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 UK, 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.
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.