Home Drinking in Europe: quirky rules you need to know
Last update on December 03, 2019
Sophie Pettit Written by Sophie Pettit

We check out some of the quirkiest rules for drinking in Europe to help you hit the bar like a true local, wherever you are.

Fewer things are more satisfying than clinking your glasses together and enjoying a tipple or two with friends. But to drink like a true local, it always helps to learn the rules and customs in the country you live in. So raise your glasses as we explore some of the quirkiest customs for drinking in Europe that will help you blend in the next time you hit the bar. Bottoms up!

Drinking customs in Europe: France

Just like their food, art, and fashion, the French are passionate about their drinks and follow some very strict rules when it comes to toasting. When raising your glass in France, you must look the person you are toasting with in the eyes. You must also make sure you never add ice to your glass of wine or cross your glass with someone else’s. And don’t even think about putting down your glass between the toast and your first sip – or you will be cursed with seven years of bad sex!

Drinking rules in France

Popular local drinks: Absinthe, Pastis, Benedictine, Chartreuse, Grand Marnier, and of course, wine!

Italy

The Italian way of drinking is all about savoring the flavor and enjoying every sip, so think twice before necking that chilled pint. That said, you might be let off if you stumble upon an intriguing hole in the wall; a small, no-frills bar where people can grab a quick pint in the street. If you want to drink like a true local, however, only sip on water and wine with your meal, as other beverages, such as soft drinks and beer, are considered a huge no-no. You could even take it one step further and enjoy an aperitivo (to stimulate your appetite prior to a meal) and a digestivo (to help you digest after a meal).

Popular local drinks: Prosecco, Aperol, Negroni, Campari, Limoncello, Grappa, and wine.

Germany

The Germans aren’t exactly known for having a playful sense of humor, but if you’re heading to a wedding there, you might be in for a surprise. One popular wedding tradition is for the groomsmen to kidnap the bride after the ceremony and take her to a bar. It is then up to the groom to track her down. But there is a price to pay when he finds her; he must pay the entire bill his groomsmen racked up while they were waiting for him to arrive. What an excellent way to get free drinks.

Drinking rules in Germany

Popular local drinks: Wine, Sekt, Schnaps, Bowl punch, Glühwein, and of course, beer.

Ukraine

The Germans aren’t the only tricksters when it comes to drinking in Europe on that all-important wedding day. Instead of stealing the bride, however, the wedding guests will try to steal her shoes. The bridal party is then expected to perform a task to retrieve her captive footwear. This often involves someone drinking vodka from the shoe. Savvy bridesmaids might sneak a glass into the shoe and drink from that instead – after all, why wreck a perfectly good pair of shoes?

Popular local drinks: Wine, Mead, Nalyvka and Nastoyanka, Horilka, and beer.

The Netherlands

You will need a strong stomach if you plan on drinking with the Dutch. One of their favorite drinking games is called Kopstootje, which literally translates to little headbutt. This involves taking a shot of chilled jenever (Dutch gin) from a small tulip glass, without using your hands. The brave drinker must bend over from the waist, take a big slurp, then chase it down with beer. This may just be a ploy to get you very drunk in a very short space of time. Either way, if you’re still standing after this impressive stunt, then you definitely deserve a plate of tasty bitterballen!

A glass of Dutch genever

Popular local drinks: Jenever, Advocaat, Orange Bitters, and Heineken and Amstel beer.

Spain

The Spanish have many quirky superstitions. They believe that leaving your hat on the bed, wearing the color yellow, bringing an old broom into a new home, and Tuesday (named after Mars, the Roman god of war), all bring bad luck. Drinking in this sunny country carries its own risks too. The bad sex curse, for example, which is associated with not looking the other person in the eye, also applies if you have the audacity to toast with water. It might be wise, therefore, to order one of the popular tipples below.

Popular local drinks: Cava, Sangria, Vermouth, Tinto de Verano (summer wine), and Cerveza (beer).

Greece

Poisons and venoms have played an important role in Greek history, mythology, and even the customs of drinking in Europe. In ancient Greece, for example, hemlock (the highly toxic herbaceous plant) was used to poison condemned prisoners. It was also used to execute the classical Greek philosopher, Socrates, who was forced to drink it. Despite the passing of more than two thousand years, it seems the Greeks haven’t quite let that go. Today, the tradition of clinking glasses and saying ‘cheers’ is said to have originated during those distrustful days. The idea was that by clinking your glasses together, your drink would slosh into the other person’s glass. Therefore, if it was poisoned, they would be poisoned too – beware of the poisoned chalice!

Drinking rules in Greece

Popular local drinks: Ouzo, Rakomelo, Raki/Tsikoudia, Metaxa, and beer.

Denmark

The Danish don’t have a reputation for being friendly and approachable. That said, you might not want to get on the wrong side of them. After all, some legends claim that Vikings would drink wine from bowls made of the skulls of their vanquished enemies. This is why the Danish word for ‘cheers’ is skål, which also means ‘bowl.’ Luckily, there is no actual evidence to support this claim, but it might be wise to politely look your friend in the eye when you toast with them – just to be safe.

Popular local drinks: Akvavit, Mead, Brennivin, and Carlsberg Beer.