European Drinking Songs

Europe has a great culture and an amazing history. Most important thing though is that people there know how to live! In America they’ve forgotten all about it. I’m afraid that the American culture is a disaster.”

Johnny Depp

A German, an Irishman and a French man walk into a bar… You know how the story goes. But you don’t know how it ends! Because, after some good jokes and quite as many beers, the German, the Irishman and the French man will start singing. Soon they will run out of breath performing their favorite drinking songs and the bar will become a genuine European mess… Sounds promising, right? You wanna join? Then make sure you can sing along. Because the Spanish song comes with a choreography, the Italian one involves some role game and the Swiss melody will require some good knowledge of yodeling. Be reassured, EuropeIsNotDead prepared the ground for you with this list of European drinking songs… You can read, listen and learn about your neighbour’s most inspiring drinking chants. Enjoy, and join the European party!

Portugal

Cá da malta

Come in! Don’t be afraid! The Portugueses welcome you to their home with some great Porto wine and a strange song which sounds like “e se o (nome) quer ser cá da malta, tem de beber este copo até o fim, e vai pra cima e vai pro baixo e vai pro centro, e vai pro dentro e vai pro dentro e vai pro dentro…!”. You may first be a bit puzzled since your knowledge of the Portuguese language is quite rudimentary. But you will learn soon that the song actually means in English  “and if (name) wants to be part of this gang, he/she has to drink this cup till it’s done and (the cup) goes up and it goes down and it goes to the center, and it goes in, it goes in, it goes in…” Now you’re ready to be part of the Portuguese band and act accordingly. You will even soon be able to replicate the song to newcommers. Of course, as they did to you, you will need to incorporate the name of the person at the beginning of the song if you want to see him drinking.

 

Spain

Arriba, Abajo, al Centro, y pa’dentro!

What are all those young Spanish people doing in the streets ? Are they really all gathered here to drink ? You don’t get that… “That” is the famous botellón literally “big bottle” – one of Spaniards’ favourite pastime in action which seriously tests the innate Spanish tolerance for noise. Calling it a tradition may be somewhat far fetched but if you get the opportunity to join a botellón one day in your life, go for it! At this occasion, you’ll get a chance to taste Spanish beers, cheeses and breads, but most importantly, you’ll be required to raise your glass and hear the famous phrase “Arriba, Abajo, al Centro, y pa’dentro!”. This typical Spanish toast simply means “Up, Down, in the middle and inside”. You’ll just need to follow the rules of the catch-phrase before starting again, and again, over and over… until you eventually fall asleep.

 

France

51 je t’aime

Imagine sitting in any of thousands of Provence’s outdoor cafes in southern France. The sun is shining, you already had a delicious baguette and some cheese to go with it and you are now observing some French people playing pétanque. What to order? Pastis of course! This anise-flavoured liqueur is the French national, versatile and much-loved drink. When you order pastis the waiter will propose you either a 51, a Pernod or a Ricard do not bother, they are basically all the same. Pending on his mood, he will serve you a generous portion (at least two ounces generally more) along with a beaded carafe of water. And you’ll start enjoying your own 51, without even noticing that it contain (only) 45° of alcohol. Pastis demands the correct ambience. Drinking it is a philosophy. The French praise it so well that they even dedicated it their most famous drinking song: “51 je t’aime“. Its lyrics are unambiguous: “51 I love you, I would drink barrels of it. Till I fall on the ground. Under coconut trees”. So what now? Un pastis, garçon?

 

Ireland

The Irish Rover

Drinking songs could be an invention we owe to our fellow Irish friends actually. The pub culture in Ireland isn’t something Irish do on occasion, but rather a way of life. Many pubs in Ireland are actually living rooms that just happened to have a couple taps and a good selection of liquor in them. Many people in Ireland have their favorite local watering-hole, complete with free live music and free flowing beer. Whether you’re talking Guinness, a dram of Irish whiskey, or pub life in general, everyone loves to drink like the Irish drink. If you really want to get in the mood, though, you need traditional Irish drinking music. The up-tempo Irish madness of the drinking song The Irish rover gets everyone in the party spirit. It is actually an old Irish folk song about a magnificent, though improbable, sailing ship that reaches an unfortunate end.

