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In German, we have the saying Wer bestellt, bezahlt, which translates literally into Who(ever) orders, pays in English. Is there a corresponding English idiomatic expression or proverbial refrain for this concept where the person who orders something is the one who has to pay for it?

The context that made me wonder is the situation here. Person A is upset by person B who has wrongly parked their car in person A’s way (on private ground). An answer suggested that A could call a towing service to remove B’s car. Because it was person A who ordered the towing service to remove the car, over here the towing service’s bill would go to person A under the principle of Wer bestellt, bezahlt, so A pays it. It’s then up to person A, bill in hand, to go after person B for the money which A has already paid.

The idea here is that placing responsibility for payment on whoever calls the towing company will safeguard against unnecessary towing or expensive practical jokes because in such frivolous cases, person A will not be able to later recover the money they’ve already paid the towing company from person B.

Another situation where I’d to apply this idiom is the following. Consider ordering some custom part, say at a 3D printing service. You receive the print, but don’t like it after all. It’s not defective, damaged, or badly printed; you simply find that it just doesn’t fulfil your needs. We’d say, Wer bestellt, bezahlt: even though you cannot use it, you have to pay for it.

(As opposed to, say, ordering some off-the-shelf part in the internet and after physically receiving it, finding it doesn’t suit your needs: that one you’d return for refund [except for delivery costs]).


Sayings like He who pays the piper calls the tune do not apply in the situation I’m after. In particular, if person B comes along when the towing service is there and shows that they own the car, the towing service will not tow the car even if person A turns around and pays cash on the barrel. With proof in hand that it’s really B’s car not A’s, the towing company will no longer do A’s bidding regarding the towing of a car that’s not A’s. (The towing company would still charge A for having had to show up unnecessarily, though.)

  • As a Brit, I'd say we don't really have much use for such an expression, since we don't really have the kind of "sidewalk cafe culture" associated with mainland Europe (where paying comes long after ordering). In most other contexts, ordering and paying are done at the same time, so this "Who pays?" issue doesn't arise much anyway. What we do have is things like He who pays the piper calls the tune. And a US favourite of mine It's your dime (both meaning that the person who pays gets to choose exactly what he wants, even if that's not what others might choose). – FumbleFingers Sep 2 '18 at 14:12
  • @FumbleFingers: I added some context to clarify. I know the "piper" idiom (in German: wes' Brot ich eß', des' Lied ich sing - I'll sing the tune of him whose bread I eat), but that is for quite different situations. (And in fact, even if the idiom arose from our cafe/restaurant culture, it is rarely if ever used in such context). – cbeleites Sep 2 '18 at 14:44
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    I've certainly seen variations of You break it, you buy it in downmarket tourist souvenir shops (accidental breakages caused by customer browsing must be paid for). – FumbleFingers Sep 2 '18 at 15:04
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    @cbeleites I’ve copyedited your interesting question, mostly for formatting and such, but I’ve also added a bit of wording here or there for clarification in ways that I hope will help people from English-speaking countries better understand the situation you’re describing. So if I’ve accidentally added words that don’t fit your scenario, do please feel perfectly free to edit out any unintentional mistakes I’ve made. – tchrist Sep 2 '18 at 15:20
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    The flipped form of the "piper" expression may come close: "[Time to/Have to] pay the piper." I assume it's short for "You've called the tune, and now it's time to/you have to pay the piper" but I've only ever heard it in the short-form. It's used similarly to "you've made your bed, now you have to lie in it" or "you've buttered your bread, now you have to eat it", but I don't know that any of those would commonly be used in the situations you've described for literally paying money. – 1006a Sep 2 '18 at 18:52
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I believe the following idiom is fit into one of the situations you mentioned.

you pays your money, and you takes your chance(s):

  • When you buy something, you must accept the risk that it will not be what you wanted.

    I'm sorry to hear that the laptop you bought on that shady site doesn't work, but you pays your money, and you takes your chances.

  • Prov. You must resign yourself to taking risks.; Everything costs something, but paying for something does not guarantee that you will
    get it. (The grammatical errors are intentional.)

Customer: Can you guarantee that this washing machine won't break?

Salesman: No guarantees. You pays your money and you takes your chances.

(The Free Dictionary by Farlex, Farlex Dictionary of Idioms)

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AmE.com Idiom – On one’s dime

at one’s expense

As in the person ordering something is the one who has to pay for it:

person = X

"The cost of today's lunch is on X's dime!

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