Sharing a few drinks is a great way to get to know people as it can help to break down the language barriers or just calm the nerves when you first set foot in a new country.
However, as easily as you can make friends, you can make enemies when it comes to drinking etiquette worldwide. See below for some do’s and don’ts in a few select countries…
In Italy, people know how to handle their drinks, so it is uncommon to see people staggering on the streets drunk. Drinks are often served with food. If you order an aperitivo (around 6pm to 9pm) you will always receive a plate of snacks, or in some bars you can help yourself from the buffet for the cost of one drink.
The younger generation often spend their evenings outdoors on a piazza. You can usually find a small shop on one side of the piazza that sells beers, wine and spirits for you to enjoy outside the shop. If you see a large group of people just hanging out and drinking, aim there. The drinks are served in a glass as they would be in a bar – and as I mentioned, it is not common for anyone to be so drunk as to make a mess and break the glass.
In Greece, your glass will be refilled over and over again, so pace yourself to avoid drinking too much. The Greek drink a lot of wine and ouzo, but ouzo should be sipped slowly, while wine can be drunk as fast as you wish.
When toasting in Germany you should hold eye contact until the glass touches the table again. This way you show your respect and express your interest in what the other person is saying. It is also OK to drink on the streets; you can walk around with a beer in your hand or drink in the parks.
In France, men are expected to be gentlemanly by always pouring for women. Women can expect never to pour their own drink, unless they are on their own (which I’m sure won’t last very long…). Leave a little in your glass to signal you’ve had enough, although the French don’t drink excessive amounts anyway.
Unlike in the UK, in Spain you don’t have to worry about whose turn it is to get the drinks as everyone just sorts themselves out. The Spanish don’t drink much; they use smaller glasses and normally enjoy drinks with tapas.
Unlike the French, Finnish people love to drink. There aren’t many rules to how or when or what you should be drinking. If your host is downing the vodka shot it is ok for you to sip it, should you wish, and so on. It is polite not to let your host drink alone, but in most cases they don’t really mind.
There’s a saying, ‘kissan ristiäiset’ (cat’s christening), which means any made-up reason to have a drink: name day, a sunny day, a shit day, the beginning of a season (may be spring, summer etc., or just the start of an ice hockey or bowling season…), shot an elk party, welcome party… the list goes on… One of my favourites is ‘harjannostajaiset’ – when you are building a house and just before it is ready (roof missing, for example), you host a party to celebrate it is almost ready. Obviously, you will host another party when it is completely finished and a moving-in party.
If you get a chance to go to a sauna, take a beer, cider or lonkero with you. The Finns love a cold alcoholic beverage in the heat. You often end up drinking in and out of the sauna for hours.
In most countries people happily clink their beer glasses, but not in Hungary. Whatever you do, don’t clink someone’s glass during a toast if it is with beer. Austrian generals toasted the defeat of Hungary in the revolution, after which the Hungarians vowed not to clink glasses again. Well, actually they said they would not do so for the next 150 years, which would have ended in 1999, but old habits die hard…
With other drinks such as palinka, saying “cheers” and clinking glasses is absolutely fine. Just remember to look the other person in the eye when you do it!
Everyone knows Russians drink a lot of vodka. You can expect to do so too if you travel there, especially if you end up drinking with the locals. The first rule is that when you open a bottle of vodka in Russia, you should also finish it, no matter how drunk you will be. It is considered rude not to finish an opened bottle. Secondly, vodka should always be consumed straight. And the third rule is to not put empty bottles on the table, keep the empties under the table to avoid bad luck.
Never drink so slow your beer gets warm as you will need to finish it. Like in the UK, it is common to buy rounds – Aussies call it ‘shouting’. When it is your ‘shout’ you’re to buy everyone at your table a drink. Don’t go to bars with an empty wallet…
When drinking in Japan you should never pour your own drink. You should pour for everyone else and wait for someone to top up your glass afterwards. Even if you finish yours first, you should wait for someone to do the pouring. This way you can also blame everyone else for your hangover.
When someone’s pouring sake for you it’s polite to hold your sake cup up with one hand and to put the other hand under the cup. Have a sip before putting the cup back on the table.
The Japanese don’t leave a tip; it is almost considered rude to do so. If you tip someone in Japan, you are saying their job is worth less and doesn’t pay well enough.
Like in Japan, it is polite to wait for your glass to be filled for you. If you are serving the drinks, make sure you fill your elders’ cups first. It is also custom to pour and receive drinks with both hands. It is common to drink a little more than you should; Koreans love to drink.
Vietnamese men drink a lot. If someone offers you a drink, such as their local ‘wine’ (rice vodka), you are expected to drink it if you are a man. It is acceptable for women to decline the offer.
The Chinese love to toast, many times, no matter the occasion. Make sure you hold the glass lower than anyone older than you; it’s not a rule as such but is considered polite. Drinking is considered very social, therefore drinking alone is impolite.
Drinking in public is still frowned upon, yet Morocco is not a dry country. Make sure you don’t ever drink in view of a mosque or in public during Ramadan. For women, it is better to enjoy a drink in a restaurant or at the hotel bar as the cafes and brasseries are traditionally for men and can be unpleasant for women.
My advice in all countries is to pace yourself to avoid looking like a right tourist; nothing points out a holidaymaker better than a drunken mess…
Have you been drinking with locals when abroad? What crazy drinking habits have you seen?
Something I’ve noticed in Ireland, away from the tourist spots, is that when a group of friends have all bought a round, the pub landlord will then also buy one. Maybe it’s not a tradition but I’ve experienced it a number of times
Hi Peter, I got a feeling I may have heard this one before. My kind of tradition 🙂
Thank you for sharing! It really is important to understand other cultures and their drinking customs. No need to unintentionally offend someone while on a visit. On a side note- I had NO idea that it’s considered rude to leave a tip in Japan.
It’s like saying their job doesn’t pay well enough and is somehow not as good. It’s interesting to learn more about the culture various countries.
So interesting – all the different traditions around drink. Makes me want to visit them all and try.
Tell me about it!! 🥂🥃
I love this! At least for the places I’ve been, spot on. Now that I’ve lived in Germany, I can’t stand it when people cheers me without looking me in the eyes — I’m like, are we even connecting here or what’s the point?! :’D
I know the feeling, I am surprised how few people actually look you in the eyes.. We need to keep forcing it to others, they will learn one day 🙂