“Asia is an entertainment, Europe is a dream, America is an imprisonment and the rest is a nightmare.”
Let’s have a European drink together! It’s often said the toast is deeply rooted in Western culture – and particularly so in Europe, where it has been part of our common heritage for centuries. The first toasts between European kings in the Middle Ages sealed post-war peace and solidarity; and Europe’s most important events have been celebrated with toasts full of joy and happiness. So it’s only appropriate that this list pay tribute to this secular European tradition. Cheers, Santé, Prost, Skål – those little words hide the most interesting tales. And they might just be the first words a foreigner learns when arriving in another European country…
In the Middle Ages, poisoning was so common that proposing a toast was the best way to exchange liquids between glasses to prove they weren’t toxic. On such occasions, drinkers said “Saúde” to ensure that the contents weren’t intended to be harmful. The Portuguese, as well as the Spanish, French and Italians, kept this tradition and continue to drink “to your health” even if there is no suggestion of anyone trying to poison anyone else… We hope…
Salud! – Chin Chin!
In Spain, people also drink to your health, but sometimes with a much longer sentence, just as Salud y amor y tiempo para disfrutarlo (“To health and love – and time to enjoy it”). But ‘Salud’ is also said when someone sneezes. In Spanish, the word “toast” is translated as “brindis” which actually comes from the German expression “bring dich”, meaning, “I offer it to you”. A word of German origin in the Spanish language? Again, wherever you look, you find the European spirit!
France – Belgium
Santé! – A votre santé! – Tchin Tchin!
As regards “Tchin-Tchin”, the Chinese expression qing qing (or tchin tchin, meaning “please-please” or “happy days”) was historically used in China to invite people to drink. Soldiers coming back from the Second Opium War introduced it into French. If you toast in France, you may also be interested in knowing that the action of clinking glasses is translated in French with the word “trinquer”, which actually comes from the German verb for drinking “trinken”. Again, those Germans…
Salute! – Cin Cin!
Just as French people, the Italians say “cheers” in two ways, “Salute” in an informal situation or “Cin cin” in a more formal context. Some great Italian drinking toasts or cheers besides salute are “cento di questi giorni” or “cent’ anni”. “Cento di questi giorni” means “May you have a hundred of these days”, and “cent’ anni” means “a hundred years”. And this comes even before singing!
The word “cheer” comes from the Latin word for “face” or “countenance” and originally referred to any facial expression, cheerful or otherwise. Over time, though, it came to mean gladness and was first recorded as a shout of encouragement or support in 1720. As a toast, “cheers” is an early 20th-century newcomer. As to why we tap glasses together, a few compelling theories have made the rounds. In one, early Europeans believed that the sound of clashing tankards would scare away evil spirits…
Sláinte is a word which literally translates as “health” and is commonly used as a drinking toast in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. The word is an abstract noun derived from the Old Irish adjective slán “whole, healthy” plus the Old Irish suffix tu, resulting in slántu “health” and eventually Middle Irish sláinte.
Sweden – Norway – Denmark – Iceland
“Skål” is the Scandinavian word for “cheers” to celebrate friendship and goodwill. The word may also be spelled skal or skaal. Some fans of Scandinavian culture have popularised the toast beyond its native countries, and it can often be heard in many peculiar corners of the world, especially in regions with a large Scandinavian population. “Skål” actually means “bowl” and derives from the time when everyone around the table shared the same drinking vessel. One can say skål on many occasions – to welcome guests, to wish people luck or to thank them, or to celebrate important moments like Christmas, Easter or spring. In Denmark, you can even continue the toast with “Bunden i vejret eller resten i håret” (“Bottoms up or the rest in your hair”)
Kippis! – Maljanne! – Pohjanmaan kautta! – Hölökyn kölökyn!
“Kippis!” is a very formal way to say “cheers” in Finnish. There is also the expression “Maljanne” which means “a toast to you, sir” or even “n malja!”, meaning “a toast to” – but these are less common than “Kippis”. There is also “Pohjanmaan kautta” which means “bottoms up” and is widely used when drinking vodka, the Finns’ most favorite alcohol… and habit (Pohjanmaa being a large area in the North-West of Finland). Last, and more anecdotal, there is “Hölkyn kölkyn” which doesn’t mean anything but simply sounds funny! It is often used to make foreign tourists laugh…
Germany – Austria
Prosit! – Prost!
“Prosit” comes from the Latin word “prodesse”, meaning “may it be good/beneficial for you”. The first known use of the expression “prost” backs from 1846 and is said to have been used by student organisations. It is now quite common to hear the famous drinking song “ein Prosit der gemütlichkeit” at a German Bierfest, such as the Oktoberfest in Munich. In a more formal environment and especially for drinking wine, Germans will tend to say “Zum Wohl” instead, which means “to your well-being”. In any case, Germans always like to touch all the glasses they can reach at their table when someone makes a toast…
Proscht! – Pröschtli! – Viva!
