How to Drink in Other Countries

By   

View as:

couple drinking champagne in Paris
Photo credit: anyaberkut/istockphoto

When traveling to other countries, it's important to learn as much about the local customs and traditions as you can, and that's particularly true when it comes to drinking alcohol. Not only will you avoid offending someone and not stick out as clueless tourist, but you're also bound to have more fun as you immerse yourself in the local culture. While learning to properly tip in different countries is a useful skill, learning proper drinking etiquette is bound to help you make new friends when you travel. And while each country, and even region, around the globe has their own drinking traditions, we've highlighted some of the most intriguing ones to help you plan your next trip.
happy friends drinking wine at rooftop party
Photo credit: Izabela Habur/istockphoto

Spaniards typically don't head to the bars until around 11 p.m., so be sure to take advantage of a much-needed siesta earlier in the day to keep up. Day drinking is also popular, though imbibers typically opt for lower alcohol options, such as sweet vermouth with soda water, light beer, or short glasses of Rioja (or one of Spain's many other excellent wines). Skip the sangria, which is typically for tourists, and opt for tinto de verano, red wine with lemon soda, which translates to "summer wine" but is enjoyed year-round. For a mixed drink or "copa," consider the classic Spanish gin and tonic. "Salud" is a common toast to health, you might also hear "Arriba! Abajo! Al centro! Al dentro!" -- which translates to "up, down to the center, and inside" and indicates where to move your glass before you drink from it. In many tapas bars, they'll serve complimentary small bites designed to keep you drinking.
drinking genever, traditional way in the Netherlands
Photo credit: you have to slurp your genevers by Paul Irish (CC BY)

Genever (also known as Jenever), is considered the grandfather of gin as we know it, and is the national drink of the Netherlands. A neutral spirit made with juniper berries and other botanicals, genever may sound like gin, but it's more akin to a very light whiskey for flavor, and you'll find it in a proeflokaal or "tasting room." One of the best ways to enjoy genever is by performing kopstoot, or "head butt" -- a centuries old tradition where a small, tulip-shaped glass is filled to the brim with chilled genever, and the drinker bends at the waist (trying not to actually head butt fellow drinkers) to take a first sip, followed by a sip of beer from a small glass served with it.
soju being pouring by someone else
Photo credit: kaesan/istockphoto

Korean drinking customs are particularly strict, but that's not to say you won't have fun -- in fact, you should be prepared to drink quite a bit. One of the first rules is that you never pour your own drink. Instead, always fill another person's glass if it's completely empty (and never partially), and always serve the eldest or highest ranking person first. Pour holding the bottle with your right hand while supporting with the left, and if you're on the receiving end, be sure to hold your cup with both hands. Soju, a clear distilled rice liquor, is often the beverage of choice. It's about as potent as vodka and sipped straight up and often. Beer options typically include light lagers like Hite, and Makgeolli is a traditional, unfiltered drink with a milky color that is made with fermented rice grains, yeast, and boiled water.
friends at a British pub
Photo credit: ultramarinfoto/istockphoto

Drinking in a pub -- which takes its name from "public house" -- is a huge part of socializing in the U.K. as they often function as neighborhood gathering spots. And one of the most closely followed customs is buying a round of drinks for the group if you're drinking with two or more people. The expectation is that once one person buys a round, the next person does the same (usually when drinks are nearly empty but not completely), and so on, until everyone has bought a round and it begins again. And as there's generally no wait service in pubs, you're expected to bring all of the drinks of your round from the bar to the table. And while you might say "cheers" when clinking glasses, the term "toast" when drinking to someone's health, is thought to have originated in 16th century England when an actual piece of spiced or charred toast was added to a cup or bowl of wine to make it taste better.
glass of wine in hand with natural landscape of green Alazani Valley, Georgia
Photo credit: Radiokukka/istockphoto

The people of Georgia take drinking and toast-making seriously -- which shouldn't be surprising considering some of the oldest evidence of winemaking and drinking have been found in Neolithic-era sites in the region. During special occasions and feasts for newly arrived guests (also known as supras), which can last for hours, the tamada or toastmaster will initiate the toasting rounds. Each person at the table responds with a toast and downs their glass. There are over 150 variations of traditional toasts with common themes that include honoring the occasion, family members, and deceased ancestors. Georgian wine -- often homemade -- is the drink of choice, and occasionally brandy (aka Chacha), but never beer as toasting with beer as that would wish bad luck on the subject of the toast. Declining a drink is considered rude, though exceptions are made for medical conditions and non-drinkers.
couple raising glasses with wine
Photo credit: PJPhoto69/istockphoto

The French are also particularly passionate about drinking etiquette, especially when it comes to wine. First, be sure to wait until everyone's glass has been poured before raising your glass to toast -- or in some cases, until the host has raised their glass. "À ta santé" ("to your health") is a common toast, which can be answered by, "à la tienne" ("to yours") or a simple "tchin-tchin" (cheers) will work. Making eye contact as you clink glasses is crucial, before taking a sip and then putting your glass down. Just be sure not to cross arms with anyone as you reach across the table, and never toast with water or non-alcoholic drinks as both are considered bad luck. Drinking wine without a meal is generally frowned upon or considered touristy, and you typically won't see anyone drinking beer with a meal.
Australian friends having drinks
Photo credit: xavierarnau/istockphoto

