Today’s Culture Clue comes from the “who knew” section of cultural lore.
We’re sure you’ve had a “who knew?” experience. It’s when you’re in a new setting, and there’s a subtle rule difference from what you’re used to. As long as you don’t know about it, you can remain reasonably blissful in your cluelessness.
But once you DO know, there’s always a forehead slapping “Who knew!?” moment, when you realize that you were out of step with your surroundings, and perhaps wish you’d known.
I spent about 8 years in the early days of Untours, living part of the season in our Untours’ European headquarters (otherwise known as the Greuterts’ extra apartment), and spent much of that time learning these sorts of things.
This is something that once I finally KNEW, well, I felt awfully bad that I’d been glomping about improperly toasting all those years. (I was in my twenties, and single, so there was a good amount of toasting occurring.)
So, to save you from a forehead-slapping “who knew” moment after you’ve met your new Swiss friends on a Swiss Untour and are enjoying a wonderful Swiss meal and wine at the local restaurant, here is how it’s done.
When a drink is served at a social occasion, postpone drinking from your glass until everyone has been served a drink (whether it is wine or mineral water) and then say Prost (‘Cheers’ in German). That’s the word that is most often use in the German-speaking region that Untours calls the Swiss Heartland (from around Luzern to Interlaken)
In our Swiss Oberland, (in and around Lake Thun and south towards the French-speaking region) you will hear both prost and santé (French).
After your Untours host or newfound companion has proposed a toast, look directly at him or her and respond, preferably with prost, or whatever the local version of ‘cheers’ is.
Then, clink glasses (eye to eye) with everyone at the table, or at least those within your reach. Only then do you take your first sip. This eye contact is surprisingly important, probably more important than which “toast” word is used. Even in German-speaking Switzerland, there’s more than one word; Proscht, Zum Wohl, Gsundheit are all options.
But as far as we can tell, it doesn’t matter where you are in Switzerland, as you clink your glass with your companions, look your fellow-imbibers STRAIGHT in the eye as you clink their glass. That’s a toast done properly, in Switzerland.
Cheers to Switzerland! See you in the Alps.