How do Russians Actually Say Cheers? Guide to Russian Toasts


Russian drinking traditions are obscured by layers and layers of stereotypes and misconceptions. That’s why in this article I will dispel the most common myths about Russian toasts and show you how to properly say “cheers” in Russian. In this article, you’ll learn how it’s really done in Russia.

How to Say Cheers in Russian?

This question seems so simple, but I’ve racked my brain trying to come up with an equivalent that would be as broad and versatile as the simple, English, “Cheers!”

You might be surprised to find out, the world-famous “nostrovia” is not Russian for  “cheers” or an equivalent phrase. It actually means “you are welcome”. (A bit further down I’ll explain where this misunderstanding comes from). 

As for the best equivalent for the English word “cheers”, check this out:

In Russian In English Audio Pronunciation Where to use
Твоё здоровье Cheers, your health
Tva-jó zda-rо́-vje Informal singular
Ваше здоровье Cheers, your health
Vá-she zda-rо́-vje Informal plural/Formal

Both of these phrases basically mean “your health”. Say “Твоё здоровье” and “Ваше здоровье” in Russian like you might say “Cheers!” in English: raise your glass, smile and say one of these phrases. Success is guaranteed.

Just keep in mind that you should use “твоё здоровье” when you address a single friend and “ваше” “здоровье” when you talk to a group of people or to one person but in a formal way.

For example, when you have a pint of beer with your buddy in a bar “твоё здоровье” is a good option. But let’s say  a couple of other friends join you. This time you would use “ваше здоровье” (because now you’re addressing a number of people).

If, for instance, you’re at a wedding party having a glass of champagne with the bride’s father (who you don’t know well), “ваше здоровье” will be the right choice, because you need to be polite and a bit formal.

All that seems more or less clear, so why did I emphasize how difficult finding a translation in Russian can be?

In order to figure out all of these phrases and situations, and their best corresponding translation for English, I’ve had to rethink my own experiences drinking and toasting to organize the various Russian toasts into categories, just for you. Keep on reading to see what I found!

How to Make a Toast in Russian

Cheers in Russian

The two phrases I described above are good, but they’re not used as often as cheers is at an English party because Russian drinking traditions differ.

Instead of using a single word, Russians drink to something certain: to a person (to your mother, to our dear granny…), to an event (to the victory of a football team, to the successful end of the financial year…) or to something abstract (to friendship, to love).

Because of this difference between English and Russian drinking traditions, it might be quite challenging for a foreigner to pick up the appropriate cheers-phrase, as he or she might hear a dozen different toasts after a  few nights out on the town. So, I decided to describe each group. Having read this you’ll be prepared to say a short toast at any event.

What do Russians Really Say Before They Drink?

Actually, proposing a short toast is not a big deal: just say “за”(Za) and then name what you’re drinking to.

Toasts to People

The most frequent toasts are toasts to people, especially when it’s a wedding, birthday, jubilee or any other celebration devoted to a particular person.

In the chart below I gathered the most popular toasts to guests of honor, and other participants of celebrations.

In Russian In English Audio Pronunciation Where to use
За тебя Cheers, to you
Za tibjá Informal singular
За вас Cheers, to you
Za vas Informal plural/Formal
За хозяев To the hosts
Za ha–zjа́–ev Formal/Informal
За родителей To parents
Za ra-dí -ti-lij Formal/Informal
За именинника To the birthday boy
Za i–mi–ní–ni-ka Formal/Informal
За именинницу To the birthday girl
Za i–mi–ní–ni-tsu Formal/Informal

This is how it works in practice. Let’s say, I’ve come to my mom’s birthday. The very first toast will surely be to the birthday girl – “за именинницу”. The next will probably be to my mom’s parents – “за родителей”. I think that then I would take a word and say a toast to daddy – “за папу”.

Toasts to Events

In Russia, they drink not only to people but to important events. For example, it’s very common to make a toast to holidays such as New Years or the Victory Day. Advancing a favorite football team to the finals, the birth of your friends’ children, buying a new car: all these events deserve raising glasses and their personal toast.

These are the toasts for events that come to my mind:

In Russian In English Audio Pronunciation Where to use
За Новый год To the New Year
Za nо́–vij god Formal/Informal
За День победы To the Victory Day
Za djen’ pa–bje–di Formal/Informal
За выход в финал To getting into the final
Za ví–had v fi–nál Formal/Informal

Okay, let’s now go back to my mom’s birthday party. We’ve mentioned all of the most significant people. Now we can drink to the wonderful Birthday – “за День Рождения”.

Toasts to Abstract Things

At the table, guests usually tell cautionary or funny tales from their life that can lead to a toast too. For example:

In Russian In English Audio Pronunciation Where to use
За красоту To beauty
Za kra–sa–tú Formal/Informal
За любовь To love
Za lu–bóv’ Formal/Informal
За дружбу To friendship
Za drúdj–bu Formal/Informal

So, we’re at my mom’s birthday again. Her best friend stays and says: “We’ve been friends for 30 years… I’d like to offer a toast to friendship – за дружбу.”

I hope this has helped you to understand the ins and outs of Russian toasting. Basically, Russians mark important things and drink in their honor.

Also, you’re not only limited to the examples listed above. There are a million and one reasons to pick up your glass and propose a toast. Offer to drink to your start-up, to a successful financial year, to professionalism, to a new car, etc.

There’s still a big unanswered question here:  why should we avoid saying “nostrovia” when almost every movie about Russians contains that one scene (you know the one) where Russians raise their glasses and use the catchy, but incorrect, “nostrovia”?

What Does “Nostrovia” Actually Mean?

You might be surprised, but the world-famous “nostrovia” is a myth created by Hollywood movies and YouTube videos made by non-native speakers.

