French toast, anyone? We’re not talking about the delicious bready breakfast pain perdu! We recently showed you how important body language is for communication in various parts of the world, and France is no exception. Picking up on this side of the language can be a great way to learn French more quickly. If you’re celebrating over a meal or at a party, you’ll need to know the right way to give a toast in French. So today, we’re talking about how to say cheers in French, why the toast so important, and the weird and wonderful way that saying cheers in French became a performance in itself!
What’s the Occasion? Choosing the Right Vocabulary for Your Toast
Food and drink are a huge part of French culture, so if you’re spending some time in France with natives, you’re likely to be part of a toast. Let us walk you through the who, what, where, when, and why of how to give a toast in French, the right way.
If you’re the one who is giving the toast, you’ll need to choose the right way to propose a toast in French depending on the event. Let’s have a look at the different situations where you might need to propose a toast, and how to do it!
Where and when? Specific events and celebrations for cheers in French
There are some events where a toast is a given. We’re thinking weddings, housewarming parties (la pendaison de crémaillère, or simply crémaillère), and French holidays. In these situations, there are set phrases associated with toasting in French. At a wedding, you might make a toast porté aux mariés (a toast to the newlyweds) and say “Levons nos verres aux mariés” (Let’s raise a glass to the newlyweds). At a housewarming party among friends, try “Trinquons à votre nouvelle maison” (Let’s drink to your new home). And for holiday events, like Bastille Day on July 14th, raise your glass to freedom by saying, “Je lève mon verre à la liberté !”
Who? Know your audience!
As with anything you say in French, you’ll have to consider who you are talking to. Remember that in French, there are two types of address: tu and vous. (If you have trouble with pesky aspects of French like that, here are some resources that can help.) Well, when you want to say cheers in French, you need to consider this too. There are formal ways to give a toast in French, and there are separate phrases for toasting with friends.
Giving a formal toast in French
There are two common ways that the French formally give a toast. The first official way to propose a toast is to porter un toast. Lift your glass and suggest to your listeners, “Portons un toast” If you want to tell people who or what you are toasting, add “à” and your subject. For example, “Portons un toast à la santé du nouveau-né !” (Let’s toast to the health of the new baby).
The second formal way to propose a toast in French is to say “Levons nos verres” (Let’s raise our glasses). In the same way as portons un toast, you can add “à” and your subject to make this more specific.
Toasting with friends in French
No matter how much of a party-goer you might be, not all toasts are at special occasions. If you’re saying cheers in French with your friends, keep it simple. Here are some easy ways to say cheers in French, and sound like a native when you do.
- À ta santé / À votre santé – the most common way to say cheers in French. This literally means “to your health.”
- Santé – the French love to shorten their words and phrases, and this is simply a shortened version of à ta santé. If you don’t know whether to use a formal or informal way to say cheers, then this is a safe bet.
- À la tienne / À la vôtre – this is another spin on à ta santé. It translates to “to yours.” This doesn’t make much sense in English, but the “santé” is assumed.
- On trinque ? / Trinquons – this literally means “Shall we drink?” / “Let’s drink,” and is a very informal way of giving a toast in French. You might use this in a conversation about an achievement or success.
- Tchin-tchin – another very informal way to toast in French, this phrase comes from the old Chinese adage “qǐng qǐng.” This means “please please.” As in, please drink!
What? Dos and Don’ts when saying cheers in French
Now that you’ve got the vocabulary under your belt, it’s time to talk about the rules of giving a toast in French. It’s not as simple as saying cheers, a clink, and a drink. There are plenty of rules to follow if you’re going to make a toast in French, so pay attention!
Forbidden fruit… juice
The contents of your glass are just as important as choosing how to say cheers in French. Remember these important tips to avoid a faux pas.
- Never toast with non-alcoholic beverages
In France, making a toast with water or fruit juice is considered bad luck. The Greeks used to toast with water to signify the journey of a loved one into the afterlife. Definitely not something you want when you’re proposing a toast to a new marriage or baby!
- Stay cool, no ice
In France, never add ice to your wine (definitely not red or white, though it’s sometimes acceptable in rosé). If you have to, do it in secret! Making a toast in French with ice in your glass is a big no-no. Even vin de glace (ice wine) doesn’t contain ice. When your ice melts, it dilutes your wine, which is considered an insult to the art of the vigneron (wine-maker). Not very French!
- Think before you drink!
If you’re the one who is proposing a toast in French, make sure everyone has a full glass before you start. And when we say full, we mean French full – half empty to allow your wine to breathe.
The glass-raising ritual
Along with the vocabulary of making a toast and saying cheers, and the contents of your glass, you need to keep on top of the toasting etiquette. But you’re nearly there, so don’t worry! Here are some tips.
- Look into my eyes
In France and most of Europe, eye contact is key. If you are saying cheers during a toast, look into the eyes of the person you are clinking your glass with. If you fail, you are doomed to seven years of bad luck or bad sex, depending on who you ask!
- Keep it up
Keep your glass lifted for the entire speech, and until everyone has finished clinking their glasses. Don’t set your glass down until everyone has had their first sip! (If you feel your arm getting heavy during a toast that’s dragging on, try practicing your counting in French – in your head!)
- Bottoms up
If you are making a toast in French with hard liquor like whisky, and you hear someone say “cul sec” (dry bottom), that’s your cue to… well, dry the bottom of the glass. Drink until your glass is empty, in one go if you can. Be careful with this one though. If someone is making a toast and calls for a cul sec on a full pint of beer, maybe rethink that!
- Never toast with non-alcoholic beverages
Why so serious? The story behind the curious French toast
Congratulations! You made it through the long list of dos and don’ts for making a toast in French, or saying cheers in French with your native friends. But why is it all such a big deal? As a reward, we’ll treat you to the strange story behind these weird rituals.
Il était une fois en France…
Once upon a time in France… (now you know how many French children’s books begin!) toasting was a dangerous business. Back in medieval France, even rivals would sometimes toast each other over business deals and truces. But without the modern-day police and the quick responses of Paris’ SAMU ambulances, you had to make sure you weren’t being poisoned.
The tradition of clinking your glass when making a toast in French came from the old custom of exchanging part of the liquid in glasses. Exchanging some liquid meant that you could be sure you weren’t about to gulp down a glass of poison. Or if you were, your enemy would go down with you! Nowadays, you’re less likely to be poisoned. Be thankful that your biggest problem is remembering how to say cheers in French properly!
You did it! You learned all about saying cheers in French, and the perfect way to give a toast in French. If you liked it, raise your glass to the author by rating the article below. Want to stay tuned for more tips, tricks, and tales? Check out the MosaLingua Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube channel for more.
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