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Every country in the world has some sort of traditional drinking toast, we say “cheers” before we have a drink, but to understand the true meaning and context of this saying we need to go back a to ancient Greece, where one of the preferred means of disposing of an unwanted political rival (or spouse) was to invite the person to share a nice meal with you and slip a little something into the wine.

The solution to this problem was for the host to take the first drink after the wine was poured from a single bottle or decanter; if he didn’t keel over forthwith, the guests could be assured the wine was safe for them to drink too and they ceremonially tossed back a preliminary sip from their own glasses. This, then, was the beginning of the notion of “drinking to one’s health.”

At least that’s one story; other cultures believe that the custom of saying “cheers” before drinking especially when many persons join together is one of the oldest customs in the West. In the olden days, alcohol was considered to have some bad spirits in it. Glasses were clinked to rid the alcohol of the bad spirits. Over the years it grew into a popular custom and gradually spread to the other parts of the world.

So in this fashion, across the globe cheers means various things, it used to mean “thanks” is British. I’ve never heard it used that way in the United States. On the other hand, “cheers!” is used as a drinking toast in the United States.

So in essence “cheers” mean’s various things in different countries, from a toast to your good health, but also, depending on the context, it can mean thanks, ok, best wishes, you’re welcome, goodbye, no problem, and nothing in particular.

Here’s some “cheers” etiquette from around the globe

  • There are 11 official languages in South Africa, in Afrikaans they say “gesondheid” and try the word “amandla” which means “power” for the remaining nine
  • In the Cape Verde islands – they say “salud” or “ching ching” 
  • The Germans have different ways of saying “cheers” depending on the kind of drink as well as on the occasion. When drinking wine they say “prost” which means “with friends”, and perhaps over a delicious Leopards Leap wine cocktail they’d say “Auf uns!” meaning “To us!”
  • The Japanese say “banzai” which means “long life” or “kanpai” meaning “dry glass”
  • The Australian’s say “bottom’s up” which has got nothing to do with bottoms, but rather their way of saying “cheers” 
  • The British use “cheers” as a drinking toast as well as to say goodbye or cheerio

Here’s to great wine drinking! “Cheers” for now!

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