract details), no one ever did the folded-paper-slide with me. Then again, I was never given the menu without the prices, either.