Opinion: The Aussie Custom we all secretly hate

WHOSE SHOUT?: It's time. Just be honest and admit you don't want to buy a round.
WHOSE SHOUT?: It's time. Just be honest and admit you don't want to buy a round.

There seems to be an inverse logic to buying drinks for your mates: the people who come under most pressure to take part in rounds are those who can least afford it.

I remember this distinctly from my uni days. I studied in Bathurst in the mid-1990s and most of our socialising was done at the uni bar or pubs in town.

You could barely walk into a beer garden without being told it was your shout. Of course, sometimes people were just trying it on. But it did seem there was always a high level of social expectation no matter who you were or who you were with – going to the bar alone and buying a drink just for yourself was plain antisocial.

We were all living on meagre student allowances or crappy part-time jobs, so this socially enforced spending on alcohol soaked up a significant part of our budgets.

As well as the financial strain, it led to binge drinking – after all, if money is tight and you buy seven drinks, then you'd want to receive about seven drinks, preferably on the night. Trying to claim someone owed you a drink a week or two later would just make you look petty and stingy.

The rounds came on particularly quickly if you got into a skolling round. When you're 19 it's hard to resist the peer pressure.

Some people don't grow out of it. Skolling has become a favourite way for politicians – at least the male ones – to prove they're really just knockabout Aussies. I've seen videos of both Anthony “Albo” Albanese and Tony Abbott skolling beers in the past few years. And of course Bob “Hawkey” Hawke has made an art form of it.

Maybe that's what happened to Abbott on the infamous night when he admits he was passed out on a couch while parliament voted on the global financial crisis stimulus package? Probably not, as Abbott was drinking wine. No one skols wine, surely?

It's hard to believe that I left uni 20 years ago but it's true. These days I can much more easily afford to shout a round of drinks. But, guess what? I never get asked any more. 

But the shouting culture is still alive and well and it's still enforced by peer pressure even though it turns out most of us secretly hate it, according to research done by Pure Profile on behalf of ME Bank in August this year.

The survey with a national representative sample of 1000 respondents, found 85 per cent of us participate in buying rounds of drinks – but 81 per cent of us would rather buy our own. That's not a survey of uni students - that's across all age groups.

Most Australians think shouts are unfair. One in two say they know someone who consistently fails to return a shout. 

Almost two out of three say they spend more than they otherwise would when involved in a shout - it forces them to buy more expensive drinks for their mates, and the round is not always reciprocated. More than one in three also say it leads to them drinking more than they otherwise would.

But fewer than one in four feel comfortable opting out of a shout. Social pressures include feeling expected to participate, not wanting to look tight with money, and thinking it would be un-Australian to refuse.

People often get out of a round by coming up with an excuse – you need to drive, you need to get up early, you're on the 5:2 diet.

It turns out that honesty might be the best policy for any age group – simply say that you don't want to do a round before anyone buys you a drink. The research suggests that your mates probably feel the same way.

Caitlin Fitzsimmons is a Fairfax columnist.