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Most Googled: Why do Germans make eye contact when they toast?

Most Googled: Why do Germans make eye contact when they toast?

Most Googled: Why do Germans make eye contact when they toast?

Welcome back to another “Most Googled”, where we answer the internet’s burning questions on Germany. Today we are going to explore why it is that Germans like to make eye contact when toasting.

Prost!

If there is one rule you remember when you visit Germany, it should be to always remember to hold eye contact when clinking your stein of cold Hofbrau against someone else's beer. Failure to do so might land you in hot water with your German friends.

Maintaining eye contact when toasting is a long-standing tradition in Germany. Not only is it considered especially rude, but it can also have some serious effects on your life - particularly your sex life. As the old adage goes, if you don’t maintain eye contact when toasting you will suffer seven years of bad sex.

Trust is important

Although a bad sex curse is certainly something to be concerned about, it's a superstition, not a reason - since the person you're clinking glasses with (unless they're your partner) is unlikely to have any real control over the quality of your coitus. So, where did the rule come from? Well, as it turns out, this is a long tradition that can be traced back to medieval times.

There's actually several different theories regarding the origin of this custom. One traces the tradition back to the Viking Age, between the 8th and 11th centuries. In Viking culture, warriors would supposedly maintain eye contact when bumping their drinking horns to ensure that neither man was drawing his weapon while the other took a swig. This tradition was then bought to Germany, and the rest of Europe, by Viking marauders.

Another theory is that, back in the Middle Ages, maintaining eye contact was a way of showing trust. The idea was that, if someone had poisoned their rival's drink, the poisoner would be watching the glasses when toasting, to ensure that none of the poisoned beverage splashed into their own. So, by maintaining eye contact when toasting, both parties could demonstrate that they trusted each other, and had no reason to be monitoring the cups. 

There is, admittedly, little hard historical evidence to support these theories and it could be that the tradition was honoured by different cultures around the world. As people became more integrated and new customs were introduced, some adopted other traditions, like toasts being led by a Tamada (toastmaster) in Georgia, while others continued to maintain eye contact.

Where did the word "toast" come from?

While we're on the subject, why is the word "toast" used to describe the act of clinking glasses? Well, it actually dates back to Elizabethan England. At the time, alcohol wasn't the best tasting beverage and so, to try to make the drink more palatable, people would add small pieces of spiced or charred toast to add flavour and soak up and bitter or acidic sediment. Allusions to this practice can be found as far back as the 17th century; it was even mentioned by William Shakespeare in his 1602 comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor.

The practice of toasting itself can be traced back to the Classical Era, when Romans would pour wine when sacrificing animals to the gods. Sacrificing was often done to honour the dead or to bring fortune to the living. Priests, or a Haruspex, would utter proclamations of respect, fortune and good health when the wine was being poured.

The expression, “Prost”, which is commonly used during toasts in Germany today, comes from the Latin word prosit (to your health). The word is the conjugated form of prodesse, which means “to benefit”. It was first used by university students in the 18th century and eventually became widely adopted throughout the country.

Now you know

So, now you know to keep eye contact when toasting in Germany. Make sure you follow this rule if you want to keep your German friends and, more importantly, save yourself from seven years of bad sex. Do you adhere to any strange drinking laws? Let us know in the comments and make sure you tune in next time for another of the internet's most asked questions on Germany.

William Nehra

Author

William Nehra

William studied a masters in Classics at the University of Amsterdam. He is a big fan of Ancient History and football, particularly his beloved Watford FC.

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