Generally speaking, Australians are particularly fond of beer -- and wine for that matter -- and drinking tends to be a boisterous, jovial event, especially while watching rugby or Aussie Rules football. Similar to the U.K., it's expected that each person will buy at least one round or "shout" during a drinking session. Failing to buy a round or trying to slink off early without shouting a round will definitely mark you as a cheapskate.
Japanese couple in a traditional house
Photo credit: FilippoBacci/istockphoto

Similar to other countries, when drinking in Japan, it's polite to wait until everyone's drink is poured before raising your glass for a toast. When you do raise your glass, it's considered polite to keep it lower than the eldest person at the table and make eye contact with those nearest to you. "Kanpai," which translates to "empty cup" (akin to "bottoms up") is a common toast, and if you're drinking sake, it's generally expected that you drink the cup in one go. You also don't want to pour your own glass, and instead pour a drink for others, who will return the favor. In addition to sake, beer is also a popular choice of drink, and increasingly Japanese whisky is in demand. And don't be surprised if it turns into a late night of drinking.
two hands drinking vodka in shot glasses
Photo credit: Nick_Picnic/istockphoto

While Russia is known for its love of vodka, the spirit is not typically sipped casually with dinner as beer and wine (which are increasingly popular there) might be. Instead, vodka is usually reserved for special occasions, such as gatherings of family and friends or business outings -- and you definitely won't be sipping or mixing it with anything. Chilled vodka will be served in a small shot glass, which you'll want to hold aloft as toasts are made -- usually by the host and followed by others -- then clink glasses, exhale sharply (thought to ward of hangovers), and drink it in one go. Expect a shot or two in quick succession, and then aim to grab bites of zakuski, essentially snacks that are typically served with vodka that might include pickled vegetables (commonly cucumbers), cold meats, acidic salads, and cured fish. Finishing a bottle of vodka is considered important -- before the bottle is placed out of sight beneath the table -- so plan for a big night.
family drinking white wine with meal on patio
Photo credit: gradyreese/istockphoto

Increasingly regarded as one of the world's top wine producers, you can expect to sip plenty of excellent vintages when you visit. That said, beer is largely considered the national drink -- especially on sweltering days while watching sports and eating boerewors -- a popular local sausage. There's even a South African church where parishioners are baptized in beer for the truly devout drinkers. Other drinking options include umqombothi, a traditional low-alcohol beer made from corn; witblits, a strong brandy made from fermented grapes; amarula, a creamy liquor made from the marula fruit and often added to coffee; and Van Der Hum, a citrus liquor developed over 300 years ago.
beer at Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany
Photo credit: Nikada/istockphoto

A beer drinker's dream, Germany offers a dizzying array of beers to choose from, local breweries to try, beer gardens and halls for drinking, and even a more than 500-year-old beer purity law to ensure you're drinking quality suds. When raising a stein of beer, be sure to make eye contact as you toast -- not doing so risks seven years of bad luck (or bad sex) -- and clink glasses with everyone in the group. As you clink, "prost" is one of the more common toasts to use, but you might impress your friends with "zum wohl," which translates to "to our well-being." If you're a wine drinker, look for a weinstube, or "wine room" to sip vintages from the region.
snaps at Restaurant Gabriel in Feskekôrka in Gothenburg
Photo credit: Sweden by Heather Cowper (CC BY)

High alcohol prices in Sweden don't seem to slow down Swedes from enjoying a tipple -- especially when it comes to snaps -- the country's popular high-alcohol aquavit that's often flavored with botanicals. Often served during feasts, holidays, and midsummer festivals -- or any other celebratory occasion -- snaps is typically served in a small glass often with herring or crayfish. In formal occasions, wait until the host makes a toast before drinking. And in all occasions, raise your glass, make eye contact and shout, "Skål," which roughly translates to "good health" or "cheers." Don't be surprised if the group starts singing a snapsvisa, a traditional drinking song. During the Christmas season, be ready to drink plenty of glögg, a mulled red wine.
friends toast and tasting of pisco in vineyard of Ica, Peru
Photo credit: Pere_Rubi/istockphoto

While pisco, an unaged brandy produced from grapes, is regarded as the national drink of Peru (and Chile), it's Peruvian beer drinking traditions that stand out the most. Unlike beer drinking in most other countries where drinkers receive their own glass of beer, in Peru, one glass is often shared among drinkers -- even a big group. Beer is usually served in large bottles with the one small glass, and drinkers take their turns filling the glass, drinking it quickly, and passing it to the next drinker (sometimes flicking the frothy residue on the ground before passing).
three friends cheering on good news with glasses of pilsner beer
Photo credit: Instants/istockphoto

Drinkers in the Czech Republic take their drinking -- and toasting -- seriously. Before sipping one of the many excellent local beers, be sure to look your fellow drinkers in the eye and clink glasses, ensuring that you don't cross arms with anyone as you do so, otherwise you run the risk of seven years bad luck in the bedroom. Once you clink, say, "Na zdraví" (which translates to "to health"), tap the bottom of your glass on the table, and take a healthy gulp. Should you happen to opt for a shot of tequila for some reason, there's a good chance it will be served with a dash of cinnamon to be licked off your hand (instead of salt), and an orange slice (instead of lime) to chase it.

Cheapism.com participates in affiliate marketing programs, which means we may earn a commission if you choose to purchase a product through a link on our site. This helps support our work and does not influence editorial content.