Traditionally, toasting honors in Japan are reserved for the host and visitors are not expected to reciprocate. It’s usually delivered at the beginning or end of the dinner party. The first time you meet for drinks the toasting honors will go to the most senior person in the hosting party and will usually be a standard “kampai,” which means “cheers” in Japanese.
With alcoholic drinks, the Japanese consider it polite to serve each other, and not yourself. Your job as a good guest is to periodically check your neighbor’s cups and keep topping them up (don’t worry, someone will be doing the same for you). And if someone wants to serve you alcohol but your cup is full, the polite thing to do is empty it out quickly and offer your cup for a refill.
No matter how delicious the food is, or how hungry you are, Russians consider it very impolite to start eating before the toast has been delivered. The good news is that the toast can be given even if there’s no alcohol on the table, but do remember to clink your glass with your neighbor’s at the end.
Unlike in many parts of the world, in Russia, the guest usually gives the first toast at the beginning of the party, proposing a drink to your host. Be prepared for many, many more —copious toasting is a Russian tradition. Interestingly, the famous Russian phrase “nazdarovyie” is more often used as a reply to “thank you” while the more common phrase “to your health” or "vashe zdorovie" is the standard toast.
If you’re at a dinner party in Venezuela, expect your gracious host to welcome you to their home with a toast in your honor… don’t pre-empt them though, the host always makes the first toast! Generally the standard toast is “salud,” which is a toast to your health. You are expected to acknowledge the toast with lots of cheeriness and a big smile but remember not to drink before the toast is given or you risk insulting your host.
The host always gives the first toast in Greece and the honored guest (find out if it’s you before the meal) is expected to return later on in the meal to show appreciation.
If you’re at a formal function then the standard toast is "eis igían sas," at informal functions it’s "stinygiasou" – both mean “to your health,” though the formal one also implies that you are toasting to a successful business relationship.
The Finnish toasting tradition is intricate and the guest, whether you’re Finnish or not, is expected to observe certain niceties in order not to offend the host. Firstly, the host or hostess always makes the first toast and you should maintain eye contact with them throughout — reach for your drink after the toast has been given, only then should you take your glass and raise it.
“Kippis” (the Finnish “cheers”) is the standard toast for other Finnish guests but any Swedes present should be toasted with “skal.” While it is traditional for the host to toast their guests you should not return the toast. Instead the male guest of honor is expected to send the hostess a private thank-you note for the meal, which is done as soon as the meal is over.
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 "Skål," 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 — "Santé." ("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.
Modern Swedish toasting tradition can be traced back to the Vikings, when an empty skull of a fallen foe was passed around amongst comrades. Before raising the liquid to their lips, Swedes look each other in the eye as they go, as a way show their respect for others (and, back in the day, to ensure that they wouldn’t be attacked as they drank). The toaster then says, "Skal" and again makes eye contact before lowering the glass.
While most Spaniards will raise a glass and say, "Salud," meaning "to good health," it’s a little different in parts of Catalonia. Apparently, Catalans aren’t bashful when it comes to talking about body parts. When men toast their buddies in Barcelona, you just might hear "Salut I força al canut," or "health and strength to your ‘pipe’."
Typically, the host gives the first toast, with any honored guests repaying the toast later in the meal. "Salute," meaning "to your health," is a common toast, as is the more informal "Cin-cin" (which some say is derived from the sound of clinking glass).
In China, tradition maintains that the host makes the first toast, saying, "Gan bei," meaning "bottoms up," or "Kai pay," (drain your glass). Guests then reciprocate with a toast back throughout the remainder of the meal.
When clinking glasses for the first time, it’s important to connect the bellies of the glass, the part under the rim. Then, for each subsequent toast, the bases of the glasses are tapped against the table.
Visiting China? Be wary if your hosts present you with a glass of clear liquor. The Chinese have been known to test the tolerance of a visitor by presenting them with a glass of er gua toe, a strong (120 proof) liquor made from sorghum, which can be likened to airline fuel.
Instead of a host being the first to toast, in Hungary, the guest of honor is the first person to raise their glass. It’s customary to make eye contact, raise the glass while saying, "Egészségére!" meaning "for your health," take a sip, and then make eye contact again before setting the glass back down — no clinking. Low on wine? Don’t worry — glasses are often immediately filled, and only by men, not women. So if you don’t want any more, leave your glass half full. And never toast with beer.
Unlike in many places, toasts in Taiwan are often directed towards an individual rather than a group. If visiting, there is a chance everyone at the table will toast you to welcome you. When raising a glass, hold the glass in your right hand and place your left hand under it. Meaning "let the cup be dry," guests say “Ho ta lah!” Then, all drink and hold their cups up again before setting them back down.
During a meal, toasting begins with the host and continues throughout the meal. Some hosts will stand while raising their glass and saying, "Na zdrowia," (nah zdroh-vee-ah) or "to your health." If this happens, you should follow suit. Once your host raises their glass, usually filled with vodka, drinking can commence. And as alcohol is typically served in small glasses, perfect for gulping, don’t be caught with anything leftover — it’s like a shot.