Traditions and Customs: Understanding French Cheers

Grover Laughton9 min
Created: Jan 26, 2024Last updated: Jan 26, 2024
French Cheers

Celebrations are an essential part of every country’s culture, and France is no exception. Congratulating people, saying warm words, and toasting are their important parts. The latter is an old ritual that has been common for centuries. It’s believed that people clinked glasses to exchange their drinks when toasting so that they could ensure no one’s beverage was poisoned. Of course, nobody does it the same way now, but the tradition of toasting is still relevant. Therefore, learning French cheers is necessary for everyone visiting the country.

The Art of Toasting in French Culture

The drinking culture is well-developed in France; people often meet for a glass in a cozy bar or enjoy some wine, even during lunch. Alcohol has always been an important part of the country’s traditions. The French people’s passion for wine is worldwide famous, and toasting is an integral part of every party or momentous occasion. Of course, keeping silent is not customary for natives, so they always talk when eating and drinking. 

You might ask how to toast in French and when locals say cheers. They don’t need any specific reason to do it. Of course, it’s an integral part of huge celebrations like Bastille Day, Victory Day, or Christmas. On the other hand, it’s customary to say “santé” [sɑ̃tˈe] (cheers) even on usual days. For instance, suppose you had a successful contract at work and visited the nearby café with colleagues. Why not celebrate this achievement? Toasting will make the event even more positive for everyone and bring numerous unforgettable moments.

Understanding “Santé” and Other Toasting Phrases

Knowing what to say when toasting is essential if you want to immerse yourself in the environment and freely communicate with locals. “Santé” is the most popular way to say cheers, so you will often hear this word from French people. However, it’s not the only expression you can use when toasting. Let’s explore some more helpful phrases for French drinking toast to dip into the language peculiarities: 

  1. Santé [sɑ̃tˈe] – Cheers.
  2. Tchin-tchin [tʃˈɛ̃-tʃˈɛ̃] – Cheers.
  3. À votre santé [ˈa vˈotʁ sɑ̃tˈe] – Cheers.
  4. À la tienne [ˌaaksɑ̃ɡʁˈav lˈa- tjˈɛn] – Cheers.
  5. Levons nos verres [ləvˈɔ̃ nˈo vˈɛʁ] – Let’s raise our glasses.
  6. Je lève mon verre à… [ʒˈə- lˈɛv mˈɔ̃ vˈɛʁ ˌaaksɑ̃ɡʁˈav] – I raise my glass to…
  7. On trinque? [ˈɔ̃ tʁˈɛ̃k?] – Shall we toast?

The French language is rich and diverse, so you can use different variations of “cheers” during special events. Memorize the above expressions and pick the ones you like most for your perfect toasts. It’s better to complement it with some more details; for instance, if you are attending a birthday party, remember to say warm words and congratulations to the person. 

Drinking sometimes has unpleasant consequences. Therefore, it’s important not to consume too much alcohol, especially during some important business events. Refusing a drink toast in French is possible. Just say “je suis pompette” [ʒˈə- syˈi pɔ̃pˈɛt], meaning “I’m tipsy,” for others to understand you would like to take a break. French wine can be tricky, so know when to make a pause!

Formal vs. Informal Toasting in French: Knowing the Difference

French people value respectful relationships and subordination, so they strongly comply with basic etiquette requirements. Communication in formal and informal settings significantly varies, which also concerns toasting. Therefore, it’s important to evaluate your environment and choose an appropriate “cheers” variation. 

“Santé” is suitable for all occasions, so you can use it in the business environment without a doubt. “Portons un toast” [pɔʁtˈɔ̃ ˈœ̃ tˈə͡ʊst] (“Let’s toast”) is another expression that was designed for formal communication, so you are welcome to use it. On the other hand, “levons nos verres” [ləvˈɔ̃ nˈo vˈɛʁ] is an informal collocation. It can only be utilized with friends, family members, and other close people. 

“Tchin-tchin” is another saying you should better leave for informal occasions. Even though it’s a versatile phrase used globally, it still doesn’t seem suitable for business events. 

An informal setting doesn’t have strict rules guiding you on how to toast in French. Therefore, you can choose any expression or word to say “cheers.” However, remember that your words should sound positive and call for pleasant emotions among those sitting at the table. If the event is not dedicated to a special event (like birthdays or weddings), ensure that your toast addresses each person, which is the basis of politeness and local etiquette.

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French Toasting Etiquette: Do’s and Don’ts

Traditions and customs make the country’s culture, and the French toasting etiquette is significant for locals. Therefore, you should explore its peculiarities before visiting any event to ensure you don’t break any common rules. Luckily, there are few requirements, so let’s discover them and demonstrate our knowledge to others.

First, remember to be attentive to the person (or people) you are toasting with. Look into their eyes and listen to everything they say. It’s a great way to discover how natives say “cheers” and exciting expressions they might use. So, always concentrate on your interlocutor and don’t switch to other details when toasting. Moreover, remember to respect others and not cross glasses when clinking, as it’s considered impolite. 

The second rule implies that you shouldn’t drink before you clink. Wait until the speaker finishes their toast, and ensure you touch the glasses of everyone sitting at the table. After that, have at least one sip. It’s considered impolite not to drink after someone says cheers. It’s worth noting that it’s not mandatory to order alcohol, but locals may ask why you avoid wine. As already mentioned, residents have special relationships with this drink. 

