Bottoms up! Five things to know about proposing a toast in France

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

Bottoms up! Five things to know about proposing a toast in France
Photo: Philippe Lopez/AFP

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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ANALYSIS: Is France food self-sufficient?

The war in Ukraine and, in the longer term, climate change have prompted concerns about supplies and cost of food - but would France be able to produce enough to feed its population if necessary?

ANALYSIS: Is France food self-sufficient?

As food prices rise in France and elsewhere, questions over the country’s food security and self-sufficiency have been asked.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – a major exporter of wheat, corn and oil – has affected global markets, with prices for such products increasing dramatically, while sanctions imposed on Russia – the world’s biggest wheat exporter – following the invasion are also hitting prices. 

It has also prompted questions as to whether, if necessary, France could feed the 67 million people who call it home, while both the European Commission and the G7 set out plans to safeguard global food security. 

Unlike other countries, such as Switzerland, France does not have a formal policy of self sufficiency for food – though it does have a policy for energy security.

READ ALSO Why is France so obsessed with nuclear power?

“There is no risk of shortage in France because our agriculture and our agri-food sectors are strong and sovereign,” former agriculture minister Julien Denormandie said on March 16th, while acknowledging that the industry faced a number of challenges.

He pointed to the economic and social resilience plan published by ex-Prime Minister Jean Castex to protect the French economy from the the effects of the Ukraine war, and which included measures to, “secure our producers, our processors as well as our agricultural and food production from 2022.”

Food prices, as predicted, have risen, both for imports and for domestically produced goods as farmers are hit by rising costs for fuel. The agriculture industry has been among the sectors consulted and farmers have been singled out for support, in order that they will be able to minimise price rises to consumers.

In April 2020, at the height of the Covid pandemic, it was estimated that France imports about 20 percent of its food.

But France – a food exporter – could feed its entire population, according to a report by the think tank Utopies, published in April. There’s a reason the country has been referred to as the ‘bread basket of Europe’.

The study found that France currently meets 60 percent of its own food needs, but has the potential to become self-sufficient. The report said that the 26 percent of food products currently grown in France for export or incorporation into processed food could be used to cover 98 percent of France’s domestic needs, the report said.

Food processing in France, of which some 24 percent is currently exported, could cover 114 percent of the country’s needs in that sector, it added.

Of course food ‘needs’ don’t include luxury imported items like exotic fruits, chocolate and coffee, so diets would see a change in a completely self-sufficient France.

More recently, drought has also prompted short-term concerns, with French farmers worried about their harvests this year. 

France is the EU’s biggest wheat exporter, and one of the top five in the world. But hopes that French farmers would be able to offset at least some of the shortfall in the world’s supply of grain following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have been hit by the record low rainfall so far this year, which have prompted warnings of a large drop in yields.

ALSO READ ‘No region has been spared’: Why the dry weather in France is causing concern

The forecast is for a smaller than usual French wheat harvest this year. With wheat-producing states in the US such as Kansas and Oklahoma also suffering in drought conditions, a poor harvest in France this year could be particularly significant – and could lead to wheat prices rising even higher in the short term.

At the height of the pandemic, president of the Fédération nationale des syndicats d’exploitants agricoles (FNSEA) Christiane Lambert told Les Echos that there were two key pillars to ensuring food security and independence in France – the ability to produce and the ability to store. 

“No one bought French flour anymore because foreign flour was cheaper,” Lambert said. “So we produced less. But with the coronavirus crisis, it was necessary to respond to demand and therefore relaunch the production lines by running them day and night to avoid shortages.”

French agriculture was able to meet the challenge then. “We have in France a complete ecosystem which allows us to control all the links in the food chain … It must be preserved if we want to be sovereign over our food,” Lambert added.

But there would need to be a change in philosophy about food, according to Les Republicains’ senator Laurent Duplomb.

In France, “entry-level” agricultural products are mainly imported, since authorities have insisted on reorienting domestic production towards quality over quantity.

“We must also stop focusing on high-end agriculture because food sovereignty means being able to produce for everyone,” Duplomb said back in 2020. 

“The risk in a few years is to have two French consumers. The first will have the means to buy top-of-the-range French products, the second will be condemned to consume only imported products since France will no longer produce them.”