The next time you feel a tingle in your nostrils and you get the urge to sneeze, instead of trying to keep your eyes open to see if they pop out of your head (they won’t), keep your ears open.
Listen closely to the reaction your sneeze brings from those around you. Unlike other rules of etiquette such as saying “please” or “thank you,” what someone does after witnessing a sneeze can vary from person to person, or even from sneeze to sneeze.
Some say “God bless you,” some merely “bless you” and others use the German
and Yiddish “gesundheit.” The origin of blessing a sneezer is not exactly clear, but there are numerous explanations
and superstitions. One says that it began as a literal blessing during the days of the bubonic plague. Saying “God bless you” was a wish that the sneeze was not the onset of the disease.
Other superstitions say that a sneeze is evil leaving the body and the blessing prevents the evil from returning. Another says that the soul escapes the body during a sneeze and blessing the person prevents their soul from being stolen by an evil spirit.
When asked, some Temple students said that blessing a person who sneezes comes out of reaction. Kate Mengini, a senior sociology and healthcare double major compared it to a reflex.
“It’s automatic, when someone sneezes I just say ‘bless you,'” Mengini said. “I don’t even think about it.”
Mengini thought of something that she won’t do when someone sneezes.
“I hate when people yell across a room during class,” Mengini said. “If I’m near a person who sneezes, I’ll say ‘bless you,’ but I won’t make it a point to yell over the teacher in the middle of a lecture.”
Senior anthropology major Mike Haggerty said that he says “God bless you” out of habit. He also noticed a trend in classrooms.
“It’s weird, sometimes like 20 people say it [bless you] and sometimes nobody will,” he said. “I think the first sneeze sets the precedence. If it isn’t said the first time someone sneezes in class, typically it won’t be said the next time.”
Psychology major Vince Yasenchak remembers a teacher he had in high school who forbid his students from saying “God bless you” or even “bless you.”
“If someone said it after another person sneezed, he would say ‘this isn’t a religious place’ and tell them not to say it again,” he said. Yasenchak said he did not get offended by this and thought it was a humorous quirk of his teacher.
“The way he would say it almost sounded like he was being funny, but he was serious about not wanting people to say ‘bless you,'” he said.
Some people avoid the religious connotations of the phrase by saying “gesundheit.” Senior film major Aaron Friedman uses this phrase and even believes that it works better.
“I guess I got it from my dad saying it,” Friedman said. “It is the Jewish part of me and it makes more sense. ‘Have health’ is the direct translation.”
Kyle McLaughlin, a senior information science and technology major, said that the word gesundheit “arouses and confuses”
him. He sticks with “God bless you,” but also applies some of his own rules.
“You only get two, and then you get the cut off,” McLaughlin said of students who come to class sniffling and sneezing repeatedly.
“Two in a row, or if I keep interrupting class with my ‘God bless you’ I’ll let them be. Just as long as they know they are blessed.” When McLaughlin sneezes and someone else blesses him, he likes to return the gesture with a “thank you.” He even has a trick incase he is not sure if anyone has said anything.
“I’ll just sneeze again, but in the sneeze, I’ll say ‘thank you,'” he said.
“That way, all my bases are covered.”
Aaron Hertzog can be reached at email@example.com.