 

United Kingdom

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

You remember that time, when you were sitting calmly with some friends in a British pub and were enjoying a brown ale? You rembember when, suddenly, a group of rugbymen built like tanks entered into the bar, yelling loud and invading the space? It now comes to you that they started to sing a somewhat slow and strange song that they performed with obscene gestures. Remember it? The song was “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and has been used by members of the Hash House Harriers, rugby union players and air force fighter pilots for ages. According to the rules of the drinking songs, the first person to fail to correctly make the gestures has to buy the next round of drinks. In order to help you cope with these complex rules, EuropeIsNotDead got you covered. Here the lyrics and associated gestures. How kind of us!

 

Norway

Ol, øl og mere øl

Have you ever heard of “snapsvisa“? It is the word that Scandinavians invented to refer to their strange habit of singing a song before having a small shot of spirit or, as you may have guessed, a “snaps” in Nowegian. No tricks there, the Norwegian drinking song here is as simple as a nursery rhyme!  All you need to know is that “øl” means “beer”, “og” means “and”, and “mere” means “more”. Those Scandinavians, we knew they were smart but not to the point of elaboration such profound lyrics… It was written by a well-known band from Namsos called 3 Busserulls and is now a must-have in Norwegian parties and bars…

 

Sweden

Helan går

Here they are, the Swedes! They all disappeared at the end of June for midsummer the period of time centered upon the summer solstice. We left them erecting a huge pole in the center of their village and performing the frog dance around it. They now sing famous Swedish drinking songs, or snapssång as they call it. One of them, in particular, resonates better: Helan går. Helan (“the whole”) is an expression signifying the first (small) glass of spirit (commonly akvavit or vodka) of a series, and går means “goes down”. You should definitely listen to it. For non-Scandinavians, it simply means: “The whole goes down – Sing “hup fol-de-rol la la” – And the one who doesn’t take the whole – Doesn’t get the half either – The whole goes down”. Yes please? It reminds you of something? Now you’re good! The instrumental version of the song was indeed one of the ringtones on Nokia mobile phones  an ode to Nokia’s Scandinavian heritage.

 

Finland

Juomalaulu

Juon, juon, minäpoika juon. Minä tykkään olla kännissä. Juon, juon, minäpoika juon. Tahdon heilua hulluna humalassa.” That’s for sure too many voyels for a song to sing along. Especially if you already feel a bit drunk. But you should definitely give it a try, as this Finnish piece of art may be one of the funniest European drinking songs. Even if you can’t say a word in Finnish, you will quick understand its spirit. The song goes: “I drink drink this boy drinks, I like to be drunk, I drink drink this boy drinks, I like to sway like crazy when I’m drunk” And it continues the whole song with a exhaustive list of the reasons why you should drink: “I drink to hangover I drink to hopness, And when im sober I drink, I drink few and I drink anyways, And again I drink”. We found the genuine Finnish spirit there…

 

Denmark

Vi skåler med vore venner

If you already read the article on European untranslatable words, you would know that Danes have this great word, “Hyggelig” to describe the mentality and demeanor of being warm, accommodating and friendly to the others. Hygge is an old Danish concept that helps Danes get through the long, dark winter. And you know what? This is precisely this Hygge mentality that is reflected in their drinking song! Because, according to the song, “we say cheers to our friends, And those that we know, And those that we don’t know, We say cheers to them aswell”. How could they be more friendly? In case you need the lyrics in Danish, there is some beauty in it: “Vi skåler for vore venner, og dem som vi kender, og dem som vi ikke kender, dem skåler vi med“.

 

Netherlands

In de hemel is geen bier

Our Dutch friends are truthfully good at creating syllogism… It explains why they come up with so great drinking songs! “In heaven there is no beer” we agree, right?No, no, no, That’s why we drink it here”, yes… it makes sense. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. “Yes, yes, yes, Give us then our beer”. Impeccable logic! If you want to sing along, the lyrics in Dutch are “In de hemel is seen bier ; Nee, nee, nee ; Daarom drinken wij het hier ; Ja, ja, ja ; Zijn we niet meer hier.” The song was also translated in English by Dr. Demonto In heaven There is no beer. And here you’ve got a Band performing the song. The result is quite amazing!

