where clinks = (n-1)/2
April 14, 2008 7:58 PM   Subscribe

EttiquetteFilter: Is there any graceful way of dealing with a glass-clinking toast with greater than 6 people?

You're out with a big group of people. Someone proposes a toast, and begins clinking their class to the people next to them. Then, it's a chain reaction, and everyone must clink with every other person, regardless of how ridiculous this gets with large numbers of people. If you simply raise your glass in respect (as I have tried to do), you get scowled at.

Am I a sourpuss for thinking that this tradition can get rather awkward and tedious with large groups of people? Can anyone advise how to handle this situation with grace and respect?
posted by Brian James to Human Relations (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I have had situations where people are out of reach, and it seems quite acceptable to tip your glasses at each other and say `clink!' rather than lean all the way across a table or stretch over someone's meal.

If everyone's in easy reach, I would say to just grin and bear it, no matter how tedious it seems.
posted by tomble at 8:00 PM on April 14, 2008

Okay, I haven't done the research on this, but I love it.

About 10 years ago, someone told me that the proper etiquette for a large group toast was to clink at least three glasses, and make eye contact with each clinkee. ("The eyes! The eyes!" we would remind each other when we learned this). After all the clinking and eye contact, everyone faces the group as a whole, lifts their glass up to the ceiling a bit in 'virtual' toast to the others ("hear, hear!") then drinks.

It works beautifully and everyone feels it was done right and they were included. Now I'm curious about when these ritual aspects were developed.
posted by Miko at 8:06 PM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Scowled at? Don't invite the scowlers next time.
posted by gjc at 8:11 PM on April 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Because my answer wasn't that clear, I should add that the "rule of three" is considered sufficient. It means you don't have to fall all over yourself trying to clink every glass in the room, and you don't have to get into a "chain reaction." Just clink the three or four nearest people, salute everyone else generically, and then drink.
posted by Miko at 8:15 PM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've never understood why having alcohol in one's glass magically makes it able to bless endeavors, people, and other, ridiculous things.

It's pretty ancient and cross-cultural, and the idea is that of making an offering of a libation to whatever gods are in effect. That's why the raising into the air. Same thing for christening ships - splashing the libation directly on the object to be blessed.
posted by Miko at 8:38 PM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you're in something like a circle, you can each clink your neighbors till it's gone all the way around. This works better if several of you have the same idea.
posted by eritain at 8:39 PM on April 14, 2008

Hmmm ... I think of toasting as a wonderful way of making a little celebration out of any old meal or round of drinks. I can't imagine why anyone would get grumbly over it.

I think you can keep it to the folks nearest you, so long as everyone has touched glasses with someone, then everyone should be covered.

Sort of like the only part of going to church that I liked as a kid - when everyone relaxes and turns and shakes hands with the people around them and says peace be with you - you don't have to shake hands with everyone in the building, but the fact that everyone is shaking hands at once makes it kind of a moment.
posted by gyusan at 8:42 PM on April 14, 2008

Strange reactions. Does shaking hands magically make you someone's friend so you can talk to them without being introduced? Does putting a ring on your fiance's finger magically mean that no other man will approach her? Of course not, but people like them. These are traditions, they're part of our culture. Lots of people like them, what's wrong with respecting that?

Raising your glass without clinking is kind of a snub to your neighbors at the table. The reason they are probably scowling at you is that they are holding their glass up waiting for you to clink it. It's like if they held out their hand for a shake and you waved at them. Perhaps it is ridiculous with a group of 10, but I think the least you could do is clink with your nearest neighbors on either side and opposite, which seems to match what Miko is suggesting.

If I had to guess the reason this tradition developed, I would think it is probably an icebreaker, to make it easier for you to talk to your fellow dinner guests (especially those you are not familiar with, and especially those who are seated near you). Doing a little shared ritual like this sort of binds you into a little group while you're sitting at the table; it lowers the social boundaries just a little bit.
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:51 PM on April 14, 2008

I was recently told that it is considered (or can be considered) bad etiquette to initiate glass-clinking for toasts when more than 2 people are present. His reasoning was to avoid this exact issue.

My host's explanation was that for two people, they share in the act of "sealing" or finishing the toast. They share the toast and they drink together, and nobody is left out.

In cases with more than 2 participants this awkward situation comes up. Instead of clinking, everyone should raise their glass in the air. Everyone does the same thing and nobody is excluded. Everyone involved in the toasts in both cases shares in the same act with the same people.

