A Toast to Toasting: Cheersing Around the World
While the exact origin of toasting is highly debated (some say it involved people trying to poison one another, others say it was a way to create trust…), our favorite origination stems from the idea of filling a void of camaraderie. Hundreds of years ago, it was customary for most cultures to enjoy their vino in one single vessel. The chalice was passed from person to person, and a sense of fellowship and openness was created as you literally swapped saliva with your fellow brethren. No thanks. As the years progressed and our knowledge of germs and personal hygiene improved, this single vessel drinking style was eliminated. Most cultures shifted towards drinking out of individual wine chalices, or going as far as using red solo cups with names written in permanent marker to make it very known which specific glass was yours.
The action of raising individual glasses to your neighbors for a toast became a way of bringing back the sense of togetherness that once existed while sharing a beverage. Cultures then expanded on this toast by adding their own unique speeches, “cheers” and rules. Through all the changes and additions, giving a toast today still centers around a feeling of companionship and honoring or wishing well the people and things you hold dear.
Here are a few of our favorite toasting traditions from around the world:
Even though Koreans party hard, there are still formalities with toasting. Although their customs aren’t quite on the same level of complexity as their Chinese neighbors (don’t worry, we’ll get to China’s traditions in a hot sec), they still have several steps in place before you can take a sip. As the toasting begins, be careful not to pour your own glass. In Korea, it’s tradition to let your friends pour your beverage of choice for you, and then you return the favor by doing the same for them. Rule number two only applies to younger drinkers: when your drink is poured by an esteemed elder, you must redirect your gaze away from them out of respect. You might be ready to drink at this point, but before finally taking a swig, there’s one last rule to follow. Make sure you grab your glass with both hands as you yell “gun bae” (or “cheers”) and take a well-deserved sip at last.
As the birthplace of pub culture, the Brits take their toasts and traditions quite seriously. One of their oldest drinking proverbs states, “a friend’s eye is a good mirror.” When cheersing in Great Britain, maintaining eye contact is almost required, as it encourages you to reflect on your own actions while celebrating your fellow drinking partners. It is also common for British toasts to be made while sitting down. You can thank the Royal Navy for this adopted practice. Below deck in old wooden warships there wasn’t enough headroom to stand upright, so all drinking speeches were made while seated with slightly cramped necks. Cheers! To good wine and high ceilings.
The story here goes: if you break eye contact while clinking glasses, you’ll be cursed with seven years of bad luck (specifically in the bedroom). Before giving your friends the staredown to avoid a particularly unlucky future, you must also follow their other toasting traditions. The first toast is always a nod to everyone’s health. And we mean everyone. This process is fine when you’re at the pub on a Monday or enjoying a beverage any time before 5:00pm. It becomes a logistical nightmare when you’re faced with a crowded bar, however. To each patron in the bar you must say “na zdravy!” – which literally means “to your health” – while touching glasses. And don’t you dare break that eye contact. To make matters, and the idea of cursing your next seven years, even more nerve-wrecking, you also have to avoid spilling any wine from your glass, and you must be careful to not cross arms with any other drinking companions. Again, this becomes especially difficult while trying to keep your eyes locked. Fortunately, these traditions are only required for beverage #1, as things get far too impossible as the night draws on.
A Brazilian toast is a simple one (thank goodness). They have two traditions you need to adhere to, and both are pretty easy. Start off by filling all glasses with booze from the same bottle. The idea behind using one bottle to fill all cups has to do with the temperature of the drink in your glass. According to Brazilians, drinking from one bottle results in colder drinks. Clink drinks with your neighbors while saying “saúde!” (meaning health) and take a sip immediately. And we really do mean immediately. It’s an offensive gesture if you don’t sip right after the toast is made.
If you thought Korean toasting had one too many steps, you’re in for a real treat with Chinese tradition. In China, formalities and etiquette are paramount when it comes to tipping your glasses for a toast. There are several key rules that are not to be missed, starting with toasting during a meal. At dinner parties, always remember that the host will begin the toasting by addressing one specific visitor. After that guest receives their toast, they’re expected to respond back with a toast of their own. As a general rule of thumb, the drink of choice at the meal might not actually be your choice.
If you’re a guest, you most likely will be drinking whatever your host provides. Regardless of exactly what is in your glass, always make sure to pay attention to the beverage someone toasted you with – you’ll need to respond to their toast with the same drink. If you’re still even thirsty at this point, there’s one last rule to follow before you can raise your glass to shouts of “ganbei,” or “bottoms up.” If a respected elder toasts to you, make sure your glass is lower than theirs when your cups go in to clink. Once you’ve got these rules down, lift up your cup and enjoy!
So dust off your passport, gather your friends and head out into the world! Your favorite pastime can now be enjoyed responsibly wherever you may find yourself.