Why Is It Bad Luck to Cheers With Water or an Empty Glass?

By: Laurie L. Dove  | 
An empty wine glass
In some countries, a toast made with water goblets or empty glasses is not only poor manners, it’s also thought to bring bad luck.
Calvert Byam/Getty Images

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, the vintner's focus was on quantity, not quality. Thank goodness for the burnt toast at the bottom of your chalice. The charcoal exterior tempers the bitterness of the beverage.

While adding burnt bread to wine is par for the course, breaking convention by toasting with an empty glass would be bad form. Throughout time, it's been bad luck to cheers with water or an empty glass. According to Roman etiquette, for example, there was little point in raising an empty glass to wish someone good cheer.


Are Toasts With Water or Nothing Still Wishing Bad Luck?

Fast-forward several centuries and the question of toasting with water or nothing persists. That means, the next time you clink glasses at a dinner party, you might find yourself wondering if either act brings bad luck. The answer depends on where you live. In some countries, toasting with water or nothing is considered rude and bad luck.

In other parts of the world, dining etiquette says toasting with water or nothing is preferable to refusing a toast altogether. Furthermore, filling a glass with another palatable, non-alcoholic drink — water, orange juice, seltzer water or various soft drinks — is a viable option that any mannered maven would appreciate. Even when visiting heads of state drink alcohol, U.S. presidents have used water to toast 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. Toasting with water is similarly a no-no in the U.S. Navy. Military officials frown on it with Naval folklore claiming that drinking water during a toast leads to a watery grave. Also going back further than U.S. military history, sailors once thought clinking glasses would wake up spirits who drowned.

Many Countries Continue To Follow Superstitions

Even with relaxed rules, superstitions linger in many cultures that toasting with nothing — or water — brings bad luck, a nonspecific threat that's been passed for generations without detail. In Russia, it's considered bad luck to toast with a glass of nothing, 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 an empty goblet. Spain's toasting curse is more specific. Those who toast with water or another non-alcoholic drink are said to be cursed with seven years of bad sex.


Toasting Etiquette: More Than Meets the Eye

Sometimes the nebulous superstitions surrounding those who toast involve other toast-related requirements. For example, in France, one must maintain eye contact while toasting or face the same horrific curse: Breaking eye contact is said to lead to seven years of bad sex.

Toasting etiquette has even more intricate beliefs than maintaining eye contact. For instance, arriving late to a drinking session or pouring wine with your left hand (like Judas at the Last Supper) are considered socially improper and bad luck in some societies. Who knew toasting could be rife with so many pitfalls?


When You Drink Wine or Anything Else, Toast!

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. From uncorking wine at the dinner table to popping champagne on New Year's Eve, a toast naturally precedes a drink for many of us.

Through the ages, our wine glasses have been part of a rigorous process of evolving customs and superstitions. Depending on where you live, simple acts like clinking glasses could supposedly trigger evil spirits or herald bad luck to this day. Every time you raise your wine glass, you can rest easy knowing that following the host's lead can be a good way to share sentiments of good fortune.


Lots More Information

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  • Stewart, Kristine. "Toasting Etiquette." Tatler Asia. Sept. 10, 2013. https://www.tatlerasia.com/dining/drinks/toasting-etiquette
  • Roberts, Robin. Miller, Sunlen. Leo, Karen. "Obamas Host India's Singh at Glitzy First State Dinner." ABC News. Nov. 25, 2009. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/obamas-host-indias-singh-glitzy-state-dinner/story?id=9171990
  • Wija, Tantri. "A Global Tour of Drinking Superstitions Designed To Ward Off Danger." The Seattle Times. March 22, 2023. https://www.seattletimes.com/pacific-nw-magazine/a-global-tour-of-drinking-superstitions-designed-to-ward-off-danger/
  • Lazor, Drew. "Around the World in a Dozen Toasts." Punch. Sept. 4, 2014. https://punchdrink.com/articles/around-the-world-in-a-dozen-toasts/
  • Beck, Allison. "Eight Ways To Toast the New Year With International Flair." Today. Dec. 30, 2011. http://www.today.com/food/8-ways-toast-new-year-international-flair-1C9004853
  • Mikkelson, Barbara. "Why Do We Clink Wine Glasses?" Snopes. March 8, 2007. http://www.snopes.com/food/rituals/clink.asp