“He who clinks his cup with mine, adds a glory to the wine.“ ~ George Sterling, poet
“Ragtime plinking, glasses clinking, choruses getting sung with only half the lyrics right, giggles bubbling over like a tower of champagne. It’s a party, shaking down the dawn.” ~ Catherynne M. Valente, New York Times bestselling author
“This is a cardinal Ya-Ya rule: you must meet each person’s eyes while clinking glasses in a toast. Otherwise, the ritual has no meaning, it’s just pure show. And that is something the Ya-Yas are not.” ~ Rebecca Wells, author of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood Series
Whether or not to clink glasses when toasting each other might not the most burning question of the moment, but as vaccinated folks emerge from the worst of the pandemic and are getting together with loved ones to raise glasses in celebration — although celebrations are being put on hold in areas that are experiencing spikes from the Delta variant — some etiquette professionals are weighing in, and they don’t all agree on the clink or not to clink question.
Clinking glasses is not the only controversial practice on which etiquette and protocol experts disagree. Napkin etiquette is another example; some say, as I do, that when you must excuse yourself from the table temporarily your napkin should be placed, loosely folded with the soiled part inside, on the table to the left of your plate; others say it should be placed on your chair.
But that etiquette professionals disagree on some points should not come as a shock, as there are many other types of experts that legitimately disagree with each other — doctors, lawyers, economists, educators, Supreme Court justices, etc. Depending on an etiquette professional’s background, culture and country of residence there will be varying views and guidance recommended.
So, as a member of that broad community — which ranges among those who advise on the etiquette of royals, are highly trained in U.S. official protocol, or are veterans of four decades in a variety of executive suites spanning four industries of corporate America (ahem, moi) — I am offering my two cents: Yes, in general, you may clink your glasses when toasting and celebrating! If it’s okay with Bogart and Bergman in Casablanca, it’s okay with me!
But like everything else in the world of proper etiquette, there is guidance, including when not to clink.
- First and foremost, the foundations of etiquette — respect, consideration, sensitivity, empathy and politeness — must be observed. Therefore, one should always follow the lead of the host of the event, party or table, or close-by dinner companions or event participants. If clinking is indicated, clink away; if only the raising of glasses is practiced, don’t clink. However, in any circumstance, even if you are not initiating a clink, if someone sitting or standing close to you extends their glass to you to clink, do so; declining to clink your glass is akin to refusing a handshake.
- Generally, clinking is a ritual performed at informal or semi-formal occasions. At very formal occasions — such as a White House State Dinner or Buckingham Palace event, the practice is simply to raise one’s glass in a toast. But, again, if someone does gesture an intent to clink your glass, graciously clink back.
- When clinking, do not do so on the rim of the glass (also called the lip), as it can chip or crack. Instead, clink gently on the bowl (also called the bell) — where the liquid is held and which is the strongest part of the wine glass, water goblet, champagne flute or coupe, pilsner glass, beer stein or other glass drinking vessel. In the photo above, the celebrants are clinking properly – bowl to bowl.
- Fill glasses no more than 1/3 full for the toast; that will prevent the liquid contents from sloshing out of the glasses when clinking them.
- Clink gently; this will also avoid breakage and spillage. This is especially important when clinking full-to-the-brim beer steins and mugs.
- Make eye contact and smile when clinking.
- Clink only with those who are in close proximity. For those who are not close enough to you to clink glasses gently and comfortably without reaching or leaving your chair, simply raise your glass, nod your head slightly, make eye contact and smile.
- Hold stemware by the stems; that is their purpose! Again, refer to the photo above.
- Be a gracious and relaxed host to your guests. if you are concerned about your guests damaging your expensive or heirloom glassware, or for that matter staining your best linens, use them only at small dinner parties where you have more control. At larger affairs, use your dispensable tableware or rent it for the occasion. You don’t want to make your guests nervous, or guilty should an accident occur.
- Avoid clinking when toasting someone who is absent for a sad reason or who has died, in those cases merely lift your glass. Clinking glasses should be reserved for joyous occasions. A reminder, though, to return a clink if offered, because you never want to reject a well-intended gesture or risk hurting someone’s feelings.
Clinking and Other Related Legends
- In medieval times, folks would invite their enemies to dine and then poison their drinks. On the other hand, those who were not into poisoning would clink their filled-to-the-brim glasses or mugs — which were frequently made from leather, wood, clay or horn — with their guests to slosh the liquid in each vessel into the other’s to prove that there was no poison.
- Clinking glasses when toasting was done to round out all the senses. We can see the champagne or other liquid in the lovely vessel, touch and feel the vessel in hand, smell the bouquet of the wine and taste it. Thus, to engage the fifth sense, one could hear the pleasing and satisfying bell-like tone when clinking glasses. Note: When too much toasting is involved, one might think the sixth sense — or extrasensory perception is kicking in, but it might instead be something akin to alcoholic hallucinosis. So, toast away, but don’t overdo; we’ve just come out of a period of great health challenges; let’s not create another one.
- A superstition that bells ringing staved off evil spirits led to the bell-like sound of clinking drinking vessels together when toasting.
- A related legend involves toasting with water. An ancient superstition dictates that toasting with water is wishing death to someone. But, again, allowing such superstitions and legends to guide us would mean eliminating some other modern customs. Toasting with water is fine, especially for those who are avoiding alcohol or sugary soft drinks. As well, if you find yourself with an empty glass when the toasting has begun, go ahead and raise — and even clink — your empty glass! We are living in the 21st century, not the 5th!
- Another legend tells us that the word, “toast,” as related to celebrating, originated from the medieval practice of placing a piece of toast in a jug of wine to soak up the acid in a poor quality fermented drink. Actual evidence of this practice being observed during the Elizabethan Era (1558 – 1603) can be found in Act 3, Scene 5 of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, when Sir John Falstaff orders Bardolph to, “Go fetch me a quart of sack, put a toast in’t.” (“Sack” was a European wine-related term used in the 16th and 17th centuries.)
Our Modern Customs
One argument against clinking that I read recently asked why we would want to continue a toxic medieval custom that involved poisoning. My response to that is (1) that is not the only legend involving clinking – personally, I prefer the one that involves all five senses — and (2) if we follow that logic we would also refrain from handshaking because one legend regarding that custom involves stabbing! The legend goes that in medieval times people shook hands to demonstrate that they held no weapons, and the pumping motion was intended to shake loose any daggers hidden up someone’s sleeve!
So, regardless of these legends, our modern customs of clinking glasses, shaking hands and toasting with beverages other than alcohol are intended as warm, friendly and joyful rituals that bring people together. Therefore, as you begin to gather in person again with family and friends, feel free to toast each other, and clink to your heart’s desire!
Here’s looking at you, kid…
Until next time,