France is known as the land of good table manners. In this sense, French toasting is an art that reflects these traditions through precise gestures and formulas.
The ritual of toasting comes directly from the Middle Ages. In those days, poison was often used to eliminate a rival or enemy discreetly and undetectably. To remedy this, the nobility began to incorporate a tradition before drinking their beverage: toasting. The clinking of mugs allowed them to mix the contents of the glasses to ensure that everyone shared the same beverage, thus limiting the risk of poisoning.
Today, toasting has become a social ritual, a friendly and courteous gesture that expresses sharing and good humor. In this article, we’ll take a look at the different synonyms for saying cheers in French, as well as the rules you need to know to have a drink with the French.
10 Ways to Say Cheers in French
English translation: Health (literal) / Cheers
“Santé” is the most common saying for toasting in French. As the original meaning of the term suggests, to toast is first and foremost to wish your loved ones “good health”. So “santé” has become the conventional way of toasting in France.
And the use of the term is not unique to the French, since it dates back to antiquity. Indeed, the Greeks and Romans had a tradition of pouring offerings and drinking the “drink of life” to celebrate the gods and the dead, in exchange for which they hoped to receive health.
- Tchin Tchin
English translation: Chin Chin
Pronunciation: \tʃin tʃin\
“Tchin tchin” is an age-old term for toasting in France. According to some sources, the interjection comes directly from the Cantonese “ching ching” (“please”), which is used to invite people to share a drink.
In the West, the term is used to imitate the sound of clinking glasses. A very common synonym for “santé” in French, “tchin tchin” is used in almost all situations. The interjection also has a shortened version, “tchin”, which is used in the same way.
- À la tienne
English translation: To yours
Pronunciation: \a la tjɛn\
“À la tienne” is an interjective locution where “tienne” refers to health. The expression is therefore used to wish someone all the best before drinking. Since it’s in the second person singular, this expression is used for the second person of the singular (tu) and is only used when toasting with friends and family.
The expression has also given rise to variants such as “À la tienne, Étienne”. The French are fond of rhyming the last syllable of a word with a first name (other examples: “Cool, Raoul” and “À l’aise, Blaise”). It’s also common to find “à la tienne” followed by one of the many interjections used to call a friend in French.
- À la vôtre
English translation: To you
Pronunciation: \a la votʁ\
The plural equivalent of “à la tienne”, “à la vôtre” is also used to tell someone you wish them all the best. In this situation, the “someone” is a person to whom we owe respect, or with whom we choose to keep a certain distance. It can therefore be used with a work colleague or superior as well as a member of your in-laws.
As the expression is in the second person plural, “à la vôtre” can also be used to send best wishes and invite everyone present to drink with you.
- À ta santé / À votre santé
English translation: All the best
Pronunciation: \a ta sɑ̃.te\ – \a vɔtʁ sɑ̃.te\
“À ta santé” and “à votre santé” are two popular expressions derived from the French interjection “santé”. Just as we saw with “à la tienne” and “à la vôtre”, “à ta santé” is used when toasting with a loved one, while “à la vôtre” is used when toasting in a group or addressing someone respectfully. There are also other expressions derived from “santé”, such as “à la santé de tous”.
English translation: Let’s cheer
Imperative of “trinquer” in the first person plural, “trinquons” is a formula used to invite those around us to raise a glass and share a good time. It is generally used by the host or the person being celebrated in the case of a special event (birthday, wedding…).
The interjection can also come from the mouth of someone wishing to cut short the pleasantries in order to start drinking. We’ve all heard of the uncle who can’t wait to open the bottle of wine he brought to the family dinner.
- Salute / Salud
English translation: Cheers
Pronunciation: \sa.lɥte\ – \ˈsɑː.lyt\
Although as French people we don’t consider ourselves polyglots, it’s not uncommon to borrow words from other languages when drinking in a familiar context. In this sense, the two foreign terms we use most are those of our Italian and Spanish neighbors.
