Every time I sneeze in presence of other people, I think, I should write about this. It’s so funny to me to see how people react and reactions seem to change based on the setting the sneeze takes place in. Some people say “bless you” and others refuse. I’ve noticed that religious and non religious people exercise their right to reserve a blessing.
I’ve heard the argument, why should I bless you? I’m not God. My answer to that is, do you really think the person you bestow a blessing upon confuses you with God, for Christ sake! I jest. And if you give a blessing to their ungrateful nose, they refuse to say thank you to prove that same point. “I don’t need you to bless me, you’re not God!”
Some people say, why should I say God Bless you? Who are you to me? I might say it to my family, but I’m sure as hell not going to say it on the subway or while waiting online at the bank or worse in an elevator. Oh, they ignore you but they are speaking volumes!
And of course we have all been in one of those situations when it is very quiet and you can feel the surge rising up in you, and you think nooooooo not now. It can not be controlled or suppressed. No! It’s coming whether you want it to or not. You feebly try the finger under the nose trick but no, it’s too late. Your sneeze enters the world to a deafening, pin dropping silence. You think to yourself, my heart may have just stopped there, doesn’t anyone even care? Would they really rather see me drop dead right here at the bank? I could have the plague (the birthplace of the “bless you” apparently), well a cold then, is this any time for me to be benedictionally bereft?
Have you noticed that when someone does summon up the courage to offer a “bless you” in one of the above environments, historically hostile to the blessing, that it is said under the breath, murmured or whispered as if they are giving out the password of a master freemason or giving up the location of someone in the witness protection program? A solitary bless you in a crowd of avoiders, refusers and ignorers is tantamount to heresy. It is the Anne Boleyn of expressions these days. If you say it in New York, you’re a religious freak. If you say it in the South, you’re blasphemous. Where are the mannered among us to go?
Then there are the people who are kind enough to say bless you however the recipient then does not say thank you! The blesser is then left to ponder the incident. Did I offend them? Did they appreciate that I cared enough to bless them? What sort of person is the Blessee? Is this sniffling ingrate the same person who barges through a door you happen to be holding open for someone else or who won’t let you in when you’re leaving the gas station? A nice gesture turns to resentment and head shaking, these people!
Then you have the international response, the most popular being Gesundheit! Why only German? One never hears a response in Italian, Chinese or Swedish! Since sneezing is part of the human condition, I am assuming that every culture addresses it in some way. I wonder if they have the same issues Americans have; a snotty mountain made from a well meaning molehill.
Personally I don’t care what the reason for the sentiment is or whether it is accurate, religious or proper. In a time of insular isolating communication, it is one of the last courtesies we can show fellow humans without needing a reason to do so. It’s a chance to connect with a stranger and say hey! I care about you man. It’s a chance to live in a civilized society. What’s that you may ask? Cast your memory back to when people said “thank you” not to mention the endangered “you’re welcome” ….it’s like that!