 

Belgium

Chef, un p’tit verre on a soif

If you ask any Belgian, he will for sure claim that Belgium is the undisputed beer capital of the world. Drink’s history stretches back centuries and enthusiasts say its diversity in Belgium is unequalled anywhere else in the world. Belgian beers have been celebrated in paintings by Pieter Brueghel the Elder and in countless songs. The most popular of them may be the drinking song entitled Chef, un p’tit verre on a soif”  or in English “A small glass we are thirsty!“. The Belgian singer “Le Grand Jojo” interpretated this iconic song for the first time in 1979. Since then, it invaded bars, clubs, celebrations and weddings. Next time you raise a glass of Belgian beer, rest assured: it’s a cultural experience in itself !

 

Germany

Ein Prosit Der Gemütlichkeit

Bier served at Oktoberfest and in Bavarian Bier halls and restaurants usually come in two sizes: “Large” and “Oh…my…God!”. Proper Bier drinking etiquette at Oktoberfest requires that during particular songs, all glasses are raised and the song belted out. If there’s one song you are absolutely guaranteed to hear at the Oktoberfest it’s this one:  “Ein Prosit” (which simply means “A Toast” in English) That’s because that bands in each tent blurt it out every 20 minutes or so in an honest effort to help revellers get nice and lubricated. It says: “Ein Prosit, ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit ; ein Prosit, ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit!“. The whole song would actually translate as “A toast, a toast, that cheerful feeling. A toast, a toast, that cheerful feeling … One, two, three – Drink !”. Though it’s difficult to pin down from where the song originally stems the modern version was composed by Gerhard Jussenhoven and Kurt Elliot in 1957.

 

Switzerland

S’ Vogellisi

We hope you are ready to sing a Swiss song? If Vogellisi’s song is not about alcohol as such, you may often hear it in bars in Switzerland, and most often from people so drunk that you can barely catch a word! Ready ? „Wenn i nume wüsst wo s’Vogellisi wär, s’Vogellisi chunt vo Adelbode her, Adelbode liit im Berner Oberland, s’Berner Oberland isch schön. Z’Oberland ja, z’Oberland, z’Berner Oberland isch schön z’Oberland jo, z’Oberland z’Berner Oberland isch schön“. And of course, the English translation. You may notice that the lyrics are stupid simple: “Vogellisi, if only I could know where is Vogellisi, Vogellisi comes from Adelboden, Adelboden is located in the Bernese Oberland, Bernese Oberland is wonderful!”. Just for your information, the idyllic Bernese Oberland is a popular holiday destination.

 

Italy

Bevilo Tutto

There’s nothing like a sip of pleasantly bitter Campari or a lemony, palate-cleansing Sgroppino cocktail before an Italian meal. You may enjoy it with some Italian friends, who soon will start singing Bevilo Tutto or “Drink It All” Italian’s most cherished drinking song dating as far back as the 1880s. The rules are quite simple, but alcohol doesn’t help: the table begins singing Bevilo Tutto repeatedly until a carefully chosen victim drains his glass of wine. The person then turns his glass up-side down, and if a drop falls, the person must refill the glass and try again. The lyrics say: “Bevilo tutto, Bevilo tutto, Bevilo tutto! Se l’e’ bevuto tutto, E non gli ha fatto male, L’acqua gli fa male, Il vino lo fa cantaree!” which translates: “Drink it all, drink it all, Drink it all, drink it all, etc. – He has drunk it all and it didn’t make her ill. Water makes you ill. Wine makes you sing!” If it’s not enough for you, you can continue with other drinking songs as Italians have a long tradition with their so-called Brindisi such as Libiamo ne’ lieti calici.

