The Barge Ladies are thrilled to publish a guest blog from one of our favorite crew members, the 3-star, 8 passenger Savoir Vivre’s seasoned Tour Guide, Laura Aplin, who is seen below. For over 20 years she’s been living and guiding in the heart of Burgundy, tasting with talented independent wine makers, breaking bread with artisanal bakers in out of the way villages, and dining on local specialties served exclusively in hidden cellar restaurants. British by birth, Laura’s infectious love of her adopted country comes through as she reveals the cultural treasures and culinary pleasures of “The Good Life” in France. Enjoy her tricks and tips to the proper rituals of toasting extraordinary elixirs and exquisite tipples “commes les Francais”!
Nothing surprises me more than the subtle differences between the way we do things here in France compared to other parts of the world. Surely when it comes to enjoying glasses of wine among friends we all make our pre-drink toast in the same way? Mais non! Worse than that, toasting in the wrong way here in France can have serious implications…
So, a quick recap on our non-French toast – everyone clinks their glasses together at the same time, arms outstretched, with an enthusiastic cry of “cheers” from one and all. Do it like that in France and you’ll face social ridicule and possibly the guillotine (okay, only joking about the last bit).
Here is how say ‘cheers’ à la Française
1. You can’t say cheers to everyone at once. You need to clink glasses with everyone in your group, one by one, before you can start drinking. You may be parched and desperate for that first delicious taste of wine but don’t be too hasty. If you are part of a large group this may take a while.Why is it important to do this? Over the centuries it has become gesture of trust. In days gone by, when poisoning your enemy’s wine was common practice, the clinking of glasses became a gesture of trust as a symbolic drop from each glass landed in that of the other.Time consuming and thirsty work maybe…. but essential before you take your first mouthful.
2. Look that person straight in the eye as you clink your glasses together. DO NOT break eye contact. This leads to lots of intense moments of staring at people as you toast them. You are still at this point clutching your glass of delicious wine, but not a drop has passed your lips. Torture! Do not be premature in drinking – each member of your group must toast everyone else before everyone finally gets a well deserved drink.
Whilst you are all reaching out to clink your glasses together do not under any circumstances cross arms or glasses with anyone else. Sacré bleu, this can have terrible ramifications – it will give you either seven years bad luck or even worse, seven years of bad “amour”. Serious consequences indeed.
3. And what to say whilst clinking? Certainly not cheers (or as my French friends think we are actually saying ‘cheese’). The typical cry amongst friends is to drink to one’s good health and say santé. But if you are in polite company, i.e. having an aperitif with someone you’ve just been introduced to, use the more formal à votre santé (to your good health) And one then responds ‘and to your health too’ – à la votre (the more formal response) or à la tienne (more relaxed, when among friends)
Or if one is feeling very French try ‘tchin tchin’. With its silent ‘t’ it is literally pronounced ‘chin chin’.
Coming from China the phrase ‘ch’ing ch’ing’ meaning ‘please please’ it was used as a invitation to drink. The phrase was introduced to France by soldiers coming back from the Second Opium Wars in the late 1800s.
So anyway, among all this clinking and cheers, why do we call it toasting? What has toast to do with it? There is neither a crumb of bread or toast involved in the whole process! It’s actually a throwback to the good old days of 16th century England when it became custom to try to improve the flavor of wine by floating small bits of spiced toast in it. Fortunately no longer necessary in our wine today.
So there you have it, the ‘how to’ guide to drinking in France – I’ll drink to that – santé!