Santé! That's the quickest way to say cheers in French. But French drinking toasts are more complex than that. Get it wrong and you face seven years of bad s
ex luck, according to tradition.
Here's an inside guide to toasting your French friends. And for more unusual things to do in France, head here.
While Santé gets the job done, to say cheers in French properly requires a few more tricks up your sleeve.
Santé itself is short for A votre santé, to your good health. Of course, if you know someone well and there's just the two of you, it's A ta santé. But let's face it, under those conditions the person is unlikely to mind if you get it wrong.
Just as we abbreviate toasts in English to phrases like "to you and yours" and "here's to us!" so you can do the same in French. A la vôtre. To you (formal and/or plural.)
A la nôtre. To us.
From there, it's a short jump to A la tienne (meaning to your health.) And then having some fun with A la tienne, Etienne. Think of this as an okey-dokey, artichokey. It rhymes and it's fun and... well, who needs to think more about it than that?!
You can take your French drinking toasts up a notch by blending in a word with roots in German. Trinquer comes from the German trinken (to drink) and you can use it in various ways.
On trinque? Shall we toast?
Trinquons à votre nouvelle maison. Let's drink to your new house.
When you stop and think about any tradition, you realise how bizarre the whole thing is. (Bring a tree inside the house and cover it with plastic while singing about a farm in Bethlehem? Fold cardboard in half, stick a pink heart on it and wax lyrical about a religious saint you couldn’t pick out of a line-up if you’re life depended on it?)
Raising a toast is no different (as evidenced by the fact that there’s not a slice of bread to be seen.)
However odd the notion of holding a glass of wine or beer in the air and saying “Cheers!”, I’d never given the matter any thought until I lived in France and realised how complicated French drinking toasts could be.
Use your newfound skills about French drinking toasts when you are planning your perfect weekend in Paris.
In France, saying cheers is not enough (well, it’s santé for a start, which means health rather than happiness.) No, you must maintain eye contact, you must clink glasses individually with each person in your group and you must not cross anyone else’s arm as you do it. Time consuming and tedious.
So, why does everyone bother? Turns out there’s a severe penalty for messing this one up.
“Seven years of bad sex,” said every Frenchman and woman I met.
So, there you have it. Don’t drink in France unless you’re willing to risk your future.
Never, I repeat, never, say cheers in French when toasting with water or any other kind of soft beverage. Mon dieu! The sacrilege!
Beer and wine are fine (ideally, French.) Spirits, too. French again.
Then it's cul sec! Bottoms up!
But water and soft drinks? Nah. In the medieval era, water was considered unsafe and beer was given to children (!) This disturbing fact has been used to explain this drinking tradition, found across Europe, but academics aren't so sure.
And while we're on the subject of strange drinking traditions, never put down your glass before you've had a sip and looked everyone in the eye.
French Drinking Toast Checklist
PS – I’ve also learned that the same rule applies in Spain. I wonder – is this superstition rampant across Europe? Across the world?! I wonder whether Britain is the only place that throws eye contact to the wind...
Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.
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