In the Russian language, На здоровье (“nostrovia”) DOESN’T mean cheers. This phrase means “you are welcome” and is used as a reply to the word Спасибо (Thank you).

In Russian In English Audio Pronunciation Where to use
На здоровье You’re welcome, My pleasure
Na zda–rо́–vje Formal/Informal

The reason for such a mistake is that non-native authors mix Russian, Polish, Czech and other Slavic languages and cultures all at once!

It’s true to say that Polish “na zdrowie”, Slovak “na zdravie”, Serbo-Croatian “nazdraviti” sound similar and do mean “cheers”. However, when it comes to the Russian language, the phrase “На здоровье” has a completely different meaning.

How do we use “На здоровье” appropriately? Let me give you an example.

Let’s say, a babushka (a granny) gives you a pirozhok (a pancake). As a grateful and polite boy or girl you should say: “Спасибо” (thank you). In response, your happy granny will say: На здоро́вье (you’re welcome).

Nostrovia in russian
Babushka & nostrovia

Wait! What about that word, “пожалуйста”, which is translated as “you’re welcome”, too?  Well, they are synonyms. However, “на здоровье” is used more often when we’re grateful for a treat or a present, such as a granny’s bakery or a mom’s hand-made sweater.

But let’s get back to “На здоровье”. Be sure that this is definitely not the phrase that should be said when you’re drinking with your Russian friends, especially since it can be easily substituted with the examples listed below.

How to Say “to Your Health” in Russian?

Ok, if “nostrovia” doesn’t work, how to say “to your health”?

First of all, you can use one of the Russian “cheers” phrases that I described at the beginning of the article (“твоё здоровье” and ваше “здоровье”). Secondly, you can add the preposition за to the above-mentioned phrases and your saying will literally mean “to your health”

In Russian In English Audio Pronunciation Where to use
За твоё здоровье To your health
Za tva–jó zda–rо́–vje Informal singular
За ваше здоровье To your health
Za vá–she zda–rо́–vje Informal plural/Formal

Ok, now you’re well-equipped with various toasts. In the next passage, I’d like to teach you how to drink like a real Russian, share my own drinking experience, and dispel  some of the different myths that cover Russian drinking traditions.

Drink in Russian Style: Russian Drinking Traditions

Below, I’ve gathered the answers on your burning questions about drinking in the company of Russian-speakers

Am I Supposed to Drink Vodka at the Table?

No, you are certainly not. That may sound disappointing, but at a proper feast, you will be offered various alcoholic beverages including wine, cognac, and other fancy drinks. You can pick up the one you like the most.  

By the way, it’s nothing wrong with asking for something non-alcoholic. A host might persuade a little bit, but I think it’s no more than a nod to traditions. While Russians are notorious for their drinking, it’s not the only thing they do!

Honestly, despite the fact that I live in Russia, I can’t recall the last time my friends and I drank heavily together. It’s been years, I think I was still a student.

Make Toasts If It’s Appropriate

You might be surprised, but proposing toasts or saying cheers is not an essential part of every meeting. For example, when you drink in a bar or at a party you can do that without any “cheers” at all. Toasts are used more frequently when people gather around the table and have the opportunity to talk to each other. It’s a nuanced action, and if you do it at every opportunity, it may seem bizarre.

I usually make a  short toast when I gather with my parents. But when I’m drinking beer and playing board games with my friends, there are no toasts to be found.

Getting Ready to Make the Toast

Some 20 years ago you could find a book like “50 toasts for every occasion” in book stores and even my parents had one. My granny often looked through its pages to pick a good one to say at the table. However, the tradition of long toasts is becoming a thing of the past, for better or for worse.

Nowadays we use shorter toasts and make speeches only at big events like weddings, jubilees, etc. Personally, I almost never prepare special toasts: the most sincere and kind words are coming to my mind at a proper moment. This is not so different from English speaking countries, where long toasts are reserved for weddings or special events where there will be a large audience in attendance.

Memorize the Simple Sequence of Russian Toasts

There’s a traditional sequence, or order in which toasts are proposed that Russians usually follow at a party.

The First toast is usually to the meeting. The second is to parents (even if they’re not at the table). And the third is to love. After that, toasts come randomly if they continue.

Don’t Drink a Glass Dry If You Don’t Want to

It’s not necessary to drain your whole glass, it’s enough to take only a sip unless you hear a special phrase – “До дна!” (Da dna!) which means “Bottoms up!”. But this is seldom said with toasts that are especially important (such as “to parents”).

Anyway, in good company, no one will never force you to drink if you feel that it’s enough. To be polite, just use a glass of juice or water.

Keep Your Glass Full

According to the Russian drinking etiquette, you shouldn’t say cheers and raise an empty glass. Just have some kind of beverage in your cup when it’s time to chin-chin.

Breaking Glasses After a Toast

I’m a native Russian. I’ve been living here all my life, and I’ve seen people breaking glasses as part of a tradition only about three times. They were all at weddings, using special, beautifully painted, long-stemmed glasses.

Long story short: don’t break your glass at the party. You’ll just get weird looks and probably be handed a broom.

Conclusion

Here’s some parting advice that will help you to feel more comfortable while drinking in the company of Russians.

If you decide to prepare a toast, I encourage you to visit this site where the author gathered some good ones for different occasions. While preparing this article I bumped into a funny blog, where two guys gather drinking stories, games and fun facts and an article with toasts explanation.

If you have any questions about Russian toasts or drinking traditions, you’re welcome to ask me in the comments below!

Anastasia Korol

Anastasia Korol is an enthusiastic Russian language tutor. She gives effective, goal-oriented lessons to students all over the world. Thousands of people have already followed her Instagram.

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