Beware when drinking in France. As innocent and normal as this activity may seem, French drinking traditions are slightly complicated. totally insane. Fortunately, this article will teach you all you need to know to behave like a perfect Frenchman. 

Goodbye cheers, hello health!

First of all, and quite logically, French people do not say “cheers” when toasting. Instead you can use “santé” (health). This is the most used words but some great alternatives include :

  • A la tienne (to yours => to your health).
  • A la vôtre (to yours but in a formal way this time)
  • A votre santé (to your health formal)
  • A ta santé (to your health) informal

If you don’t remember these words while drinking, silence is fine too, provided that you respect the following rules (even if you say “santé” you have to respect them anyway).

Here comes the fun

So that was the easy part. Now you need to be extremely cautious, the following rules are of utmost importance.

  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
  3. Make sure that everyone toasted before you drink
  4. NEVER cross your glass with someone else…
  5. Do not put down your glass between the toast and the first sip

Wait, what if I do cross my glass with someone else?

Then you are going to suffer from seven years of bad sex or seven years of bad luck, whichever version you prefer. Note that this is also true in Germany.

Once upon a time in the kingdom of France

These traditions may seem crazy to modern readers, however they did make sense at the time.

It’s said that people used to exchange a part of the liquid contained in their glass with the person they were toasting with. That way they could both be sure that none of the glass was poisoned. This is the reason why looking in the eyes was extremely important. These way people could detect stress, but most of all were not able to see if the content of the two glasses really mixed.

Later, as the world became less violent, exchanging the content of both glasses became a rare practice while it became normal to simply clink glasses. The fear of poison also explains why  not drinking after toasting was considered suspicious.

Nowadays, these problems don’t exist any more, but the tradition remained.


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

How to learn French in a year

Published by Benjamin Houy

Bonjour ! Je suis Benjamin Houy, the creator of French Together and author of How to Learn French in a Year and Everyday French Idioms. I've learned English and German on my own and created French Together to help you learn authentic French using proven methods.

  • Entonie

    What do you mean by ‘crossing a glass’?

    • Imagine that 4 friends are toasting. If they all do it at the same time, their arms cross. That’s what I mean.

      • balletslippers

        so in that situation what would be the proper way to toast?

        • Approve?
          Am 15.12.2013 06:27 schrieb “Disqus” :

        • You should clink glasses without crossing arms with the other people toasting.

  • Lei_5

    My entire family is French, and these sorts of funny rules are the first things you learn to do as a kid at formal family dinners.

    • Yeah and it’s always funny to see how important they are despite the fact they are no longer necessary.

  • giulia

    Hi. In the first paragraph it is frenchman, not french 😉

    • Thanks :), I just corrected it.

  • Non

    À la tienne → à ta santé…

    • You are clever. I never thought about it. Thanks for the information :).