Toasts are a very important part of Chinese dining etiquette and are a way for guests to show their respect to the hosts, offering multiple « Ganbei » during a single meal. This very cheerful and friendly tradition is also a key moment during French meals, however, it is done very differently : let’s see how. Santé !
Why do we give toasts ?
The clinking glass tradition seen pretty much all around the world nowadays is said to take its origin during the Middle-Age. Back then, poisoning was a frequent threat for the people invited at banquets where competing lords would take part. As the guests were suspicious, they would generously shock their glasses with each other, transferring a bit of wine into the other person’s glass at the same time and finally drinking the first sip. The guest who would not take part in the custom would, therefore, be considered as a poisoner !
The expression « to give a toast » comes from the Middle Age, where the French would eat a grilled piece of bread together with a glass of wine, calling it « tostée ». The word became « toast » later in the 12th century, when the British borrowed the French habit and made a festive tradition out of it: during celebrations, a piece of bread would be put in a glass of wine and each guest would drink a sip until the last guest would have to the honour to empty the glass and eat the piece of bread.
The general toasting rules in France
French actors Audrey Tautou and Guillaume Canet in romantic comedy « Ensemble c’est tout
Commonly speaking, clinking glasses, « trinquer » in French, is a very usual habit and you would always have to do it if you are celebrating something with friends or during most of the Sunday’s family meals, Christmas or birthdays.
However, there are several rules that you need to know, as the French take this tradition very seriously!
1. Wait for the toast before drinking
Alain Delon, Romy Schneider, Jean-Claude Brialy and Sophie Grimaldi in French movie « Christine »
At the beginning of the meal, the wine will be poured into the guests’ glasses by the host or the waiter before the starter is actually served. Small bites could accompany that moment, known as « l’apéritif » in French. A very common wine to drink at that stage is Champagne, which is reserved for special occasions. Once all the guests have wine, the host will first lift his/her glass, saying a few words while everyone else starts clinking glasses which each other. After the toasting is over, it is time to enjoy the wine !
2. « Dans les yeux ! » In the eye !
The most important rule to know when toasting with a French person is that you have to look at the other person in the eye. It is a sign of respect and consideration, a precious and sincere moment you are sharing with others for a few seconds. It is a common thing to say « Dans les yeux ! » if you catch another person not watching you in the eye while toasting, as a joke to remind about the rule.
3. « On ne croise pas ! » We do not cross ！
As you generally give toasts with one person at a time, it can become quite messy when there are a lot of different guests around the table. This moment can lead to amusing situations as another very important rule in France is that you should never cross paths with other people already clinking glasses together. For that, the French will start panicking and shout out « On ne croise pas ! », meaning « Do not cross arms! », reminding you that this unfortunate gesture will bring you seven years of bad luck !
4.« Tchin-tchin », an expression originating from... China!
There are different expressions to use while offering a toast in France. « A la vôtre » (« To you ») and « Santé » (« Wishing you health ») are common ones that you could use in any occasion. An equally common, yet more informal expression, is « Tchin-tchin ». This popular expression is said to come from the Chinese « Qing qing » (« Please-please »), historically used in China to invite people to drink. It has been introduced in France at the end of the 19thcentury by French soldiers coming back from the Second Opium War. Today, this expression is also commonly used in Belgium, Spain and Italy.
The formal rules of giving toasts
French actor Louis de Funès and actress Claude Gensac in Paris in 1971
As it would be very unlikely that your guests are trying to poison you nowadays, it would not always be necessary to bang glasses together, especially at formal events. Instead, the host may simply lift up his/her glass, followed by the guests, while reminding everyone about the occasion to celebrate : « It’s an honour to welcome you to celebrate my daughter’s wedding ». This is to be done at the very beginning, before starting drinking or eating, as a way to open up the ceremony. Nodding your head while lifting your glass to someone is also a common gesture to greet someone sitting far away from you.
Queen Mathilde and Kind Philippe de Belgique toast with General Governor of Australia in Brussels in 2018
Later during the meal, guests who want to make a small speech to greet the host or to express their feelings about the celebration may first announce it by knocking their wine glass using their dessert spoon. While hearing this noise, other guests would stop their conversation, paying attention to the speech. The person giving the speech should prepare it beforehand, as an improvised speech can be difficult !
"Hip, Hip, Hurrah!" , oil painting from 1888 by Norwegian-Danish painter Peder Severin Krøyer
During business meals, if you are not familiar with the people you are eating with and although everyone is having wine, refrain from offering toasts. Simply enjoy your wine. Clinking glasses are reserved for festive moments with people you know. You might offer a toast to your business partners only if you have something to celebrate, such as a successful negotiation ! Generally speaking, as a guest, follow the lead of the host and always answer a toast if you are invited to.
In our next episode about toasting, learn how to toast everywhere you travel !
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