God Bless You

How can I get people to stop saying “God bless you” after I sneeze?

I’m serious. Any suggestions?

I’m so sick of being blessed on a daily basis but society has made it rude not to say “bless you” after someone sneezes and so I get to hear it. All the time. What’s worse is I feel obligated to say, “Thank you” in response because, again, society has decided that it is rude not to.

I know that most people obviously aren’t saying it in a religious sense (anymore), more as a knee-jerk reaction to a sometimes startling bodily function, but I can’t seem to get over the religiosity of it.  Why can’t we follow the norms of non-English speaking cultures that wish health on someone when they sneeze? The Germans say, “Gesundheit” which means health, the Spanish say, “Salud” which means health and even the Irish say, “Sláinte” which means good health.  Why must we insert a reminder of god into every little thing we do?!

I know I’m not the first person to bring this annoyance up (you may remember Dane Cook’s when-you-die-nothing-happens joke) but why does it seem to go nowhere? Clearly, as shown by the joke, people are aware that atheists prefer not to be blessed, but how can we break the cycle of “god bless you”?

A quick read on Wikipedia will tell you that saying “God bless you” in response to a sneeze can be traced back to Pope Gregory I after he ordered “unending prayer” to ward off the bubonic plague. People thought that the sneeze was an early symptom and so they blessed everyone who sneezed in hopes that it would ward off the disease. Other theories suggest that we used to think that people’s souls were released from their bodies or their hearts would stop beating when they sneezed and a quick, “bless you” after the fact would help protect them from evil or encourage the heart to keep on keepin’ on. We know these fears to be ridiculous now, so why do we insist on repeating the phrase?

In my personal life, I have no problem letting people know that I don’t want to be blessed, but in my professional life, the issue is much more delicate. I have yet to come up with the proper response to my coworker, whom I know is just trying to be polite, as she blesses me after every sneeze.

Am I doomed to utter a thank you after every blessing I receive in the office or with a client while I silently resent their stupidity for using such an outdated phrase? Can I ever make it stop? Or, in the words of the famous David After Dentist, “Is this gonna be forever?”

 

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20 comments

  1. Good to see you back!

    In Brazil they just say Saude. If at work, you could always try screaming “Fuck me!” as you sneeze… It tends to have the desired affect of confusing peoples neural networks enough that they remain frozen through that uncomfortable period where a “bless you” would usually be inserted.

      1. It’s doesn’t have to be perfectly audible or pronounced, just enough to snap the listeners brain into stunned silence for a few seconds. A broad, I-have-a-huge-secret type smile immediately after might also help dazzle and confuse 😉

  2. HA! I like John’s recommendation. Or perhaps making your sneeze really horrible and disgusting sounding in her general direction. She might not have a nice reaction.

  3. I had the same pet peeve, I manage to turn in a positive. Professionally I’m mark as the atheist already, so they correct themselves in the most awkward way, fun to watch. Outside of work, I usually say “I prefer gesundheit” with smile of course. Most people get the gist of it quickly, or they inquire. I like when they do, curiosity kills the ignorance.

    1. I really like this tip! It’s nice, cordial and appropriate. Also, you’re right, it has the potential to open up into a really fun (probably mostly for me) conversation!

    1. Hmmm… I don’t think I agree that just because someone says “bless you” after you sneeze means they “care deeply” for you. Complete strangers say it to eachother all the time. Also, I did say that to their credit, society has deemed it a polite thing to say and do, therefore making the person feel as thought they are just being polite. I acknowledged that their intentions were not out of malice, but rather out of an acceptance of a “polite”, silly societal norm. I don’t believe for a second that just because someone says “bless you” after you sneeze it means they care about you. And if they do, I feel the same way about it as I do when people say they are praying for me: it’s a waste of time!

  4. I really can’t better John’s suggestion, that’s seriously going to do the trick. I’m resigned to seeing it as a meaningless cultural remnant given that most people say it with no thought. I did get really annoyed when a horribly drunk man started asking me about my due date the other day and then said, “God bless the baby”. He looked potentially violent so I couldn’t do anything other than mumble thanks and hurry away, when all I wanted to do was start ranting about which god …

    1. AH! Good choice!

      My husband and I were walking around on a beach that is a popular hangout spot for “colorful” people and we happened to walk by a homeless man that was clearly drunk and was definitely mentally unstable. He started telling us about god as we walked by and asking us if we loved Jesus to which my husband replied, “We don’t believe in god.” This threw him into a fit! Luckily for us he was more astonished than mad! He just kept yelling at us as we got farther away, “WHAT?!?! You don’t believe in god? How could you not believe in god?! He loves you!” etc., etc., etc. I have a slight fear of the mentally insane (you just never know what they are going to do!) so I never dream of replying to them and their rants! My husband, on the other hand, loves a good religious argument and he does not care with whom!

  5. Here in Germany it’s apparently etiquette since a few years to apologize after a sneeze. (Nobody actually does that)
    Maybe after you sneeze you could beat your colleagues to it with a quick “pardon me”
    Of course apologizing for one of your body’s essential defence mechanisms is silly, but maybe not quite as silly.

  6. I always (try to) beat them to it with an “Excuse me!” after I sneeze, and even if they say GBY, I ignore it and just say my “Excuse me!”. I feel that the “excuse me” makes sense since *I* am the on that just (potentially) spread a gazillion germs into the air (at hundreds of MPH) for those around me to breath in! It’s amazing how much people love to say GBY and even after two or seven other folks have already said it. It’s just stupid. Sometimes I’ll even throe it back at them and say: “No, GBY! You’re the one that’s breathing in all that I just sneezed out!”

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