Get ready to understand and celebrate these fascinating French drinking toasts.
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. It’s worth trying to learn French to avoid that fate alone.
Here’s an inside guide to toasting your French friends. And for more unusual things to do in France, head here.
The Words for Cheers in French
While santé gets the job done, to say cheers in French properly requires a few more tricks up your sleeve. The French language has two ways of saying you, and so you may need to change your approach with different people.
Formal and Informal Ways to Say Cheers in Paris
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.
Trinquons à votre nouvelle maison. Let’s drink to your new house.
Then there’s the shortened version:
On trinque? Shall we toast?
Raise your glasses
In English, we start many a toast by encouraging others to raise their glasses. French people do the same.
The phrase then is: Levons nos verres…
For example, Levons nos verres à la mariée. Means raise your glasses for the bride.
Levons nos verres aux mariés means raise your glasses for the new couple.
What about French toast?
- French toast is something completely different to a French toast. The second involves clinking glasses. The first involves eggy bread with finely dusted sugar.
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 enjoying this itinerary on how to spend four days in Paris.
In France, The Rules Are Complicated
In France, saying cheers is not enough (well, it’s santé for a start, which literally 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.
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.
So, here’s what to bear in mind before you toast someone.
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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