I always thought raising a glass in the air was like a voodoo-clink for people across the room. And when I find myself pondering clink-etiquette I usually revert to some advice my dad gave me when I was younger, "If you can remember how many drinks you've had, have another."
posted by KevCed at 8:55 PM on April 14, 2008

I am kind of like you in that I tend to find the process of glass clinking with larger groups laborious and a rather unnecessary. If the group atmosphere is right I find making a joking comment about it (a wittier way of communicating "urgh" or "awkward") can be a good way of dealing with it; everyone thinks you are funny (because they secretly all feel the same way), the mood is lifted and you get to ride out the glass clinking with a smile. Ths only works in less formal settings though.
posted by atmosphere at 9:45 PM on April 14, 2008

In the "cheers" situation, the best position is front and center. Get your glass out there first, and they will all "clink" to yours. If you snooze, you loose, and then just make as big of a deal as you can cheersing those next to you until it dies down. Don't try to make a huge effort to hit everyone, or you will get the "frown" from the purists.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:14 PM on April 14, 2008

I'm guessing that you meant to write n(n-1)/2 rather than (n-1)/2
posted by randomstriker at 11:12 PM on April 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Clink glasses with everyone within arm's reach, hoist the glass in recognition of everyone else, touch the glass to the table in honor of lost or absent comrades, and drink. That's how we pirates do it.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:10 AM on April 15, 2008

...touch the glass to the table in honor of lost or absent comrades...

In our family we touch the table to symbolically toast those who are out of reach; I think that custom came by way of my sister's husband's family.
posted by TedW at 6:06 AM on April 15, 2008

Um, IIRC the original intent in "clinking glasses" was to splash your drink with others to show that you're willing to drink whatever poison is in their glass. By holding up your glass to the center you're making that offer. Do not say "clink!" and think you're being classy and polite, puhleeeeeze.

Similarly, shaking hands is offering your sword arm to show your trust.

Similarly, bowing is done with eyes lowered to show your trust. Never continue eye contact through a bow as is stated in "Karate Kid": If you don't trust the person you're bowing to, you shouldn't bow. This also helps explain the depth of the bow. The person bowing deeper is showing obeisance by showing respect and trust.

To help forestall a frenzy of glass clinking, the toaster can ask the guests to raise their glasses in a toast.
posted by lothar at 8:27 AM on April 15, 2008

Clinking is indeed bad form. For some reason that just makes us Americans feel like we need to do it more. The two person clink is an intimate gesture. The multi-person clink is a social abortion.
posted by Aquaman at 8:28 AM on April 15, 2008

I also get sort of annoyed by the group clink. I was raised with more sedate toasts -- a few clinks to those within reach (yes, eye contact) and then raise your glass up and take a sip, smiles all around. But, no, one or more think that the rule is to touch glasses with everyone and it ends up with this extended game of wine glass twister and becomes comical. I don't know how this situation gets rectified though. As evidenced by this thread, there's always a reason for people to decide you're a stick in the mud. As Americans, we're just so boisterous! Anything less would be just so very un-American!

On the eye contact thing -- I notice that when everyone starts clinking around, you aren't making eye contact, you're looking at the glasses. Seems less honored, that way. For comical toasts and steins of beer after a day of skiing, clink away. I think for serious toasts or thanking the host, perhaps something a little more sedate and honorific is in order.
posted by amanda at 9:08 AM on April 15, 2008

I have a Swiss neighbor who believes that everyone must touch glasses with everyone else, and it's important to make eye contact with each person as you do it. This is in a reasonable group of four to eight people, though. I haven't seen what she does in larger groups.
posted by bink at 9:24 AM on April 15, 2008

A related question:

When someone makes a toast, whether there's clinking or not, isn't it bad form to not drink immediately afterward and just put your glass down? I have seen people do this and can't help but feel intentionally slighted. Am I just being silly?
posted by MsVader at 10:17 AM on April 15, 2008

Clinking is indeed bad form. For some reason that just makes us Americans feel like we need to do it more. The two person clink is an intimate gesture. The multi-person clink is a social abortion

Most of the sources I looked at regarding the "rule of three" said that the idea that touching glasses is unsophisticated is quite a recent appearance. There's no tradition of etiquette saying that touching glasses is de classe (quote the opposite) - the notion has arisen recently.

You aren't being silly. It's an intentional slight not to drink.

Absolutely. If you don't want any alcohol you can toast with water. But the whole idea is a communal action.
posted by Miko at 7:02 AM on April 20, 2008

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