Cheers to the Cultures of the World

by Orielle Heilicher, Tastemaker in Residence  

Cheers, salute, l’chaim, naz drahvi, and yamas. So many different cultures celebrate and toast to different occasions. Throughout my recent travels, I have learned many new ways to toast new friends, a new culture and a new experience. Each new country I visit has their own customs and languages. 

Toasts and cheers have been done throughout human history tracing back to before the formation of sedentary societies. They are always done over some kind of alcohol, usually wine or beer. The toast was and still is used to celebrate an occasion, or more commonly to toast to the health of your peers or even country. Study abroad students tend to abandon all rules and toast to any and all occasions because everyday there is a reason to celebrate. 

In my personal history the terms “cheers” and “l’chaim” (in Hebrew meaning “to life”) were most commonly used. “L’chaim” was always used on Friday nights to toast to my loveable family and all that we were grateful for. With full glasses of wine and smiles on our faces, we toasted to the next week. It has been a term of comfort for me that connects me to my Jewish and family heritage. Not to mention it pops up in the famous Black Eyed Peas song “I Got a Feeling” (a moment of pride for the Jewish people). 

As I moved away from home, it was less common to hear that term and more common to hear “cheers”. Every college student in the US uses cheers and it can commonly be seen on Instagram stories using the boomerang feature. It has become sort of “trendy” for people ages 16 – 22. Whether it’s a fraternity (frat) party featuring solo cups filled with the cheapest vodka (of course only consumed when legally allowed to), a bar, or a nice restaurant to break the budget, cheers is used as a social tool to celebrate quality time with the people you are fond of. 

Studying abroad and being exposed to more cultures, has enabled me to learn new ways to say “cheers” along side the customs they represent. Italy, as well as the Spanish speaking countries I have traveled, (Spain and Bolivia), say “salute” or “salud” with various emphasis on the endings depending on where you are. Usually wine or Cerveza accompanies these toasts. In Italy “salute” can be said over Chianti wine, Limoncello or a shot of Sambuca if you are brave and like the taste of anise (licorice). 

During my search for the Italian uses and traditions of “salute”, one of my friends, who has lived in Italy for two years, taught me that “salute” is more equivalent to “cheers”. However, “brindisi” is used more for making a toast. The difference being that “salute” tends to be treated like a quick nod to friends, while “brindisi” is used after a toast given. 

In Prague, Czech Republic “cheers” is “Naz dravi”. After being shunned by the friends I was visiting, I learned that in the Czech Republic it is considered rude not to look the person you are clinking glasses with in the eyes. So, when in Prague, even in a big group, always look each person in the eye as you clink glasses. I promise it will save you a lecture and a dirty look. 

On my latest adventure over spring break, I admired not only the beautiful Mediterranean Sea surrounding Athens, Greece, but also the endless blue and white buildings of the island of Mykonos. In Greece, the equivalent of “cheers” is “yamas”, short for “stin yeia mas”, meaning “to our health”. “Yamas” is said over a glass of your finest red wine, or Ouzo. Ouzo is yet again an anise-flavored liquor. I’m sensing a theme of anise… Sometimes if you are lucky (or unlucky depending on your preferences), you will get a free shot of Ouzo (always served over ice) with your souvlakey or kebab. 

While all these phrases are new to my vocabulary, I cannot wait to use them in the near future both abroad and at home. I look forward to learning and exploring the meaning behind many more cheers and phrases and incorporating them into my vocabulary. Bottom line, always know the cheers traditions of your surrounding and always, always respect them, so you can act like a true world traveler.