I opted out The Great Australian Shout 30 years ago, and this week I did my best to recruit another member to my miserable band of one.
It was a young friend who'd had, he told me, a very expensive week in Melbourne for a work conference and training, and he was going to have to tighten his belt. Didn't, I asked, his employer cover his costs?
Yes, but his company didn't pay for the drinks with the training group at the end of every day and he guessed he was down a couple of hundred dollars on unreciprocated shouts by the time he flew home on the sixth day. Then there was at least that amount again in drinks he didn't want but felt constrained to accept as part of the shout. After all, he'd already paid for them.
His problem, I explained, is that his need to reciprocate is not shared by all his drinking companions. Unfortunately the same sense of obligation to be a contributing member of the group makes the solution difficult.
So, I said to my young friend, if I can't persuade you to join my miserable band of shout deniers I can offer you a golden rule: Always shout last! At least then you know you can't be robbed and you're square and free to go when you do shout.
That solution is to refuse to join the shout, and often enough he'll need to be unsocially forceful. There's the "come on Harry have a drink with us!" and "don't be a loner!" and even the smirking "you won't have to buy a round".
More than once since I became shout-free one of the shout's ringleaders has plonked a beer in front of me, and each time that has happened I've pushed it unsipped into the middle of the table.
Unfriendly perhaps, but by my mid 30s I was well and truly over The Great Australian Shout and I wasn't going back there.
One problem is that a shout more or less requires you to drink at everyone else's pace, and another is that, in theory at least, you're there to have as many drinks as there are members of the shout.
A third problem is that not everyone shares my sense of obligation to reciprocate, and while that is unlikely to be a continuing problem among mates it is rife among strangers and acquaintances who, say, come together for a training week in Melbourne.
This is compounded by the departure and arrival of shout members at different points in the cycle, and gregarious drinking partners who buy a beer for and thus invite into the shout every acquaintance who walks through the door have cost me dearly.
Adding newcomers mid shout makes it certain that someone is going to be out of pocket, perhaps significantly, and it seemed to be me much more often than it should have been.
As well, some of these invitees see themselves as guests and after a couple of drinks give a cheery "thanks for the hospitality fellas" and head off. I have noticed that those most likely to do this are wealthy.
The old rule that a departing drinker shout a round as he left if the shout hadn't been completed has long gone. The reason it has long gone is the expense, which is a good reason not to shout at all.
One rule that applies still is that the shout finishes at each session, which is why crunching the numbers is so profitable for those who don't share my need to reciprocate. There's no pointing out when you next meet that Percival owes the group a shout, that he needs to shout twice in this new round.
Until 20 years ago I never saw drinking in a club or pub expensive. I don't know whether that was because of the value I saw in boozing or because beer was more affordable, and the problem could be that it's not so much the price of beer as higher mortgages and living costs.
A round for a shout of five today will cost well over $30, and if there are mixed drinks and cocktails in the round you're looking at $50. And that reminds me of another shouting problem, the girlfriend shout, when both members of a couple order drinks but only one shouts. When there are, say, two couples and a single person, the single is putting his hand deep into his pocket.
Being with a non-drinking partner at a table of couples puts you at the same magnanimous disadvantage, one I know well.
So, I said to my young friend, if I can't persuade you to join my miserable band of shout deniers I can offer you a golden rule: Always shout last!
At least then you know you can't be robbed and you're square and free to go when you do shout.
Be aware, too, that the shouting order is determined by whoever finishes their drink first.
I had another golden rule for him. Never, ever, have the first shout when drinking with couples. As the first buyer you'll be loaded up with shudderingly expensive cocktails and mixed drinks for the women, who won't be ready for a refill until it's your shout again! But, my young friend wanted to know, how do you actually say you don't want to be in the shout? Such is the strength of the shouting tradition that I understand his difficulty. Often it is the shout that defines the group.
For a few years I would say that I didn't want to be in the shout because I was going to drink water for a while, or because I could have only a couple, but these days I simply say that I'm getting my own.
And if the others don't like it they can pay for their own too!
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