When a host hands you a glass of bubbly, there's rarely concern that the liquid in hand will cost you your life. Yet, in ancient Greek and Roman times, it was a common worry. Back then, raising a glass wasn’t just to toast to the health of the guests, but was also a way for the host to prove that the drink wasn’t poisoned.
The tradition of toasting can be traced as far back as Mughal times in India. Even the Vikings in Scandinavia raised their glasses — well, supposedly the skulls of fallen foes — to honor fellow warriors, or women they liked. Even today, the tradition of toasting remains strongest in countries of German, Scandinavian, and Eastern European influence. As for the word "toast" itself? Some say that the gesture of raising a glass became a toast in 17th-century England during the reign of Charles II, when pieces of spiced toast were dipped in the liquid to impart flavor. Others maintain that the word originated through the custom of sharing a drink with friends by the fire and toasting bread.
In Denmark, they take their toasts seriously. Guests are never to toast their hosts, or any one older or more senior in rank, until they have been toasted to first. And never taste your drink until the host has said "Skal," pronounced "Skoal."
The French love their wine and rich cheeses, so it's no surprise that when raising a glass in France, they’re not toasting to happiness, but to health — "Sante." ("A la votre," or "to yours" is another common toast.) Furthermore, those toasting must maintain eye contact with each other as they clink glasses, and toast every person in the group without crossing arms. Now that’s an exercise in restraint. And if you don’t? The superstition is that you’ll face seven years of bad sex.
The Germans love their beer, so is it any surprise that they have different toasts for both beer and wine — "Prost" for beer, and "Zum wohl" for wine, both of which translate to mean “To your good health.” As well, be sure to clink glasses with everyone around you, maintaining eye contact as you do so.
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