Cheers in French! The Three Things You Need to Know About French Drinking Toasts

By Abi King | Western Europe

Aug 16
Cheers in French with bottles in the sun

How to say Cheers in French - A Guide to French Drinking Toasts

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 sex 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.

1. The Words for Cheers in French

Formal and Informal Ways to Say Cheers in French

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?!

Fancier Ways of Saying Cheers: Trinquer

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.

Read more useful phrases in French for travellers here.

2. French Drinking Toast Traditions

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.

Say Cheers in French in Paris!

Use your newfound skills about French drinking toasts when you are planning your perfect weekend in Paris.

In France, The Rules Are Complicated

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.

Gulp.

So, there you have it. Don’t drink in France unless you’re willing to risk your future.

3. Cheers in French? Get the drink right!

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

  • Fill everyone's glass with an alcoholic drink
  • Raise your glass
  • Say cheers in French. Just use Santé if your mind goes blank
  • Clink glasses with EVERYONE while LOOKING THEM IN THE EYE
  • Take a sip from your glass
  • Only then set it down. 

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...

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About the Author

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.

  • Jennifer says:

    Here in Catalunya, I have heard that eye contact is important as well. But wasn’t aware about the seven years bad sex belief. I will have to ask around. My husband is from Argentina and he gets really bothered if people don’t make eye contact during a toast. Perhaps, I know now why!

    Thank you for participating in the blog carnival on global toasting customs.

    Cheers!

  • Same here in Belgium! Didn`t know about the arms crossing, but the eye contact is important :)

  • Célia says:

    Also spread across some parts of Portugal. We toast with eyes wide open, just in case… And can’t have crossed legs either (bad luck). I didn’t know it was a tradition from France

    • Abi says:

      Can’t have crossed legs?! Uh-oh – if only I’d known sooner!

  • Ouch!
    I read once that in some Sub-Saharan cultures it is preferred not to look at the other person while relating a story.

    Funny old world, isn’t it?

    • Abi says:

      Yep. Certainly if you’re on the London Underground you should avoid eye contact at all times…

  • jason says:

    Abi,

    Very interesting. I wonder…if you have sex wrong, do you have 7 years of bad toasting?

    Didn’t know about the arm crossing thing. Thanks for sharing this.

    Jason

  • Melvin says:

    Do we have this superstition in Germany? Yes, we have!

    When partying a lot, accidentally you find out, that the result is a lie! Luckily! :-)

    But I must say that I like toasts before drinking. It’s so social… :-)

  • Joya says:

    So many tricks to follow! My family is Middle Eastern and we also make sure that everyone’s glass clinks with another during a toast.

    • Abi says:

      Am going to start compiling a list of toasting traditions around the world…

  • Sabrina says:

    The same is true in Germany :) I didn’t know the French had the same “rules”. Crossing is bad luck, and not looking into each other’s eyes is seven years of bad sex. Oh, and toasting with water is obviously something you don’t do… considered bad manners.

    • Abi says:

      Can’t toast with water?! So much to learn!

  • Yvonne says:

    jep, we also do have these rules in Germany. It always takes sooooo long till I can actually drink! That’s why I HATE it. And then again. And again. pfff :)

  • SD says:

    German Toasting Tradition:anyone able to shed some light on a tradition to which I’d been introduced in Munich many years ago; it was explained to me by a German friend that by convention, when toasting with beer mas (1 liter glasses) that following clinking glasses, that the beer mas should be set DOWN on the table, direct eye contact made with your company, and only THEN the glass raised and a drink taken. The critical portion, setting down the glass, was explained as being related to a German prince or king (I don’t recall which), who pronounced some decree of this sort because he was unable to hold the large glasses for sufficiently long because of his diminutive size. So as not to look feeble, he made the decree and the tradition stuck, with the consequence of 7 years of bad sex for violators. This story recently came up again, however I’ve been unable to find any information on the web explaining the details or verifying this tradition. Can anyone provide me with some information, particularly the prince or king’s name, should he ever have even existed.
    great thanks,
    Cheers!!

  • Erin says:

    I visited France back in 2010 for a month, and I did not know this. During one of the toasts, I did not make eye contact. Everyone laughed, and I kind of blushed, unaware as to what was so funny. Then they asked me what happens to those who don’t make eye contact during a champagne toast, and…well, they told me. I will now warn everyone I know of this tradition. Not because I actually believe that one will have seven years of bad sex by not making eye contact during a toast, but more to save them from an embarrassing moment. ;)

  • Jill says:

    Oh…is that what happened? :)

  • Naomi says:

    I’m french and, I didn’t know that we must not cross anyone else’s arm as we do it (i do it every time…). I never do any eye contact and nobody told me that I’ll have seven years of bad sex. (and it’s not the case :P)
    Some of our tradition are so … strange ^^’

  • Just'in Paris says:

    Sorry for the late comment ;) I’ve just discovered your blog… This post is so funny, I love your conclusion! I am french and I can confirm everything you said here ;) When you get used to them, you don’t realise anymore how strange some traditions can be. Thank you for this new vision of my “routine” !

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