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

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!

cheers in French

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.

Santé

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

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. You will also find him giving blogging advice on Grow With Less.

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

  1. 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.

    Reply
  2. 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?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
    • 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

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  3. 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!

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