Thursday, April 29, 2010


Lady Friend: "ahh-CHOOO!"

Me: "Bless you."

LF: "Thank you."

Every once in a while the preceding exchange, which occurs several times a day with the roles reversed on fully half the occasions, strikes me as exceedingly weird. My lady friend sneezes, I give her my blessing, she thanks me. The strange part is the gravity with which we undertake our respective roles: I speak with a seriousness that implies an absolute confidence in my ability to bestow blessings, like a high priest of holy sinus ejection, and Courtney thanks me for my largesse, as if a sneeze gone unblessed would be truly bad fortune.

Of course, the more proper, formal dialogue would precede "bless you" with "God," passing the authority for the actual blessing further up the line and it would probably be more of a request than an assumption of immediate blessing. But most of us have dropped that formality in the service of brevity, in the process taking the mantle of official blessor of violently aspirated mucous onto ourselves.

And woe be to anyone not participating in this back-and-forth of divine implication. At one point during college, in one of my periodic fits of rebellion, I decided that the whole blessings-for-sneezes program was ridiculous and I would henceforth not be taking part. Who was I to go around tossing blessings at every a-hole with allergies? Sure, I knew that my silence in the face of a sneeze would make me the a-hole, but any good revolution requires sacrifice.

About a month after I kicked off my uprising, I was having an argument with my roommate, who was like Comic Book Guy but without the social skills, genial demeanor or hygiene. At the peak of the heated and definitely non-friendly debate he reminded me, as if laying down his trump card, that he had sneezed, weeks before, and I never said "Bless you." He was completely serious, having held on to this point of contention all that time knowing he could hold it against me when the situation demanded it. I conceded the point and refrained from reminding him that he smelled perpetually like pizza and body odor and would never enjoy the touch of a woman, because I may be an a-hole, but I'm not that big an a-hole. No sense destroying the poor guy, right?

Point is, people notice when you don't play your part in the sneezing game. I eventually gave up my non-blessing crusade, redirecting my revolutionary energies toward more important goals, like making Toby Keith feel unwelcome in continental North America by way of my unrelenting, if subtle, ridicule (Seriously, Toby: You can have the Aleutians. Really. You'll be safe there and then we can both go on with our lives. Just don't infect the local salmon population with your greasy Country-dickwad shtick, because I like my wild-caught Alaskan salmon dickwad-free.)

On second thought, that's too big a risk. Does St. Helena have any vacancies? Or Mars?


Julie said...

My current aisle at work is the blessingist ever. I have started to feel unloved if at least three people don't say 'bless you' for each sneeze. I'm god with it. I'm usually good with any social norm that encourages politesse.

Jacob said...

I don't do it. It's not some form of protest or anything. It's just that sneezes were generally ignored in my home growing up and I was never forced by my parents to say anything when someone sneezed. It was thrown around occasionally, but more as a joke when someone had a freezing sneezing fit.

Honestly, when I started teaching and a sneeze would be greeted with something along those lines, I actually got uncomfortable because I wasn't sure what I was supposed to say in response. Thank you sounded kind of stupid because they didn't really do anything more than point out that they had noticed I had sneezed.

I think it's one of those things that were ingrained in you at a young age, it just seems right. To others it's going to be impossible to convince them that there's any reason to do it. It just seems silly unless you've been taught it was just what you do.

Besides, I don't really think my soul is trying to escape my body so I don't really need the blessing.

Courtney said...

Nah, I disagree with Jacob. I never said bless you after anyone sneezed until Mickey came along and started forcing his blessings upon me. Now I do it because I'm used to it. It seems rude not to, though I never get offended if no one blesses me.

What's really tragic is that Mickey never says "You're welcome" after I say "thank you" after he says "bless you" after I sneeze. Jerk.

The Modern Gal said...

I'm going to try not saying anything from now on just to see if your theory holds up.

Also, where can I sign up for the campaign to make Toby Keith feel unwelcome?

nancypearlwannabe said...

I used to have a friend who, when he sneezed, if no one said "bless you" he would pause and then loudly say "BLESS ME". It amused us so much that we never said it to him again.

Jacob said...

Okay, I'll admit it. I actually find it annoying when people say bless you. It makes me feel compelled to say something back, which I usually don't want to do.

Aaron said...

I'm prone to the occasional allergy fit, and I actually HATE it when I'm sneezing like crazy and feeling uncomfortable and self-conscious and my stupid co-worker keeps saying "Bless you"..."BLESS you"..."BLESS YOU! Woah!". Just shut up and let me sneeze. Also, trying to blow snot out my nose here; can't stop to say "thank you" every damn time.

Also: Woah, post-alanche, Mickey!

Noelle said...

I was in the library today, and said "bless you" to a random girl who was at the computer who sneezed just as I was walking by. Then, a few seconds later, she sneezed again, and I did not say "bless you," despite the fact that I was in earshot, because I had my back to her, having passed her, and I think I was just outside the "saying 'bless you' to a random stranger" zone. It's a tough social call.

Brian Hays said...

Ya, what is the deal with that?

If you really want to help the sneezer why don't you hand 'em a tissue?

My mom relates the story that decades ago she and my uncle were in the kitchen, and my uncle experienced a particularly violent sneeze. You know, head back all the way, eyes closed, then "ka-choo". As his head went down he cracked his head into the kitchen counter and bloodied up his face; knocking out a tooth.

Maybe a preemptive "bless you" could have called in divine intervention in that case. We'll never know.

Allie said...

I used to say 'bless you' to strangers in stores when they sneezed. I don't anymore. But I did realize that in most situations, it's easier to just say it than not. Although, I also say 'bless you' when people burp - started as a joke many many years ago, but now it's the same kind of knee jerk reaction that saying it for a sneeze is.

Chris said...

Sorry I'm so late to this lively debate. Courtney raises an excellent point... Mickey is a real a-hole for not saying "you're welcome" to round out the exchange.

If I recall my Spanish classes correctly, Spanish-speaking cultures say "salud" instead of "God bless you" -- which equates to just wishing the person "health". It strikes me as a slightly more reasonable gesture.