 

Austria

Prost, Prost Kamerad…

Ah! Eventually! Eventually a drinking song so easy to understand that anyone without basic knowledge of German can learn it! It says: “Prost Prost Kamerad ; Prost Prost Kamerad ; Prost Prost Prost Prost Prost Prost Kamerad; Wir wollen noch einen heben ; Prost Prost Prost! ; Sauf’aus Kamerad; Sauf’aus Kamerad ; Sauf’aus Sauf’aus Sauf’aus Kamerad ; Wir wollen noch einen heben ; Prost Prost Prost!. Translated into English it means : “cheers cheers friend ; We want to raise our glass ; drink drink friend…“ It’s quite ironical that the melody comes just from a man, whose name was hated in his time like hardly any other: Johann Gottfried Piefke. The “Prost, prost” comes from his march “Preußens Gloria, written in 1871 after the Kingdom of Prussia’s victory in the Franco-Prussian War, which led to the unification of the German states into the new Prussian-led German Empire. Johann Gottfried Piefke had the most adequate name, as the term “Piefke” originally comes from Silesia and derives from the word “Pivo” (Beer). A “Piefke” was someone who poured beer or drank a glass bottom-up!

 

Czech Republic

Skoda Lasky

Škoda lásky is the most famous Czech song ever sure you heard it once in your life and never guessed it was Czech! In English, it’s called Beer Barrel Polka. During World War II, versions in many other languages were created and the song was popular among soldiers, regardless of their allegiances. It was claimed many times that the song was written in the country where it had just become a hit. Its actual composer was not widely known until after the war. So the lyrics say: “Škoda lásky, kterou jsem tobě dala ; ty mé oči, dnes bych si vyplakala ; Moje mládí, uprchlo tak jako sen ; na všechno mi zbyla jenom“. We know it doesn’t help you much, so here the English version (which is different as its translation): “Roll out the barrel, we’ll have a barrel of fun ; Roll out the barrel, we’ve got the blues on the run ; Zing boom tararrel, ring out a song of good cheer ; Now’s the time to roll the barrel, for the gang’s all here

 

Slovakia

V orešanskej pivnici

Welcome to the Orešany village! It’s a small village in Slovakia where your hosts invite you to their cellar. What you will do in the cellar is up to you! But we think it’s only about drinking… V orešanskej pivnici is a typical Slovakian folk and drinking song. It would translate in English as “In the Orešany village [wine] cellar“. If you never heard a Slovak drinking song or a Slovak song at all here is your chance!

 

Poland

Pije Kuba do Jakuba

So, let’s be clear about your next trip to Poland: drinking here will be absolutely compulsory. Why? Because, as the Polish drinking song clearly says it: “If you don’t drink with us, we’ll hit you with a big stick”. But don’t take it personaly, of course! It is just a question of respecting traditions and you know how Poles are with taking traditions very seriously!  The whole song actually goes like: “Kuba drinks to his friend Jacob ; Jacob drinks to Michael ; I drink to you, you drink to me ; This is so delightful! Who won’t drink ’cause he’s abashed, with two sticks he should be thrashed. Whack-slam thump-thud, whack-slam thump-thud, yes he should be thrashed…“. That sounds an amazing game! So our best advice will be to learn the lyrics of the Polish song. Very fortunately for you, we are here to provide you them: “Pije Kuba do Jakuba, Jakub do Michała ; Wiwat ty, wiwat ja, kompanija cała ; A kto nie wypije, tego we dwa kije… ; Łupu cupu, łupu cupu, tego we dwa kije.

 

Lithuania

Saldus alutis avižų

Have you ever heard a Lithuanian drinking song? Me neither! Traditionally the beverages which were consumed in Lithuania were mead & beer  even nowadays beer is considerably more popular than stronger spirits. This is to be kept in mind before listening to the Lithuanian drinking song Saldus alutis avižų which means: “The oat beer is sweet, it’s made with three buds of hop ; How I would drink it, how I would like to be given some ; The father is sitting in the corner, he has a rod in his hand ; He’s scolding, threatening, he’s not giving me any beer ; The oat beer is sweet, it’s made with three buds of hop ; How I would drink it, how I would like to be given some“. This time we will spare you the original version in Lithuanian.

