Tag Archives: culture

Cheers: toasting and clinking glasses

I was in Munich at the end of September. At the celebrated Hofbräuhaus beer hall, we were sat opposite a very affable father and son from Argentina. The father is a surgeon, in town for a conference. As luck would have it, I had done a little research on the biofuel industry of Argentina last year. I knew a little bit about their country, so I had an instant icebreaker.

Photo from bavariatravel.com

When our beers arrived, they offered their glasses for me to clink with the customary ‘Salud!’ (In deference to our location, we should have said ‘prost’.) Right before I touched my beer stein to theirs, I hastily said, ‘Oh, you have to look the other person in the eye or you’ll have seven years of bad sex!’ (Siete años de mal sexo.) Whether this was a silly superstition I picked up from my Spanish friends, well, I didn’t want to risk it. Seven years is a long time!

During a speech
Speeches are usually given after a meal.
Sometimes it is given between the main course and the dessert. When the speaker invites everyone to “raise their glasses,” in hounour of someone (or something), guests are expected to stand and do just that, raise their glasses. Do not touch your glass with your neighbours during a toast.

At a drinks reception, it is a good idea to leave a little bit of your drink, just in case there is a welcome speech. You can always finish it right before you enter the dining room. If you find you have polished off your champagne too early, don’t call attention to yourself, just raise your glass with the rest of them.

President Obama giving a toast at a state dinner at Buckingham Palace. Photo from The Telegraph

Cheers, to your good health!
In the very olden days, when individuals still drank and talked unreservedly with strangers in pubs, people clinked glasses with each other to signify trust. This is because some of the other person’s ale will spill into your glass and vice versa (somehow it’s always ale in the days of yore). This acts as a deterrent to the sinister, if someone had slipped poison into your drink, there is a chance that some of the poison might be mixed into their drink too. Was it irony or mockery that the words “to your good health” precedes the touching of glasses?

Later on, perhaps because people developed greater (dis)trust of drinking companions, the middle and upper classes eschewed the practice. Indeed, in the early part of the 20th century, clinking glasses was an indication of a working class upbringing.

To clink or not to clink glasses?
Undoubtedly, clinking glasses gives a gathering a friendlier atmosphere. It also gets people talking. If people offer their glasses to you, do not hesitate and touch your drink to theirs. It is considered rude not to do so.

Although I must admit, it can get awkward when there are more than four people at the table. It causes confusion, crossing of arms and spillage. Whatever you do, just make sure you look the other person in the eye and smile.

Cheers, to all that we love,

A royal toast! Photo from fashionmagazine.com


Query: Slurping noodles in oriental restaurants

Dear EtiKate
I loved your soup etiquette post!
You mentioned that slurping is a no-no when enjoying your soup. But supposedly in other cultures (Japan, and possibly other East-Asian countries), slurping is encouraged. It expresses one’s satisfaction with the soup. Is that true?
Also, should one do the same when in a Eat-Asian restaurant here, or should I obey the “Western” rules?

Ruth via Ask Dear EtiKate

Dear EtiKate
Following on from your soup article, how does one eat noodles? To slurp or not to slurp?

Resist slurping the irresistible.

Resist slurping the irresistible ramen.

Dear Ruth and Readers

In many Far Eastern cultures, it is not only permissible to slurp, it is encouraged as it is seen as a compliment to the cook.

If you find yourself in the Orient, do slurp soup and noodles if the locals are doing so. When dining at noodle houses in the rest of the world, I would advise eating as noiselessly as possible. Other diners may not know the cross-cultural reason for slurping, and might view it awfully coarse.

As you have pointed out, etiquette varies between cultures. This is what makes it fun and interesting. I suppose this is the very case of ‘When in Rome…’


EtiKate will answer your etiquette related questions. Submit your problems, dilemmas or queries in the Dear EtiKate section.

First Christmas with the “in-laws”

Photo from f*ckyeah25daysofchristmas.tumblr.com

Photo from f***yeah25daysofchristmas.tumblr.com

Your first Christmas with your partner’s family is quite the milestone. It suggests some commitment from both of you.

This post might be helpful for those who will be meeting the parents for the first time. I shall write a separate post on that theme.

But mainly, this was written for individuals who have previously met the parents and are having their first Christmas with them. I have divided this post into three: before, during and after the event.

Photo from magicalchristmaswreaths.blogspot.co.uk

Photo from magicalchristmaswreaths. blogspot.co.uk

A. Pre-arrival:

1. Get some background information

Are they a family of early risers or will it be opening presents in pyjamas?

Are there any topics of conversation best avoided? It is a faux pas to talk about your choice of horses at the Grand National when Uncle Benny turns out to have a gambling problem.

Know the house rules, and be prepared.

2. Take a present

Failing to take a host(ess) gift is an oversight and a missed opportunity for brownie points. A potted poinsettia, champagne or a box of nice chocolates would suffice.

The family will more than likely give you a Christmas gift. So, it is best if you give them what I call a little “generic present”. These are classic and not too novel; perfect for an almost stranger.

Remember to enclose the gift receipt. As you get to know the family more, your gifts will evolve to reflect your growing acquaintance.

Good generic gifts: this year’s Man Booker prize winner, a hamper of edible goodies, or if you excel at it, something homemade.

Bad generic gifts: toiletries, watches, mirrors, clothing (this includes socks and scarves), vouchers, anything they might be obliged to wear or display.

It’s also acceptable to give one big gift ‘for the house’ or ‘for the whole family’.

If you have not been going out for long, it is perfectly alright to just sign both your names in the cards and give the gifts from both of you.

Photo from goodhousekeeping.co.uk

Photo from goodhousekeeping.co.uk

B. The main event:

1. Presenting yourself

It is best to dress on the conservative side. Be a fine lady or gentleman and captivate them with elegant presentation. Take one smart outfit with you to cover all eventualities.

Turn the formality up slightly, at least at the beginning. What may be normal for your partner, such as swearing or walking around in a dressing gown is not for you.

2. Conversations

Well-informed conversation with a bite of opinion is the key here. This is not the time to discuss one’s political views, the economy, global warming or religion. Avoid controversy, but debate with reason.

If you run out things to say, just remember the things you read in the Travel and Culture section of The Guardian. For instance, ‘I read that Budapest is this year’s trending winter destination.’ is a good conversation filler.

Show a united front; never gang up on your partner to get on other family members’ side.

Remember that gushing compliments often sound insincere.

3. Join in

Offer a little help with the cooking during the big day. Do not be offended if it is politely refused. They have been doing this for years, and you might just get in the way.

Take initiative in doing the household chores. So don’t offer to wash up, just do it.

4. Boudoir boundaries

If you are sharing a bedroom, be super discreet. If you are in separate rooms, let your boyfriend or girlfriend do the bed-hopping. If anyone is caught in flagrante in the hallway, it should not be you.

C. On departure:

1. Thank you letter

Send your hosts a thank you note within the first week of the new year. Read my previous post on how to write a thank you letter. Traditionally, one only writes to the lady of the house, but augment as you see fit.

2. Debriefing

Inevitably, you will be discussing how the visit went. Resist the urge to criticise any member of the family. Only your partner may do so.

Final words:

Don’t be overly nervous; you are bound to have fun. Be yourself, but just a tiny bit polished. Take this as your opportunity to do secret reconnaissance of the family you may be part of in the future.

All the best,