The most common mistake foreigners make when they drink with Russians is to say something like “na zdarovje” each time they raise a glass of vodka. Sure, your company will smile and know you mean well, but actually it makes you look pretty ignorant. Yes, it would be recognized as Russian, but more in the sense of “bless you”, something you use when someone sneezes or thanks you for the nice meal you prepared for them. Where other Slavic languages like Polish (na zdrowie), Czech (na zdravi) and Bulgarian (nazdrave) have similar words that do mean cheers, the Russians don’t really have one that stands out. So as far as your company is considered you are either immitating a Russian villain from a Hollywood movie or you are speaking Polish to them, which is as flattering as approaching someone from Japan in Chinese. In the Russian tradition you usually raise your glass and make a small toast. This can be a simple short one to your host, the occasion or the company, or a long colorful and semi-poetic monologue.
Before we get started with some popular Russian toasts let’s talk a bit about the Russian drinking habbits, so you get the setting. First of all a proper Russian drinking session should have some bites on the side, or as they call it zakuska. Nowadays it’s usually pickles or a salad. When you’re drinking vodka, you never ever mix it with some kind of soda or juice. In the worst case you have a glass with a non-alcoholic drink on the side as a chaser. There is no such thing as a drinking session without an occasion, but the good news is that Russians can be quite inventive to come up with occasions. Once you’re sharing a table full of drinks with Russians you’ll understand how important the toasts are for them, as no glass is downed without some proper words. It usually starts with some kind words for the host and the rest of the company and as the drinking session continues you’ll see people getting more and more creative. Here are 10 popular phrases to help you get started.
1. За здоровье – Za Zdarovje (to health)
If you are gonna cheers to someone’s health at least use the right words. As said before na zdarovje is used in another context. If you want to show off your Russian language skills you can also say “to your health”, which is za vashe zdarovje when said to multiple people or to someone who is older or outranks you. To a friend or an equal you say za tvajo zdarovje.
2. За встречу – Za Vstrechu (To our meeting)
Nobody likes AA meeting, however a meeting with someone who pours vodka is definitely worth celebrating. Please keep in mind that the U in vstrechu is pronounced like a double O in the English words booze and cool.
3. За нашу дружбу – Za nashu druzjbu (to our friendship)
When sharing drinks with someone these first 3 toasts are in a logical chronological order. First politely toast to the health of the person who brought the vodka. If it tastes good, you praise yourselves lucky that you met and by the 3rd drink you can already see that this relationship is turning into a friendship.
4. За любовь – Za Lyubov (To love)
This can be the love you feel around you from your new best friends or refer to the love you wish you will all find someday. However it’s meant, one can’t go wrong with a cheers for love.
5. За родителей – Za raditeley (to our parents)
A popular toast in Russian culture as respect for parents is one of the biggest values. For the pronounciation: i sounds double EE as in the English words wheel and beef.
6. За наших милых дам – Za nashikh milikh dam (to our lovely ladies)
In Russia it’s very popular when you are in a mixed company that one of the guys makes a toast to the girls that are present.
7. Выпьем за то, чтобы у нас всегда был повод для праздника – Vupjem za to, chtobu u nas vsegda bul povod dlya prazdnika (May we always have reason for a party)
After the usual few glasses of politeness we assume the alcohol gave your language skills a good boost. If you pull these off your Russian friends will love you without a doubt.
8. Давайте выпьем за то, чтобы мы испытали столько горя, сколько капель водка останется в наших бокалах – Davajte vupjem za to, chtobu mu isputali stolko gorya; skolko kapel vodka ostanetsya v nashikh bokalakh (Let’s drink to the fact that we may have as much sorrow as drops of vodka that will be left in our glasses)
Didn’t we tell you Russians could become poetic in their toasts. Similar wishes in your own words and in English are usually also highly appreciated.
9. Чтобы столы ломались от изобилия, а кровати от любви – Chtoby stoly lomalis ot izobiliya, a krovati ot lyubvi (To tables breaking of abundance and beds breaking of love)
Depending on the company you can also refer to the act of love. But not all in-laws might like to hear this one or dirtier versions.
10. В народе говорят: “Если хочешь правильно поступить, посоветуйся с женой и сделай наоборот”. Выпьем же за наших жен, которые помогают нам в сложных ситуациях принимать правильные решения – V narode govoryat: “Yesli khochesh pravilno postupit, posovetuysya s zhenoy i sdelay naoborot. Vypyem zhe za nashikh zhen, kotoryye pomogayut nam v slozhnykh situatsiyakh prinimat pravilnyye resheniya (People say: “If you want to make the right decision, ask your wife and do the opposite.” Let’s drink to our wives, who help us make the right decisions in difficult situations.”
A very long classic to finalize our 10 Russian toasts with.This is one of the toasts that usually comes out at the end of a productive evening. For example when the wife is trying to persuade her husband to stop drinking, go to bed or not drive his car anymore cause he’s drunk.
Related articles on Lords of the Drinks: