Chivas Regal brand ambassador, Max Warner, explains how to enjoy a drink with new friends around the world.
Toasting is a ritual respected around the world. Harking back to days of old it is how we celebrate new friends and old friends, guests of honour, the bride and groom, business colleagues and special moments of all flavours.
You can muddle through on a raised glass and a cry of ‘cheers’, ‘chin chin’ or ‘good health’ on many a shore but the true, well-travelled modern gent will always be prepared to say ‘lechaim’, ‘salud’ and ‘sante’ where appropriate.
As every modern traveller knows, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. But you’d need to travel with a team of social anthropologists in order to be able to toast in the correct fashion wherever you are in the world.
As brand ambassador for Chivas Regal, I have spent the last eight years travelling around the world gathering knowledge to help create the perfect fail-safe toast. While there are some very interesting cultural variations, I have discovered five universal toasting truths. I have also come up with some country-specific tips to help the jet set navigate toasting responsibilities successfully. Let’s start with these.
First stop, China
Coming together over a drink has always been at the heart of Chinese culture, but the blast of economic growth is accelerating this to new levels. At clubs and bars in the big cities you’ll see a bottle of whisky or vodka in the middle of the table for guests to share. At a big meal you might find three glasses on your table – a glass for your drink of choice, a wine glass, and a shot glass. A few notes of caution when in China: not finishing your glass may be seen as disrespectful and the local spirit ‘er gua toe’ can bring down a dragon – I would suggest sticking with your whiskey.
The Chinese toasting ritual may be casual but, whether in a social or business setting, it is deeply associated with friendship, trust and respect and a simple ‘cheers’ is seriously frowned upon. The host will make the first toast, probably ‘ganbei’ (‘bottoms up!’) or ‘kai wei’ (‘starting the appetite!’). Touching the other person’s glass below the rim is a sign of respect. If you are drinking shots, always turn your glass over to show it’s empty.
Many travellers believe the Russian toast is ‘Na Zdorov’ye’ but they would be wrong unless they are having dinner. In fact Russians as a rule enjoy making up long and complex toasts such as ‘Za druzhbu myezhdu narodami!’ (To friendship between nations!). However, if you aren’t well versed in Russian and want to be on the safe side, go with a simple ‘Za Vas!’ (To you!).
In Russia toasts are made with spirits and empty glasses are always refilled. Expect frequent toasting throughout a meal. If the toaster stands, everybody else must stand. Be sure to make eye contact with each person you clink glasses with, then finish in one swallow and place your glass down on the table. It’s typically the host or the senior guest who kicks off the proceedings and if someone toasts you, you must toast them back – it’s the height of rudeness not to do so.
France, Germany, Italy
Across France, Germany and Italy there are many quirky local twists – and words – but in all three countries you must make eye contact as you touch everyone’s glass at the table. Not looking into the eyes is not only ‘bad luck’ but it threatens disaster for amorous pursuits. In France you’ll have seven even year’s bad sex unless you clink every glass individually without crossing arms. In Italy you’ll have the same fate if you fail to meet absolutely everyone’s eyes.
While you are holding that ever important eye contact prepare to toast ‘a votre sante’, ‘sante’ or ‘tchin’ in France, ‘ZumWohl!’ or ‘Prost!’ (‘good health’) in Germany and ‘Salute’ (health) in Italy, although ‘Cin Cin!’ (onomatopoeia of the sound of clinking of glasses) will also work.
Spain, South America and Mexico
Young Spanish speaking South Americans have a curious toast that’s most often heard if you’re enjoying a night out in a large group. You’ll often hear ‘arriba,abajo, al centro, al dentro!’ and see some matching movements with theglass: up (raising glass), down (lowering glass), in the center (putting glasses together), inside (drinking!).
If you are a guest in these countries, it’s polite to make a toast of thanks your host. The most appropriate toast in this case is ‘Salud’. You may want to personalise your toast by using variations on ‘Salud’ such as ‘un salud por la familia’ (cheers to family) or ‘un salud por la amistad’ (cheers to friendship).
The Scandinavians have a rather bloodthirsty cheer, ‘Skol!’. According to folklore ‘skol’ (which translates as skull), is derived from the time when Vikings drank ale or mead from the skulls of their defeated enemies. So after you toast in Scandinavia drink, then nod and be thankful they’re no longer Vikings.
What do to if you forget the local toast – the five universal truths of toasting
If your toasting know-how fails you at the crucial moment, here are some tips on international etiquette I’ve garnered from my journeys with Chivas. I’ve observed many different ways of raising a glass and though it is important where possible to respect local traditions. If you aren’t versed on how the locals do it, here are five good rules of thumb:
1. Try and judge the situation and formality of the occasion as toasts not only differ around the world but also depend on the venue and situation
2. Stand to make your toast, where appropriate
3. Always raise your glass, face the host first and make eye contact with your audience one by one
4. Where possible clink the glass of every guest before taking a sip. If you are not drinking, you should still raise a glass to the group as a sign of respect
5. Keep your toast short and non-specific but acknowledge the host and bring in a personal touch by highlighting your relation to the person or group
A little bit of toasting history
While on my travels I have enjoyed discovering the history behind local toasting traditions. Here are three historical facts you might not know.
1. Toasting is universal. We all toast whenever alcohol is drunk but reasons we toast vary according where you are in the world. For example, in China, toasting traditions began with libations to the gods. In Europe, on the other hand, toasting was originally a good way to stop your host poisoning you – ancient Greeks and Romans (and later the British in the Middle Ages) shared their drink from a flask or a cup as a matter of trust. If the host raised his cup and drank first, his guests knew they were safe. (Cyanide and belladonna were the preferred poisons.)
2. Why is it called a toast? Because wine used to be so acidic, people would add a piece of burnt bread so that the charcoal neutralised the acid. The host would always take the final sip, and eat the bread.
3. Today’s ‘loving cup’ ceremony, where bride and groom share their first drink together as wife and husband, to show the coming together of two families, has its origins in medieval courts. Back then, the ‘loving cup’ would be passed around, in memory of the first recorded formal toast in Western history. This was when Rowena, daughter of the Saxon leader Hengist, cried ‘waes hael’ (be of health) to King Vortigen and they shared a cup, leading to them sharing a kingdom as man and wife.