The Helvetic diminutives of “Prost” are pronounced with a long [ch] to make it sound cuter. “Pröschtli” would approximatively means “little prost”. The toast in German-speaking Switzerland is proscht; in French-speaking Switzerland, it is “votre santé” or simply “santé”; in Italian-speaking Switzerland, “salute”.
Netherlands – Belgium
Proost! – Gezondheid!
In pure Dutch, people will tend to say “gezondheid” but the most common way of saying “cheers” is “proost”. Just as in German, it comes from the Latin and means “may it be good for you”. And they also have drinking songs to complete it…
Slovenia – Czechia – Slovakia
Na zdravje! (sl) – Na zdraví! (cz) – Na zdravie! (sk) – Stolicka! (sk)
The most common toast in Slovenia, Czechia and Slovakia is the famous “Na zdravi!”, with spellings varying according to the language of the country. It means “to your health” – upon saying which each person clinks glasses with everyone else at the table. It is important to make eye contact with each person you clink glasses with, or you will be considered rude! In Slovakia, note that you can also say “Stolicka” for a toast. The word also means “chair” – but there are few clues as to why this one would be used as a toast…
Egészségünkre! – Egészségedre! – Egészségetekre!
In Hungary, too, there are many codes to respect when having a toast. At dinner, it is usually a man who pours the wine, as it is considered unfeminine for a woman to do so. When toasting in Hungary, make sure to make eye contact, raise your glass up to eye level, say “Egészségedre!” (if you can pronounce it!), take a drink, make eye contact again, and then place the glass back down on the table. There are also small variations: “Egészségedre” is the singular form for “to your health”, “Egészségetekre” is the plural form, while “Egészségünkre” means “to our health”.
Na zdrowie! – Vivat! – Sto lat!
In Poland, “Na zdrowie” can be said before sharing a drink or after someone sneezes. You can expect frequent toasting throughout the meal, but the first will be offered by the host. Polish people may sometimes use the phrase “Sto lat!” to wish someone longevity or good fortune, or as a toast. Literally meaning “one hundred years”, Sto lat is also a traditional Polish song sung at informal gatherings such as birthdays or saints’ days, or at formal occasions like weddings.
Į sveikatą! – Būk sveikas!
The Lithuanians say “Į sveikatą” both after sneezing, and for a toast. It means – no surprises – “to your health”. There is also the variant “Būk sveikas” meaning “be healthy” or “be in form”. So what are you waiting for? Raise your glass!
Uz veselibu! – Priekā!
As in many other countries, the Latvian toast means “to your health”. Alternatively, you can say Priekā – close in meaning to “cheers”.
The Estonian “cheers” is also related to well-being – being translated as “to your health”. But how is is it pronounced? “Ter-vee-SEX”, an Estonian will tell you… but who is the lucky Tervee?
Nazhtrovia! – Za zdarou’e! – Sto lat!
The most common Belarusian toast is of course “Nazhtrovia” (to your health). But Belarusian also use an ancient Polish toast, “Sto lat” which means “a hundred years”.
Budmo! – Za vas! – Za zdorovie!
Having a dinner in Ukraine is risky if you can’t take your drink – the meals are punctuated with frequent toasts. Everyone at the table will be expected to propose at least one during the dinner. The host always makes the first, usually with “Budmo” which means approximately “may we live forever”. Then everybody at the table answers with “Hey!”, which can be repeated up to three times depending on the mood of the crowd. Only after this are people allowed to empty their glasses. Along with the traditional “Za zdorovie”, there is also the funny toast “Za vas!” which means “here’s to you”. Well then, Ca va ?
Romania – Moldova
Serbia – Croatia – Bosnia and Herzegovina
Živeli! (sb) – Zivjeli! (cr) (bn) – U zdravlje!
In Serbia and Croatia, toasts are usually made with traditional rakija (brandy), often home-distilled. Toasts are made by clinking glasses, making direct eye contact and loudly proclaiming “Živeli!”, pronounced “zjee-ve-lee”, and meaning “Let’s live long”. You can alternatively say “U zdravlje”. A speech is usually only made on formal occasions – normally by the host, but a guest may give one, too.
Bulgaria – North Macedonia
Наздраве (Na zdrave)!
In Bulgaria, just as in many eastern European countries, people say cheers with the word “Наздраве” (Na zdrave), meaning “to health”.
γεια μας (yiamas)! – Εις υγείαν (ees eegiyan)! – Εβίβα (eviva)! – στην υγειά μας (stin iyia mas)!
The most frequent toast in Greece is “γεια μας” (yiamas) meaning “to our health”, or “στην υγειά μας” (stin iyia mas) – “to your health”. In an informal situation, one can also say “στην υγειά μας” (stin iyia mas) and more formally “Εις υγείαν” (ees eegiyan). There is also “Εβίβα” (eviva) which comes from the Italian expression meaning “long life”.
Şerefe! – Sağlığına!
The Turkish drinking toast is “Şerefe” which means “to your honour”. It also designates a part of a mosque. “Sağlığına” is alternatively used to toast “to your health” with its plural form “Sağlığiniza”.