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Santé! Five things to know about proposing a toast in France

The Local France
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Santé! Five things to know about proposing a toast in France
Photo: Philippe Lopez/AFP

Proposing the good health of your friends, family or colleagues is a serious business in France, so here's how to do it correctly.

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1 It's more common than you might be used to

Most countries have a culture of proposing toasts, but in Anglo countries they tend to be reserved for more formal occasions, or perhaps for people you haven't seen for a while. In France it's more common to toast even on a casual night out or a family dinner.

Of course it varies depending on the situation, the age of the people you are drinking with and the social group, but don't be surprised if there is a pause and a toast before people take the first sip of their drinks.

If you want to discuss the custom, it's known in French as l'art de trinquer - the art of toasting.

2 It's brief

But you won't be expected to make a speech or indulge in a Viking-like exchange of toasts lasting all evening. In France a toast is a simple clinking of glasses before taking the first sip of your drink. It is then not repeated unless you are marking something special like a wedding.

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The most common phrases to use when toasting are santé (or the more formal or plural à votre santé depending on the situation) or tchin-tchin. You can also toast to something specific - Trinquons à notre réussite (here's to our success) or the more general à la votre (here's to you) or à la notre (here's to us).

Foreign toasts are also popular - the English 'bottoms up', not often heard these days in the anglophone world, is quite common in some circles in France.

3 But it's all in the eyes

Eye contact is crucial when toasting, as is clinking everyone's glass. Don't think you can get away with just waving your glass in the general direction of others and then taking a drink.

It's considered polite to clink glasses with each of the people you are drinking with and you must make eye contact with them while doing it. You then wait for everyone to finish toasting then take a sip before putting your glass down. 

There are no rules on the type of drink you can toast with and it's not considered unlucky to toast someone with a non-alcoholic drink. 

4 You really don't want to get this wrong

Foreigners in France get used to being tutted at as they make a mistake in French etiquette so why is it particularly bad to get this one wrong? Well, legend has it that people who do not toast correctly are condemned to seven years of bad sex. Don't say we didn't warn you.

READ ALSO Why I love the French habits of scolding and complaining

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5 Cul sec is not a toast

The other drinking phrase you might hear is cul sec (dry bottom) which not a toast, but an invitation to down your drink in one.

Although cul is often translated as 'arse' or 'butt' this phrase is not in itself vulgar - it's just telling you to make sure the bottom of your glass is dry - but there is a time and a place for it.

Your French mother-in-law might be slightly surprised if you order her to 'down in one' her pre-lunch kir, although the current president of France is well able to 'down in one' a beer.

READ ALSO Cool cul: 13 of the best French 'bottom' expressions

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prohog 2022/12/23 19:23
We've introduced the Gaelic toast, Sláinte ( good health, pronounced slawn-che ) in our area in the Gard and our French friends like it, as it's close in sound and meaning to Santé and is easily understood and pronounced, while retaining some individuality.

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