USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘eye contact’
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Eye Contact Following a Toast in Germany

The informant is a 51-year-old international businessman who has frequently traveled across Europe and Asia to meet with clients for the past 20 years.

Over a relaxed nine holes of golf, I asked the informant if there were any dining customs or etiquette that have stood out to him throughout his travels. He went into detail about proper German etiquette when enjoying a drink with friends, family, or business connections.

“It’s always a great time drinking in Germany, especially for a beer connoisseur like myself. Whenever I’m out to lunch or dinner for a business meeting, we always grab a beer and make a toast before drinking. Usually the toast is just to a successful partnership in the future, or to health and happiness. What you’d expect. One thing that’s really important following this toast is that you look whoever it is you’re drinking with in the eye when you ‘cheers.’ It is considered extremely rude not to. They joke that if you fail to look someone in the eye it means seven years of bad sex, but what it would really result in is whoever you’re with thinking that you’ve been dishonest or are hiding something from them.”

This German custom of looking someone in the eye reveals that in German custom, authenticity and personal connection are important. Toasts usually follow a celebration or accomplishment of some kind, and so eye contact can be seen as a way of solidifying whatever the toast was made to. If one man makes a toast to good health and the other fails to look him in the eye, then the ma who made that toast may begin to wonder whether the other is hoping for him to become ill. The superstition that failing to make eye contact will lead to seven years of bad sex is a playful way of reminding Germans of this custom, or of highlighting its importance to foreigners. I thought that this particular folkway made a lot of sense, given the intimate nature of a toast and taking into account the context in which the informant learned of it. Since the informant is often out to eat with business connections and is working to create a professional relationship, it is important that he look his German clients in the eye to let them know that he is understanding of their culture and that they can trust his word and that he will honor their negotiations.

Customs
general

Eye Contact before the First Shot

Everyone participating in a toast or the first drink of the “night” or celebration has to make eye contact with everyone else before taking the drink.

Custom described verbatim by informant:

“We need to make eye contact with each other, all the people who are taking the shot or it’s bad luck if you don’t. I learned that a while back and now I’m all about it. It might be a lingering thought in your mind but I really doubt if there’s any effect on your life if you don’t (laughs) I think people believe it because they don’t want to be sick at the end of the night so they feel like if they make eye contact with people they drink with they’d be better off. It’s like an anti-sickness superstition. We better our opportunity in waking up the next morning not feeling hungover if we make eye contact in the initial shot process. At least in my world. I don’t know about everybody else’s if they believe in something else but, it’s all witchcraft. (laughs then pauses) It’s about good vibes you know and if it’s about good vibes I’m into it.”

Though my informants description is humorous, he insists (at least in small groups) that you must do this every time a toast is made or the first shot is taken or drink is sipped. Maybe he views it as a way to forego getting a hangover and staying lucky as he continues drinking, but eye contact is also a simple way of establishing connection. Since drinking is very much a social activity, insisting on eye contact with everyone drinking with you, whether in celebration or not, gives the practice a deep-seeded feeling of togetherness—“Good vibes” in the words of my informant. Saying its bad luck to do otherwise is an easy way to get people to participate, especially if the flipside is getting sick later. Excluding oneself would be very anti-social, and the threat of bad luck and sickness lingers should you choose not to drink or follow this rule. I think its less about actually believing it and more about being social and connecting with people, if only for a moment.

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