Why Knowing How to Say Cheers in French Is Essential (And What Happens If You Don’t)

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7 years of bad luck (or bad sex depending on who you ask).

That’s what anyone who doesn’t respect the subtle rules of the French toasting ritual should expect.

That’s at least what the tradition says.

Truth is, French drinking traditions are totally insane.

You need to use the right words with the right people but also follow a precise set of rules that were created in the Middle Ages so people could make sure their drink didn’t contain poison (such a lovely period).

Goodbye cheers, hello health!

First of all, and quite logically, French people don’t say “cheers” when toasting.

Instead, they wish good health to the person they’re drinking with.

That’s at least how it is nowadays because wishing good health  used to mean something along the lines of “I hope you didn’t poison me because if you did, I will too”.

À votre santé

If you don’t know how formal or informal you should be, à votre santé is the “cheers” for you.

You can safely use it with your boss, a friend or even a stranger in a bar.

Safe doesn’t mean natural though and you’ll sound more French if you use the more relaxed à ta santé with friends and people you know well.

Both phrases have the same meaning, the only difference is the level of politeness.

À la vôtre

After someone said “à votre santé” (to your health), you can answer à la vôtre or “à la tienne” (to yours).

Again, these phrases both have the same meaning and the difference lies in the level of politeness.

You can use “à la vôtre” with people you don’t know well while à la tienne is better kept for friends, family members and people you’re close to.


The French love to drop words (and letters) when they speak and it’s common to hear santé (health).

Here the “à votre” or “à ta” part is implied.

Tchin Tchin

This expression originated in China where 請請 was used to say “please please” as a way of inviting people to drink.

It was then introduced in France by soldiers back from the Second Opium War and has been extremely popular ever since.

You can use tchin tchin with your friends and everyone you’re on a “tu” basis with as a fun replacement of the more traditional “à ta santé” and “à votre santé”.

Respect these rules when toasting. Or else…

French toasting

Knowing how to say “cheers” in French is easy.

Following the precise ritual that is toasting in French, not so much.

You see, the French follow a strict set of rules when it comes to toasting, and not following them could have dramatic consequences.

Before talking about these terrifying consequences, let’s look at these crazy rules:

  1. Look at the person you are toasting with in the eyes. While this is not as essential as the next rule, it is considered the polite way to toast.
  2. Do not add ice to your glass of wine. EVER.
  3. Make sure that everyone toasted before you drink.
  4. NEVER cross your glass with someone else’s.
  5. Do not put down your glass between the toast and the first sip.
  6. Do not forget anyone in the group.

Wait, what if I do cross my glass with someone else or don’t look at the person in the eyes? 

Then you are going to suffer from seven years of bad sex or seven years of bad luck, whichever version you prefer.

Once upon a time in the kingdom of France

These traditions may seem crazy, however, they did make sense when they originated.

It’s said that people used to clink their glasses to exchange a part of the liquid contained in them and make sure none of the glasses contained poison.

Looking at the person you were toasting with in the eyes was a way to make sure nobody knew whether the content of the glasses got mixed.

As the world became less violent, exchanging the content of both glasses became less common, and simply clinking glasses without exchanging the glasses’ content became the norm.

Nowadays, people (usually) don’t fear poison in their glasses but the tradition remains and following the rules is one of the best ways to show how French you are.

Have you ever drunk with French people? How did it go? Share your story in the comments below!

Benjamin Houy

Benjamin Houy is a native French speaker and tea drinker with a BA degree in Applied Foreign Languages and a passion for languages. After teaching French and English in South Korea for 7 months as part of a French government program, he created French Together™ to help English speakers learn the 20% of French that truly matters.

35 thoughts on “Why Knowing How to Say Cheers in French Is Essential (And What Happens If You Don’t)”

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  1. I learned all these rules pretty quickly, but a funny story: I come from Philadelphia, where we always tap the glass on the bar (or table), right after the “cheers”, right before the first drink. People were curious why I did it, and I said it was part of our tradition, always for friends lost, so now my whole French friend group does it also:

    – “Santé!” (with eye contact and a wink if you’re close to the friend)
    – Tap
    – Drink

    I kinda like the Philly/Paris mix we have going at my local spots. 🙂

  2. I learned from a dear French friend that Rule #2 regarding ice in wine actually has one exception in France– rosé. My very chic Parisienne friend introduced us to "rosé piscine" while we were dining together at an outdoor café. We were surprised! She says that, during the warmer months, drinking rosé with ice cubes is quite common in France — especially à la piscine, but also in restaurants and bars. (I later read that Brigitte Bardot is thought to have coined the term after being served a rosé with ice in a big Cognac snifter…and she remarked that the glass looked like a swimming pool. –I don’t know if that story is actually true, but it’s a fun image!)