Moreover, toasting with non-alcoholic drinks is considered bad luck. There is no proof of this theory, but many French people won’t allow you to clink with a glass of water or juice. Just say cheers and sit back while others enjoy their drinks. Finally, you should always remember the difference between formal and informal communication and select suitable expressions depending on the situation. Words like “santé” are universal, so use them wherever you are. 

The French drinking etiquette is pretty simple, so it won’t take much time to master it. Remember that a man should always be a gentleman; serve women and fill in their glasses in cases when there’s no waitperson. Even though this action can seem outdated, ladies will appreciate such attention, making your evening more positive. The glass should be half-filled, so don’t pour too much wine; you can always repeat it when needed.

Celebratory Toasts: From Weddings to Casual Gatherings

Creating a unique toast that a person will remember for a long time is a great idea. However, some people find it challenging to choose the right words to congratulate others. In this case, taking advantage of some ready-made expressions is an excellent plan. Grab some common phrases that will come in handy when you have to say cheers in French when drinking on different occasions: 

  1. Levons nos verres aux mariés [ləvˈɔ̃ nˈo vˈɛʁ ˈo maʁjˈe] – Let’s raise our glasses to the bride and groom (a perfect toast for weddings).
  2. Trinquons à votre nouvelle maison [tʁɛ̃kˈɔ̃ ˌaaksɑ̃ɡʁˈav vˈotʁ nuvˈɛl mɛzˈɔ̃] – Let’s toast for your new home (used during housewarming events).
  3. Je lève mon verre à tes beaux yeux [ʒˈə- lˈɛv mˈɔ̃ vˈɛʁ ˌaaksɑ̃ɡʁˈav tˈe- bˈo jˈø] – I raise my glass to your beautiful eyes (a great idea for a romantic date).
  4. Je te souhaite le plus joyeux des anniversaires, santé [ʒˈə- tˈə- suˈɛt lˈə- plˈy ʒwajˈø dˈe- anivɛʁsˈɛʁ, sɑ̃tˈe] – I wish you the happiest of birthdays, cheers (used to congratulate a birthday boy or girl).
  5. Tu l’a fait, on trinque? [tˈy ˈɛl’ˈa fˈɛ, ˈɔ̃ tʁˈɛ̃k?] – You did it, shall we have a toast? (Congratulating someone on their significant achievement).
  6. Félicitations pour la naissance de votre bébé, santé [felisitasjˈɔ̃ pˈuʁ lˈa- nɛsˈɑ̃s dˈə- vˈotʁ bebˈe, sɑ̃tˈe] – Congratulations on the birth of your baby, cheers (a suitable toast when welcoming a newborn).

These are only some examples, so you can create personalized toasts and congratulations on special events. However, remember that French people don’t need a reason to say “cheers.” It’s as habitual as hi for natives. Therefore, even an ordinary dinner is a reason to clink your glasses and enjoy some tasty wine. Be ready to proceed with this action multiple times during one evening.

Practical Tips for Making a Toast in French

Making a perfect toast can set the mood for the entire evening, so speakers need to be positive and creative. Of course, improvisation makes sense, but it’s better to prepare in advance to impress everyone. For instance, when visiting a wedding, you can complement your cheers in French salut with some memorable facts about the couple. Speak about how much you value these people and how fantastic they look together. Remember to add “santé” at the end! 

Providing a toast on birthdays requires special attention to the person. You can wish luck, health, success, and so on. Talk about how valuable a person is to you and highlight all their advantages. The birthday boy or girl will be happy to hear warm words from their guests. Try to create a memorable and touching toast to form the best impression.

Of course, it’s possible to search for some toast ideas online. However, remember that it’s always better for congratulations to come from your heart. Don’t be afraid to say what you think or add a joke; something personal is always a great way to show your feelings to a person.

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Conclusion

The art of toast in French language is thrilling; drinking has always been a significant part of the country’s culture. Locals prefer a glass of wine regardless of the situation, and saying cheers is also an important tradition. It’s not mandatory to use “santé,” as you can enjoy multiple variations of this word. However, consider the circumstances and don’t use slang on formal occasions.

FAQ

Would it be possible to toast with soft drinks in France?

French people are passionate lovers of wine and won’t understand the unwillingness to try their national drink. However, they won’t judge those not consuming alcohol at all. Saying “cheers” and clinking with a soft drink is not the best idea in the country. It’s believed that such an action will bring bad luck to everyone sitting at the table. Don’t be too serious on this point. This superstition is slightly becoming a thing of the past, so youngsters will hardly pay attention to what is in your glass.

What are the peculiarities of French drinking etiquette?

Drinking is an integral part of the country’s culture; most natives cannot imagine their lunch without a glass of wine. However, it doesn’t mean that residents are never sober, as they have particular rules. For instance, they stop drinking once they finish their meal, even if the glass is not empty yet. Moreover, it’s important to taste the beverage and drink it slowly. And always remember about ice: French people would never add it to their wine.

Are there any additional resources that I should use to master French faster?

Learning any language requires a lot of time and effort, and using educational materials is critical to reaching the desired level of fluency. Online dictionaries are the tools every student should use. Those mastering French can take advantage of Reverso and WordReference to instantly translate new words and phrases to memorize them and replenish their vocabulary.

How do you toast in French?

It’s important to remember that locals don’t need a reason to say “cheers,” as even an ordinary meeting with friends is a positive event. Therefore, why not say some pleasant words to those around you? French people usually clink glasses with wine or apéritif and say “santé.” This versatile word is suitable for any formal or informal occasion.

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