The one Aussie custom nearly everyone secretly hates

There's a lot of social pressure to participate in buying rounds. Photo: Jasper Juinen
There's a lot of social pressure to participate in buying rounds. Photo: Jasper Juinen

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 that 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 around 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 anti-social.

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 if you have a dozen people looking at you, and demanding you down the drink in one go.

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 like the rest of us. 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?

Here's to Tones, he's true blue, he's a pisspot through and through, he's a bastard so they say, he tried to go to heaven but he went the other way...

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. If I'm out with a friend, we might take it in turns to go to the bar, but there's definitely no pressure. In larger groups we either buy our own or enough of us do that the rounds aren't unwieldy. We can all afford our own drinks now and most nights we only want a few anyway.

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!

ME money expert Matthew Read says the research was borne out of his own experience, arriving at the pub after playing tennis to find a beer for him on the table and an expectation that he would participate in the round.

Most Australians think shouts are unfair. One in two say they know someone who consistently fails to return a shout. More than one in two say someone always spends more or less than others.

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

For the younger crowd, you could save money by buying jugs of beer or mixed drinks for the group rather than individual drinks. This gets harder as people usually get choosier as they get older, and it's expected that you'll cater for personal preference.

Then again, as you get older, it becomes easier to suggest socialising away from the pub. However, not drinking at all is still pretty awkward in Australia - some people resort to buying soft drinks in a short glass to disguise the lack of alcohol.

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, you want to drink a $12 glass of pinot noir while they drink $5 schooners of VB.

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 - and even if they pretend to give you flak, they won't really mind if there's one less drink to buy when it's their turn.

Of course if you're sticking around for a few drinks, there's no reason not to buy a round if you can afford it, especially if you're with good mates who you know will reciprocate at some point.

Cheers!

Caitlin Fitzsimmons is the Money editor and a Fairfax columnist. Facebook.com/caitlinfitzsimmons

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