Thus, “salute” is the Italian translation of “santé” and “salud” its Spanish version. The terms are mainly used in the regions bordering these two countries, in the PACA region (South-east French state) for the Italian term, and in Aquitaine and Midi-Pyrénées (South-west French states) for the Spanish word.
- À ta réussite
English translation: Here’s to your success
Pronunciation: \a ta ʁe.y.sit\
“À ta réussite” is a phrase used to celebrate someone’s present or future success during a toast. The expression is often uttered by those close to someone who has just achieved something important and/or important to them (promotion, new job, new school, driver’s license).
The formula can also imply “here’s to your future success”. In this case, it would be used to wish someone good luck on the eve of a fateful event such as a diploma, exam or wedding.
There are many variations with À + “something”:
- À tes amours ! – To your loves!
- À ton nouveau travail ! – To your new job!
- À ton nouveau projet ! – To your new project!
- À Jacques ! – To Jacques!
- Cul sec
English translation: Dry ass (littérale) / Bottoms up
Pronunciation: \ky sɛk\
“Cul sec” is a French expression used to encourage people to drink their entire glass of alcohol in one go. The term “cul” (= butt) refers to the bottom of the glass, which is “dry” when finished.
In this sense, the formula is quite familiar, and is used almost exclusively with friends and family when consuming strong spirits in the form of shooters or pints of beer. Whatever your alcohol of choice, make sure you don’t end up drunk!
English translation: Cheers
Like “salute” and “salud”, which are more commonly used in the south of France, “prosit” is a synonym for “santé” in French, mainly used in Alsace-Lorraine. Borrowed from our German neighbors, the term comes from the Latin “prosit”, which gave rise to the Germanic word “prost”, which can be translated as “que cela vous soit salutaire” or “à votre santé”.
Due to the many exchanges between France and Germany, the term eventually crossed the border and found its way into the vocabulary of northerners.
The Ritual of Toasting in France
Whether it’s an unpretentious French aperitif or a more exceptional event, toasting is traditional in most situations where you’re going to consume alcohol in France.
But that’s not all. As Disiz says in his song C’est ma tournée, you don’t need alcohol to toast, it’s a moment of sharing above all: “même si y’a que du jus dans mon gobelet, l’intention est la même, je le lève à ta santé”. (= even if there’s only juice in my cup, the intention is the same, I raise it to your health).
Alcohol or no alcohol, there are certain rules to follow if you want to toast with the French:
- Toasting each guest: Unlike Anglo-Saxon countries, where it’s customary to simply raise a glass to the sky in communion, in France tradition dictates that we toast each person individually.
- Do not cross glasses: This rule comes from a Christian superstition dating back to the Middle Ages. Crossing the glasses refers to the image of the cross – a cross which, when involuntarily formed, brings bad luck.
- Looking in the eyes: When you’re about to clink your glass with someone, you have to maintain eye contact for the duration of the action, or risk seven years’ bad luck (so they say). This tradition also dates back to the Middle Ages. As we saw in the introduction, toasting was a way of protecting oneself against poisoning. Holding one’s gaze ensured that the person in front of you wasn’t checking to see if poison had escaped from his or her glass.
- Wait until everyone has finished toasting before drinking: The art of the aperitif shares certain rules of etiquette with the art of the table. Just as it’s bad manners to start your meal before everyone else has been served, it’s bad manners to start drinking before everyone else is ready.
- Drink only a few sips before putting the glass back down: Unless you’ve been invited to drink your glass “cul sec”, it’s best not to rush for your glass and down it in one gulp. The convention is to take a sip or two before lowering your glass.
Whether you prefer rosé, pastis, or fruit juice, we hope we’ve given you all the keys you need to fit in perfectly at your next French apéritif to say cheers in French.
And if you’re planning to travel to France to sample our wines and spirits, we strongly recommend that you read our detailed article on alcohol standards and legislation in France, so that you’re fully aware of local laws.
Translated into English by Sacha