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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

How do other cultures respond to sneezes?


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: what cultures say bless you

Why: People sneeze all the time this section of my office, maybe because it's freezing, maybe because it's really sunny. Everyone says "bless you" - even the British guy.

Answer: In English-speaking cultures, "bless you"s may have started because people thought sneezers were dying, because they were scared of the Devil flying down your throat, whatever. Now "bless you"s are just polite. Ignoring a sneeze - especially that of someone you know - is rude as heck.

After a "bless you," the appropriate response of the English-speaking sneezer is: "thank you." Other sneeze convos:
  • The longer version of "bless you" is "May God bless you and the Devil miss you."
  • In Arabic, the proper post sneeze conversation is: yarHamukum 'llaah/Allah ("May Allah have you in His mercy") followed by yarHamuna wa yarHamukum ("May he have us both in his mercy").
  • In German, the conversation goes: Gesundheit ("Health"), to which the sneezer replies Gesundheit ist besser als Krankheit ("Health is better than sickness").
  • The Dutch say Gezondheid or Proost, which is simiar to the British "Cheers" when toasting.
  • In Afrikaans, the word is khesunheit.
  • In Yiddish, respond Gezuntheit for the first 2 sneezes. After the 3rd, say Gay schoin in drerd, hust schoin ein kalt ("Go to hell, you have a cold").
  • Or in Yiddish, Dulst du voksen ve a Purim koilisch ("You should grow like Purim bread").
  • Or Tszu gezundt, tszu langa lebidike ("To health, to long pleasant years").
  • French people say A tes souhaits ("To your wishes," i.e. "May your dreams come true").
  • If you know the French person very well, you can say A tes amours ("To your loves").
  • In Spanish, say Dios te bendiga ("God bless you") and the sneezer will respond, "Amen."
  • Others in Spanish respond to each sneeze individually: 1. Salud ("Health"), 2. Salud y dinero ("Health and money"), 3. Salud y dinero y amor ("Health and money and love"), 4. Alergias ("Allergies," lol).
  • In Japanese, "bless you" is Odaiji ni.
  • Some Japanese people also respond to individual sneezes: 1. Ichi homerare ("Praise"), 2. Ni-kusashi ("Criticism"), San-kenashi ("Disparagement"), 4. Yottsu-ijo wa kase no moto ("Sign of a cold").
  • Eastern Europeans say a term that means "To your health" that is also used to make toasts: In Polish Na zdrowie, in Russian Bud'te zdorovy, etc.
  • In Turkish, people say Cok yasar ("Long life").
  • In Hebrew, La'Briut ("To your health").
  • In Farsi, Afiyat bashe ("To your health"), to which the sneezer replies Elahi shokr ("Thanks to God for health").
  • Ancient Romans said Absit omen ("May the omen come to nothing").
  • Jehovah's Witnesses don't say "bless you" because they associate the act with an ancient superstition that it is possible for a person to sneeze his soul out. Jehovah's Witnesses don't engage in superstitions.
Source: HubPages, WikiAnswers, WikiAnswers, WikiAnswers, this awesome article

The More You Know: According to the Straight Dope, here are some other superstitions about sneezes:

Sneeze on Monday for health,
Sneeze on Tuesday for wealth,
Sneeze on Wednesday for a letter,
Sneeze on Thursday for something better,
Sneeze on Friday for sorrow,
Sneeze on Saturday, see your sweetheart tomorrow,
Sneeze on Sunday, safety seek.

One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a letter
Four for a boy.
Five for silver
Six for gold
Seven for a secret, never to be told.

Maybe you recognize the latter from the lyrics of the Counting Crows song "A Murder of One," though they attribute it to some other rhyme about the arbitrary act of counting crows (on a hillside).

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jehovah's Witnesses don't say 'bless you' because of its religious tone, and origin. The reason you posted is false.

Carly said...

Weird. Multiple Jehovah's Witnesses named the same reason I said:

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Why_can%27t_you_say_bless_you_when_a_jehovah%27s_witness_sneezes

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Why_jehovah%27s_witnesses_don%27t_say_bless_you

JJones said...

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Carly said...

Not interested.

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