Toasting is a ritual respected around the world. Harking back to days of old it is how we celebrate new friends and old friends, guests of honour, the bride and groom, business colleagues as well as special moments.
You can muddle through on a raised glass and a cry of ‘cheers’, ‘chin chin’ or ‘good health’ on many a shore but the true well-travelled modern gent will be prepared to say ‘lechaim’, ‘salud’ and ‘sante’ where appropriate.
With this in mind, Chivas Regal brings you the Gentleman’s Guide to Making a Toast. With a history spanning over 200 years, Chivas Regal has been toasted with in more than 150 countries. Along the way we’ve picked up some useful information that will help get you into the spirit and get you toasting like a local no matter where in the world you might find yourself.
Coming together over a drink has always been at the heart of Chinese culture, but the blast of economic growth is accelerating this to new levels. At clubs and bars in the big cities you’ll see a bottle of whisky or vodka in the middle of the table for guests to share. At a big meal you might find three glasses on your table – a glass for your drink of choice, a wine glass, and a shot glass. A few notes of caution when in China: not finishing your glass may be seen as disrespectful and the local spirit ‘er gua toe’ can bring down a dragon – we would suggest sticking with Chivas.
The Chinese toasting ritual may be casual but whether in a social or business setting, it is deeply associated with friendship, trust and respect and a simple ‘cheers’ is seriously frowned upon. The host will make the first toast – probably ‘ganbei’ [‘bottoms up!’] or ‘kai wei’ [‘starting the appetite!’]. Touching the other person’s glass below the rim is a sign of respect. If you are drinking shots, turn your glass over to show it’s empty.
Many travelers believe the Russian toast is ‘Na Zdorov’ye’ but they would be wrong unless they are having dinner. In fact Russians as a rule enjoy making up long and complex toasts such as ‘Za druzhbu myezhdu narodami!’ (To friendship between nations!). However, if you aren’t well versed in Russian and want to be on the safe side, go with a simple ‘Za Vas!’ (To you!).
In Russia toasts are made with spirits and empty glasses are always refilled. Expect frequent toasting throughout the meal. If the toaster stands, everybody must stand. Be sure to make eye contact with each person you clink glasses with, finish in one swallow and place your glass down on the table. The host or the senior guest usually kicks off the proceedings and if someone toasts you, you must toast them back; it is the height of rudeness not to do so.
France, Germany, Italy
Across France, Germany and Italy there are many quirky local twists – and words – but the acceptable way to toast is to make eye contact as you touch everyone’s glass at the table. Not looking into the eyes is not only ‘bad luck’ but – to a greater or lesser degree – in France and Germany it threatens disaster for amorous pursuits! In Italy, this is taken to extremes – you’ll genuinely have to meet everyone’s eyes.
While you are holding that ever important eye contact prepare to toast ‘a votre sante’, ‘sante’ or ‘tchin’ in France, ‘ZumWohl!’ or ‘Prost!’ (‘good health’) in Germany and ‘Salute’ (health) in Italy – although ‘Cin Cin!’ (onomatopoeia of the sound of clinking of glasses) will also work.
Spain, South America and Mexico
Young Spanish speaking South Americans have a curious toast that’s most often heard if you’re enjoying a night out in a large group. You’ll hear “arriba, abajo, al centro, al dentro!!” and see some matching movements with the glass: ‘up (raising glass), down (lowering glass), in the center (putting glasses together), inside (drinking!). There’s also the more generally used ‘salud’ – appropriate if you’re a guest, to make a toast of thanks to your host. The modern gentleman is always polite, if your host has made you feel like you’re one of the family, there is no greater compliment possible. ‘Salud’ is also often used as part of a more personalised toast such as; ‘un salud por la familia’ (cheers to family) or ‘un salud por la amistad’ (cheers to friendship).
The Scandinavians have a rather bloodthirsty cheer – ‘Skol!’. According to folklore it is derived from a legend that Vikings drank from the skulls of their enemies. So when in Scandinavia drink, then nod and be thankful they’re no longer Vikings.
What do to if you forget the local toast?
The modern gentleman is well versed in international etiquette, so that no matter where they are in the world they can present themselves with the same confidence as they would at home. But if your toasting know-how fails you at the crucial moment, here are some tips from Max Warner, Chivas Regal Global Ambassador and toasting expert:
“On my journeys with Chivas, I’ve observed many different ways of raising a glass and though it is important where possible to respect local traditions there are a few good rules of thumb which I’ve picked up that can get you by if you’re not versed on how the locals do it.
- Try and judge the situation and formality of the occasion as toasts not only differ around the world but from venue and situation as well
- Where appropriate stand to make a toast
- Always raise your glass, face the host first and make eye contact with your audience
- Where possible clink the glass of each guest before taking a sip. For those not drinking, raise a glass to the group as a sign of respect.
- Keep your toast short and non-specific but acknowledge the host and bring in a personal touch by highlighting your relation to the person or group.”
A little bit of history
Why is toasting recognised wherever alcohol is drunk? It depends. In Chinese traditions, toasting began with libations to the gods. In Europe, on the other hand, it was a good way to stop your host poisoning you. Ancient Greeks and Romans – then the British in the Middle Ages – shared their drink from a flask or a cup as a matter of trust. If the host raised his cup and drank first, his guests knew they were safe.
Why is it called a toast? Because wine used to be so acidic a piece of burnt bread was added – the charcoal neutralised the acid. The final sip went to the host, who ate the bread. In medieval courts, the ‘loving cup’ would be passed around, in memory of the first recorded formal toast in Western history – when Rowena, daughter of the Saxon leader Hengist, cried ‘waes hael’ (be of health) to King Vortigen and they shared a cup – leading to them sharing a kingdom as man and wife.