You're hanging out with your fellow Romans, throwing back a few goblets of the good stuff. You're glad the wine is flowing, but from the taste of it, you know the vintner's focus was on quantity, not quality. Thank goodness there's a secret weapon in the bottom of your chalice: a burnt piece of toast, its charcoal exterior tempering the bitterness of the beverage.
Adding burnt bread to the wine used to toast your pals is par for the course, but breaking convention by toasting with an empty glass? That would be bad form. According to Roman etiquette, there was little point in raising an empty glass to wish someone good cheer.
Fast-forward several centuries and the question of raising a toast with an empty glass becomes a regionally important one. In some countries, a toast made with an empty glass is not only poor manners, it's also thought to bring bad luck. In others, toasting with an empty glass is an acceptable alternative [source: Etiquette International].
In many countries, including the United States, toasting with an empty glass is preferable to refusing a toast altogether. Furthermore, filling a glass with another palatable liquid — water, juice, a soft drink or seltzer water — is a viable option that any mannered maven would appreciate. President Obama has used water to toast dignitaries during state events. U.S. Air Force protocol, though, steers clear of toasting with water unless under extreme circumstances, such as being a prisoner of war [source: Military Wives].
Even with relaxed rules, superstitions linger that toasting with water — or an empty glass — brings bad luck, a nonspecific threat that's been passed for generations without detail. In Russia, it's considered bad luck to toast with an empty glass, and in China, guests are expected to respond to a host by making a toast with a matching beverage — something that just wouldn't be possible with a glass with nothing in it [source: Lazor].
While the exact origin of the toast is lost to history and, for the most part, we can only guess at the etiquette that evolved out of the tradition, the toast remains a popular part of gatherings ranging from informal meals to religious ceremonies [source: Mikkelson].
The nebulous superstitions surrounding those who toast with an empty glass pale in comparison to the specific hardships believed to befall those who fail to complete other toast-related requirements. For example, in France, one must maintain eye contact while toasting. If not, seven years of bad sex awaits [source: Beck]. Maybe raising an empty glass isn't so bad after all, as long as you look your companions in the eye.
- Beck, Allison. "Eight Ways to Toast the New Year With International Flair." Today. Dec. 30, 2011. (Dec. 20, 2014) http://www.today.com/food/8-ways-toast-new-year-international-flair-1C9004853
- Etiquette International. "Toasting: A Memorable Art." (Dec. 20, 2014) http://www.etiquetteinternational.com/articles/toasting.aspx
- Lazor, Drew. "Around the World in a Dozen Toasts." Punch. Sept. 4, 2014. (Dec. 20, 2014) http://punchdrink.com/articles/around-the-world-in-a-dozen-toasts/
- Mikkelson, Barbara. "Of Drinks and Clinks." Snopes. Dec. 26, 2008. (Dec. 20, 2014) http://www.snopes.com/food/rituals/clink.asp
- Military Wives. "Air Force Protocol." (Dec. 20, 2014) http://www.militarywives.com/index.php/protocol-mainmenu-264/air-force-protocol-mainmenu-298/toasts-mainmenu-322