It is customary before you take a sip of your drink to say 'cheers' first, or more commonly in Scotland 'slainte'. Have you ever wondered what the reason for doing this is? Well, we have...
People have enjoyed alcoholic beverages for thousands of years. From shots to cocktails - there's an interesting story behind all of our drinking traditions. One of the most globally known drinking traditions is raising a glass and saying a toast, closing with a glass clink and chiming of words such as 'cheers' 'slainte' and 'cin cin'. Originating as a custom where drinkers would drop a piece of toast into their beverage to help add flavour and temper the drink - it has now grown into a tradition we have embedded into our drinking culture regardless of where we are in the world.
History of 'clinking' glasses
This is second nature to most of us and has been a custom used for hundreds of years. There are several reasons why the clinking of glasses was important when raising a glass with those around us.
Said To Ward Of Evil Spirits
During the Medieval period, the clinking of drinking vessels and cheering loudly said to help ward off evil spirits or demons. They also believed that the clinking of glasses would result in some spillage onto the floor during this time. People then hoped that the spirits would enjoy what was on the floor and leave them alone.
To Avoid Being Poisoned
There are quite a few theories bandied about that the clinking of glasses together would prevent you from being poisoned by your enemy. Generally, drinking vessels would be filled to the top, and, as your glass came into contact with another, some of that drink would be mixed in with yours. Mixing drinks and then taking a sip showed that the alcohol would not harm you or anyone else.
Where does the term Slainte come from?
You will hopefully be familiar with the term Slainte which is the common term for raising a glass and toasting in Scotland. Slainte is the term also used in Ireland and Isle of Man and derives from Irish and Scots Gaelic meaning 'good health'.
This word is derived from an old expression from an old Gaelic word, slán, which in English translates to “safe” or “healthy.” But today, it is more often translated to the saying “good health.”
Although Sláinte is the most common toast used, there are a few others that some people may choose to use instead. A couple of these are “Sláinte na bhfear,” meaning “good health to the men” or “go dte tú slán,” which means “may you go safely.”
Luckily unlike some other cultures, there aren’t any particular quirk traditions that are important to be aware of. In most cases, after saying “Sláinte,” touching your glass to the other persons is enough - then enjoy!
Saying Cheers in the UK
The common term across the rest of the UK is to say 'cheers' - however us Scots also dabble in a cheers now and again too! It is often used as a way of saying how nice it is to be with family and friends - enjoying the occasion. However, there is much more to the term than what you may initially realise.
It is the Romans and Greeks that we have to thank for using this word. A gift would be left for the gods as part of their traditions after a big banquet. In most cases, this would be after the death of someone. But over time, this custom evolved and was used to toast the health of those still alive.
The word we know today came from France and was spelt “Chiere." which over the years came to mean “gladness.” It was used as a way to help encourage those around you. It wasn’t until the early part of the 20th Century (1919) that the first written spelling of the word “cheers” that we know today appeared.
Now we use this word as a simple way of wishing those we are in good health. It is also used as a way of showing close friendship and camaraderie between a group.
Like other European countries, the Dutch enjoy a drink or two, and there are several terms they will use to say cheers. However, the one most commonly used of them is “Proost.” The actual meaning of this word is “to health,” and don’t be surprised that it will be said several times throughout the evening. It is the kind of word they like to use to get a party started.
When it comes to enjoying a drink or two with the Dutch, there's a few things to remember:
- When it comes to drinking wine generally, the French word Santé is used instead.
- As you say Proost, you need to make sure that you maintain eye contact with the other person as your glasses come into contact with each other.
Skål in Scandanavia
The word Skål (which is pronounced skoal) is used as a replacement for cheers when toasting in Scandanavian countries.
The word is an old Norse word that means bowl when translated into English and is believed to come from another Old Norse word, “skalli.” When you translate this into English, it means “bald head.” Eventually, this word then morphed into the English word “skull.”
Along with Skål, those from Scandinavian countries also like to say “skol.” This word gets used when enjoying a meal and also to help show friendship.
Like cheers, this word implies good health and good fortune. It can be expressed in several ways. It may be said a few times throughout the night to individuals, and after each time, you will sip of a drink. Otherwise, the whole group may say it together just once at the start of the evening.
It is important to note when you say Skål that you look at the other person then take a sip of your drink before looking at the other person again. Only after this is it acceptable to put your drink down. It is also custom that women will have to put their glasses back down on the table after the toast has been made.
Salud in Spanish
The word Salud comes from the Latin word “Salus,” which translated into English means health. This word gets used when toasting others and providing a blessing to someone after sneezing.
In most cases, this word often gets said before you begin to enjoy your drink, and you should wait until the person who has invited you says it first. It is also acceptable as the evening goes on for you to say it as a way of thanking the person you are with for inviting you to join them.
Unlike some other cultures, it is okay for a woman to toast those with them first.
Cin Cin from Italy
In Italy, they often raise a toast with the words “Cin Cin” pronounced “Chin Chin.”
It may surprise you to learn that this way of saying cheers in Italy derives from a phrase from China that was used for hundreds of years. The Mandarin phrase often used during drinking rituals in China was “qing qing.” But this isn’t a phrase that is in everyday use today. The Italians loved this word as it seemed to represent the sound you hear as glasses clinked together.
There are a couple of things you should be aware of when saying this Italian phrase for cheers. The first is in some parts of Italy you must remain eye contact with others as you say it. While in other parts of the country, it is crucial after saying it, you place your glass back on the table before having a drink from it.
Prost in Germany
Prost is a Germanised version of the Latin word “Prosit.” When translated into English, it means “may it be beneficial.” This is the word most frequently used to say cheers in German during informal gatherings.
However, when it comes to more formal occasions, the phrase “Zum Whol” is more common. When translated into English, this phrase means “to your health,” which is much closer to the meaning of the word “cheers.”
You will need to bare in mind a few things when enjoying a drink or two with your German friends. First, you must say “prost” to everyone you are with before enjoying your drink. The second thing to remember is that you touch the bottom of your glass to the other person’s bottom, never the top. You’ll understand why when trying to hold one of the large beer steins at an Oktoberfest event.
Finally, as with other cultures, you need to make sure that you maintain eye contact with the other person to whom you are raising a toast for a few seconds.
Santé in France
Just as with the Spanish word “salud,” you will find that the phrase “Santé” is a derivative of the Latin word “Salus.” Although most people in France tend just to say “Santé,” it is a shortened version of the phrases “À ta santé/À votre santé.” When translated into English, both of these phrases mean “to your health.”
You should be aware that in France they also like to use the phrase “tchin-tchin,” which gets used more often when they are out enjoying a casual drink with friends. Again you will find that the French pronounce it as “chin chin” and is a word brought back from China by French soldiers who had taken part in the Anglo-French expedition to China between 1856 and 1860.
The first rule to follow when raising a toast in France is to raise your glass and acknowledge the rest of the people with you. You must keep the glass raised until the person making the toast has finished. As the toast is said, it is acceptable to clink your glass against the others. When doing this, make sure that you make eye contact with the other person whose glass you are touching yours against.
It is also essential to make sure that you avoid crossing arms with others when reaching over to clink your glass against another. It is crucial to prevent this as you will suffer bad luck in the future, or so it is told in France.
Once the toast is completed, it is okay to take a sip from your glass before setting it down on the table.
These are only a few of the ways to make a toast around the world, with other countries having their own traditions and customs. Understanding how different cultures like to say “cheers around the world” will help prevent you from making any unnecessary faux pas. So you can enjoy a convivial drink with any new friends you make when travelling around the world.
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