  3. I think that this is the proper way to toast and they are very true. In Romania we do the same thing and everybody does it, so it’s not just the French that do it.

  4. I chuckled after reading this because an Irish friend told us years ago that it was an Irish custom to look the person in the eyes when toasting or it was 7 years of bad sex! Muahahaha! Très drôle, c’est entendu.
    When we’re with our friends and we’re toasting at lunch or dinner, it’s always a “à la tienne” — makes me think also whenever someone sneezes more than twice we hear, “reste avec nous” which is curiously catholique, n’est-ce pas? Any historical connections there besides religious?

    • We heard after you say ‘a tu souhaites’, for the second sneeze you say ‘a tes amours’. There is a phrase for the third sneeze but I cannot remember it and it is obscure. In Brittany they say yec’hed mat, pronounced eeyermat instead of a votre santé.

    • Believe it or not, the Germans are just as adamant about the eye contact! It might just be another bad American habit to look somewhere else when you’re toasting

  5. I heard years ago that clinking glasses was to complete the wine’s being available to all five senses: taste, feel (in the mouth), sight, smell, and HEARING.
    A museum in Europe displays a drinking glass of silver and rhino horn, a fad from the 1550’s to the 1660’s. If poison was in the glass, the horn was suppose to “sweat” and change color.
    Jewelry materials were also used: diamonds, emeralds, coral.
    Mythical animal parts were used: bezoars (from cattle stomachs), unicorn horns (narwhal tusks), toads’ heads, and snake’s tongues (fossil shark teeth), according to one internet site.
    I’d rather use glass for the 5 senses, not put anti-poison stuff into lead goblets!

  6. Even though I’m Chinese, I’ve never thought about your explaination of “Tchin Tchin”..Cuz one of my french friends told me that “Tchin Tchin” is trying to imitate the sound of clink glasses. Anyway, both of these 2 versions make sense. XD

    • I had always heard the same story as well – and it makes perfect sense. The French people do clink glasses quite often.

  7. Great article, thanks! Glad to know I won’t be getting 7 years of French bad luck now 🙂

    Just something I would point out, where you’ve written “if you did, I’ll too” and at the end where you wrote “one of the best ways to show how French you’re”, in English we would never use the contractions “I’ll” and “you’re” in this context, we would just use “I will” and “you are”. I’ve thought about it but I can’t think why this is, it just sounds really unnatural

    • @disqus_V5vdFOjt6F:disqus
      I think it’s because I will (what?) and you are (what?). We contract to get to the next word faster and when there is nothing else there’s no need to contract. Idk haha. Anyway, great article @kieloo:disqus !!!

    • “I’ll” needs to be followed by a verb, such as, “I’ll see you later.” “You’re” needs to be followed by a phrase., such as, “You’re my best friend.” Hope that makes sense. ?

  8. is it ok to have juice (no ice) in the wine glass – or does that bring on bad luck 😉 love the new look website *Tchin Tchin*

    • I’m glad you like it :). I tried to keep is as minimalist as possible.

      Juice in a wine glass? Why would anyone do such a thing? :p. It’s probably not the worst thing you could do but I wouldn’t recommend it.

      • En tant que natif Français je suis un peu surpris de la complexité de votre exposé. Un simple “santé” suffit en toutes circonstances. Quelque chose de très personnel et très ciblé est possible, comme concernant les amours, le travail, ou le sport se dit parfois ;-)) ex: “à tes amours”, “à nos enfants”, ” à ta promotion” “à ta victoire (tennis, running ou autres)”, “à ta retraite” etc….

  9. The clinking-glass is a long way back tradition which was used to show honesty. In a time when people tended to pour poison in glasses a lot to kill, the clinking was made hard enough so the drinks would merge, so if someone was trying to poison you, well he would also drink poison.
    Although people aren’t afraid of being poisoned anymore, this tradition has persisted in the old Continent, and it is indeed rude not to clink, as much as to clink and not drink.

    • A lot of things to remember as not to offend. Why do you suppose French are so formal? Geez, even though we are considered “the ugly Americans” I’ll take ugly and relaxed rather than so formal all the time. My cousin married a great guy who is French. I went to stay for a week and was intimidated because the last think I wanted to was embarrass her. That part was not relaxing. After being there a few days I really could tell who the Americans were when we went to Paris. LOL! Oh well, c’est la vie ?


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