 

Latvia

Skaista ir jaunība

Well, the lyrics of the Latvian song may sound a bit depressing on first hearing. It says Beautiful is the youth. It won’t come back, it won’t return. Beautiful is to be young. It won’t come back again“. Not the kind of song you wanna sing while drinking… Except maybe if you mean something else… Youth, here, is meant as the period of your life when you can afford all hangovers. You know, when you can go for another beer and enjoy every moment intensively without caring about the consequences… It changes the perspectives, right? This is the typical song that Latvians would start singing when drunk, and they have many occasions to do so! Of course, they would sing it in original version, which is “skaista ir jaunība ; skaista ir jaunība ; tā nenāks vairs piedz ; tā nenāks nenāks vairs ; skaista ir jaunība”.

 

Estonia

Ikka viin, viin, viin

Listen how pround they are, those Estonians, singing loud and with enthusiasm that they still have a lot of vodka, vodka, vodka! This is exactly what they claim in their energetic drinking song Ikka viin, viin, viin! There is not much we can say about the Estonian band who composed this ode to vodka, PS Troika except maybe that their name is a clear reference to Perestroika (“restructuring”), the political movement for reformation within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union during the 1980s until 1991. In any case, we now know some Estonians who clearly need some restructuring after too much vodka..

 

Belarus

Дробна драбніца – Drobna drabnitsa

Let’s join now Belarus and listen to its magnificent song called “Drobna drabnitsa“. This popular (and beautiful) drinking song would be translated literally as “trifle of trifles”, but in this context it would actually means something like: “diddle-a-diddle”. Known under several other titles, such as “Ad panyadzyelku da panyadzyelku” (“From Monday till Monday”), “Basota” or “Halota” (“Poor never-do-wells”), the song is known and sung with numerous variations in text and under several titles. The lyrics says “Trifle of trifles, trifle of trifles ; Rain is mizzling down ; Poor ne’er-do-wells gathered together ; And are getting drunk ; Drinking the spirits, drinking the spirits ; Gonna drink the wine ; Dare someone mock us a little ; Will be beaten down”.

 

Ukraine

Ой хто п*є тому наливайте

You will never get bored of ‘reading’ lyrics in a different alphabet! Or, not… In any case, the lyrics of a popular drinking song in Ukraine (clearly) recommends: “Ой хто п’є  тому наливайте Хто не п’є тому не давайте, А ми будем пити і Бога хвалити ; І за вас і за нас і за Неньку стареньку ; Що навчила нас Горілочку пить помаленьку”. Yes, we know, it’s not precisely helpful if you can’t read Ukrainian… That’s why we also have the lyrics in English: “Oh poor drinkers, do not drink so fast ; And we will drink and praise God ; And for you and for us and old Nenko ; who taught us to drink vodka slowly”.

 

Romania – Moldova

Cântec de pahar

The most striking thing about Romanian culture is the strong folk traditions which have survived to this day due to the rural character of the Romanian communities, which has resulted in an exceptionally vital and creative traditional culture. If you happen to visit the country, make sure you get the occasion to listen to traditional “Muzica de petrecere” (“music to drink”) or “Cântec de pahar” (“songs to drink”): they are the oldest form of Romanian musical creation. Conservation of Romanian folk music has been aided by a large and enduring audience, and by numerous performers who helped propagate and further develop the folk sound.

 

Hungary

Le Le Le fenékig

Ok, you just happen to arrive in Budapest and you are now surrounded by Hungarians who invite you for a drink. Here is a survival guide for you! Just take the glass you are being offered and join them in their song. It’s easy and repetitive: “Le, Le, Le, fenékig ; Le, Le, Le, fenékig ; most ivott Ő kedvére, váljon egészségére“. Then you should drink your glass bottom-up… and start over again! After a round or two like this, you are guaranteed to become fluent Hungarian! If you wonder what you are actually singing, there is nothing to worry about. It just means “Down, Down, Down to the bottom ; You now drink to your liking ; and become healthier”. So… what do you say? Do you feel healthier now?

