French Word of the Day: Santé

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French Word of the Day: Santé
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

This French word is one you’ll hear at the bar and at the doctor’s office.


Why do I need to know santé?

Because if you have drinks planned with French people, you’ll want to remember this word.

What does it mean?

Santé roughly pronounced sahn-tay technically means ‘health’ in French, but you will likely hear it outside of healthcare settings. It is commonly spoken at dinner parties, bars and restaurants because it is the French equivalent of ‘cheers’ or ‘good health’ - a way to toast before taking a sip of your drink.

In France, there is a superstition that you must look the other drinker in the eyes while saying santé, otherwise you could become the victim of some very bad luck. The tradition of maintaining eye contact while clinking your glass to another person’s (also known as trinquer in French) dates back to the Middle Ages. 

5 things to know about proposing a toast in French

One theory states that it was as a way of saying ‘this drink is not poisoned’ - as the clinking of glasses would lead to a small amount of spillover, hypothetically mixing a poisoned drink in with a non-poisoned one. Keeping eye contact would be a way to show confidence - and that both parties drink at the same time. 


In France santé is the common common toast, but you can also say à la vôtre (or à la tien, if you are close enough to the other person to use 'tu') - roughly equivalent to 'here's to you'.

Some people in France also say ‘tchin tchin’ (likely borrowed from the Italian tradition) while you might also get a 'bottoms up' once people realise you're an English speaker (which is amusing as this one isn't much used by people aged under 70 or so in the anglophone world).

If someone says cul sec this isn't a toast as such - but an invitation to 'down it in one'.

Use it like this

Je pourrais faire un long discours pour vous féliciter de votre mariage, mais levons plutôt notre verre et disons santé. – I could come up with a long speech congratulating you on your marriage, but instead let's raise a glass and say cheers.

Je n'aime pas regarder les gens dans les yeux en disant santé – I don’t like looking people in the eyes while toasting


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