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Drinking Customs from Around the World

a group of people posing for the camera

Cheers! Undoubtedly you recognize that cheerful proclamation as a precursor to taking your first sip of a delicious (and let’s be honest, hopefully high proof) beverage. But have you ever wondered why we say “cheers!” and clink before we drink?

Here, we’ll explore drinking customs from around the world, from “cheers!” and beyond. From commonplace to deeply weird customs, you’ll undoubtedly find some fascinating facts to share with friends over your next round of drinks at Oxford Social Club!

a close up of a person holding a wine glass(Source: Oxford Social Club Facebook page)

1. Here’s why we say “cheers”: 

It’s generally accepted that a kind exclamation before drinking dates back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. During ceremonial banquets, they would make offerings to the gods by pouring wine, raising their glasses, and making statements of respect to the dead and praising and promoting the health of the living. The concept of offering “good cheer” was adopted by many, including the English, which is where the term “cheers” originated. 

2. It’s called a “toast” for a reason. 

Yup: the idea of “toasting” once actually involved actual bread. Apparently, the quality of wine and spirits during the Elizabethan era wasn’t very good; to make it more palatable, drinkers would add a small piece of toast to add a little flavor. It’s true, and the custom was even documented in a Shakespearean play, where one character asks another to be brought a quart of spirits and for them to “put a toast in’t”.

a close up of a person holding a wine glass(Source: Oxford Social Club Facebook page)

3. Eyes wide open for toasting, please. 

Toasts are a generally positive tradition, but custom doesn’t come without some potentially negative effects. In particular, there’s a superstition in several European countries that eye contact must be maintained during the toast. If it is not, the spiritual and “bad-luck” penalties can be fairly harsh. According to lore, if you break eye contact during the toast, you’ll suffer seven years of bad sex! In Spain, the bad sex curse is upheld too if you have the audacity to toast with water. Will you keep your eyes open the next time you toast with a beverage from the Oxford Social Club?

4. Georgia = the most toasts! 

In Georgia (the country, not the US state), toasts are a serious affair. At a dinner party or holiday feast, you can expect to have a designated toastmaster leading the toasts. With words and drink offered to friends and family as well as those who have passed, the toasts can quickly mount into the double digits–a dozen would be quite common, but even more toasts would not be unexpected. Typically wine or spirits are used for hte toasts; beer is apparently not an option though!

5. Drinking from a shoe in the Ukraine. 

This wine has undertones of vanilla, oak, and…shoe!? In the Ukraine, this might not be far off. At weddings in the Ukraine, it’s a playful custom for a guest to steal one of the bride’s shoes during the celebration. If he or she does make off with the shoe, they earn the right to make (lighthearted) demands of the party.  A common demand is that guests drink from the shoe! However, it’s not necessarily as gross as it sounds: typically, the shoe will be attached to a glass, so they are not literally drinking from the shoe. The bride’s feet are likely relieved, as is the guest tasked with drinking!

6. Don’t toast in Hungary! 

As legend has it, when the Hungarian revolution was defeated in the 1800s, the Austrians celebrated their victory by toasting and clinking. In defiance, Hungarians vowed to abolish the practice of “cheers” with beer for 150 years. While that time period has passed, they still have not regularly adopted the custom back.

a group of people sitting on a stage(Source: Oxford Social Club Facebook page)

7. Water or wine in Italy. 

Water or wine? These will basically be your only options for beverages with a meal in Italy. In homes and restaurants, the only beverages offered and served will typically be water (fizzy or still) or wine (this might be red, white, rose, or sparkling). Iced wine or water is a big no-no, and you certainly won’t see milk or soda on the table.

8. Ever heard of “sconcing”? 

In Oxford, there’s an interesting drinking tradition called sconcing. Now, to clarify, in this particular case we’re talking about Oxford University in England, not Oxford Social Club!

At the esteemed institution of higher learning, the tradition of sconcing involves that someone drinks a quantity of ale or other alcohol as a penalty for etiquette blunders. It is derived from a custom of a monetary penalty for social breaches in the 1600s.

Today, the custom is fairly lighthearted, and might involve a member of a group at a pub standing up and declaring “I sconce whoever…” in a sort of “Never Have I Ever” type of tradition.

9. Drinking is complicated in Korea. 

Drinking etiquette is highly complex in Korea. In particular, there are a lot of rules and rituals around letting elders drink first as a show of respect.

For instance, if an older person offers a younger person a drink, social rules dictate that the younger person should stand up or kneel and accept the beverage with both hands, and that the beverage should be sipped facing away from the person who offered.

That’s just one small example of the complex rules around drinking in Korea! However, it should be noted that in modern times, these social rules are not observed quite as strictly as in the past.

10. Wine on the rocks in Japan: 

Here’s an oddball custom that has been taking off in Japan: “Wine on the Rocks”! Billed as “a new way to drink wine”, very cold vintner offerings are being billed as an ideal pairing for all kinds of food. As a testament to its popularity, even several fast food giants are serving wine on the rocks in their Japanese locations! At Oxford Social Club, we remain more traditional, serving only white and sparkling wine in a chilled form.

11. Toe the line in Canada: 

This is perhaps the strangest drinking custom we’ve come across. In what might sound like a Walking Dead plot line, there’s actually a bar in Canada where it’s customary to drink a cocktail with a human toe in it. Apparently, the custom kicked off after a local miner lost a toe and a barkeep found it later, preserved in alcohol; it became a sort of drinking challenge to enjoy a drink with the toe in it. There was an uproar when the toe was stolen earlier this year, but happily, it was soon returned. At Oxford Social Club, we think we’ll stick to other types of tried-and-true drinks like our mule cocktails!

One thing’s for sure: there are certainly some unusual drinking customs that go on around the world! At Oxford Social Club, we welcome you to enjoy your own toasts and traditions at our San Diego hot spot. Come and join us soon so that you can say “cheers” with your favorite cocktail!

What’s your favorite drinking custom?