 

Slovenia 

Vince rumeno

Well, it is as simple as that: in Slovenia, even the national anthem – Zdravljica used to be a drinking song! So when it comes to drinking and songs, Slovenians know what they are talking about. In Slovenia, you may not find one song that is the typical drinking song, but plenty of them as drinking songs is a genre in itself. The song we have here is called Vince rumeno. It’s a waltz which is already quite uncommon but dealing with alcohol (yeah!). In Slovene, it says: Vince rumeno, čisto in sladko ; dol teče gladko, pijmo ga le! Dole, dole, dole… dol teče gladko, pijmo ga le!“. Not very elaborated, actually! It means in English: “White wine, clean and sweet; It goes down smoothly, we only drink it! Down, down, down … it’s going down smoothly, let’s just drink it!

 

Croatia – Serbia – Bosnia and Herzegovina – Albania

Bolje Biti Pijan Nego Star

Welcome to the Balkans! Basically, here, all songs are potential drinking songs! Be aware that alcohol in the Balkans are most of the time homemade and thus pretty strong. If you abuse of these pernicious liqueurs, you will quickly understand that it’s “better to be drunk than being old”. That’s not an obvious comment but the title of the famous Bosnian drinking song from the Plavi orkestar: Bolje Biti Pijan Nego Star. Plavi orkestar was one of the most popular music bands of former Yugoslavia. Their songs made it throughout generations and remain very popular nowadays. In bars or at parties, the younger generation still sing Bolje Biti Pijan Nego Star  arm-in-arm and singing along its very sad lyrics: “Better to be drunk than old ; Wine doesn’t know that we were once a happy pair ; better to be drunk than old“…

 

Bulgaria

Имателивино – Imate li vino

We are now reaching the eastern borders of Europe. Are you still sober and up to speed for another song? Well, we know you would! So get ready for a slow drinking song called Imate li vino. At the core of this Bulgarian and Macedonian song is an existential question, namely “Do you have wine?”. It’s a haunting question: “Do you have wine? Do you have wine? Do you have red wine? Then give it to us ; Do you have money? Do you have money? A lot of money? Then give it as well”. We will let you discover the rest of the lyrics elsewhere, as we find them quite misogynist… But what to expect from a drinking song anyway? Oh, and in case you understand Bulgarian and want to follow the song in its original version, here are the lyrics: “Imate li vino, imate li vino ; Imate li rujno vino ; Dajte go na nas ; Rujno lie tovo, rujno i li ne? tom se vikat rujno vino ; Dajte go na nas

 

Macedonia

АЈДЕ ВИНО ПИЈАМAjde vino pijam

Ah! Macedonia! We knew they had a great sense of humour and some weird traditions. But we didn’t know that their drinking song is quite a piece of art! Its text is maybe simplistic, but the melody is pure folk music. “Let’s drink wine, drink wine; the odd drink, the odd drink ; let the spirit Oh, the spirit of wine…”

 

Greece

Opa!

Traveling in Greece or just exploring Greek popular culture abroad, you’ll come across the Greek word Opa! frequently. It is used frequently during celebrations such as weddings or dancing in Greece. In Greek culture, the expression sometimes accompanies purposeful plate smashing. Greek singer Giorgos Alkaios sang his song OPA! at the Eurovision song contest in 2010, as a message to Greeks to dance and be happy in the face of the economic crisis. Since then, it is sometimes used as a drinking song. The song says: “Opa! ; Vazo mia fotia (hey!) ; S’ola ta palia (hey!) ; Ola tha ta allakso (opa!) ; Kai tha to fonakso (opa!) ; Perasmena ksehasmena ki ola ap tin arhi ksana (opa!)“. It basically means: “Opa! I burnt the past, my old nights ; memories also became shivers ; Memories and voices unjust wishes ; and left open wounds in a corner“. Opa is about excitement and high spirits, which you’ll be seeing plenty of in Greece.

 

 

If you liked this article, you may also like European Toasts, Football Chants, Weird Traditions and Superstitions.

mini-european-toasts  Mini - European Football Chants  Mini - Weird Traditions  Mini - European superstitions

Copyright 2012. Europeisnotdead. All Rights Reserved.

 

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