the dumbest question ever
July 17, 2022 5:56 PM   Subscribe

I fear that I am being rude to everyone in one very specific low-stakes way. Can you help me fix this?

So. When people sneeze, typically someone around them will say "Bless you!"

I don't do this. I was not taught to do this. This is because my mother was a Marxist with the accompanying Atheism to an almost extremest degree. She didn't like the religious connotations of "Bless you."

Unfortunately, she never gave me an alternative. Neither did my dad, though he doesn't have a hangup about saying "Bless you."

The problem is, I have now spent 37 years on this earth just sort of awkwardly silent when anyone sneezes. I fear that this is just rude, or at least bad manners. But I cannot bring myself to say "Bless you."

"Gesundheit" does not roll off my tongue easily.

I am nearly fluent in French due to having French relatives, and so I suppose I could say what they do in the event of someone sneezing: "a tes souhaits" which technically means "best wishes" which I think is sort of a cute sentiment in this context. However, I think this would mark me as insufferably pretentious.

Are there any other options? Please don't ask me to suck it up and say "Bless you". I cannot. It makes me so uncomfortable that it makes my skin crawl.
posted by nayantara to Human Relations (62 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: posters request -- frimble

For what it's worth, I don't say anything when others sneeze and I don't think you are rude.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:58 PM on July 17, 2022 [30 favorites]

How about, "Salud!" ?
posted by eunique at 6:02 PM on July 17, 2022 [15 favorites]

You don't have to. I don't think it's weird. It's optional.

Personally, I have learned to say "Gesundheit" on the first sneeze, "One more" on the second, and "Make a wish" on the third. But this is optional too.
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:04 PM on July 17, 2022 [15 favorites]

So I think that saying something or nothing after sneezes has real American regional/class variation, and so saying nothing is very realistic option and is the default for at least some folks so you are likely not considered rude to refrain. If you must, a metafilter member I know in physical space says “you are soooo good looking!”when someone sneezes. I guess it’s a Seinfeld reference but at this point I don’t remember. It seems to mark the occasion suitably and is a nice compliment to receive, IMHO.
posted by holyrood at 6:05 PM on July 17, 2022 [9 favorites]

Yeah I don’t think I would really notice if someone didn’t acknowledge my sneeze, unless I was sneezing a really remarkable amount (in which case, “You okay?” would probably be appropriate). But if you’re looking for inspiration, maybe check out the Wikipedia page for responses to sneezing.
posted by mskyle at 6:06 PM on July 17, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You're fine. I don't expect anyone to say anything when I sneeze. If someone expects a "bless you" or whatever when they sneeze and get offended when it doesn't happen, they're being the rude one & not you.
posted by edencosmic at 6:06 PM on July 17, 2022 [13 favorites]

I've always said Gesundheit and bless you interchangeably. Just teach yourself to say Gesundheit. FYI, I have always thought of it as gazoon-tight, which feels a little less like you're trying to say a word you can't pronounce. It feels silly, but you already feel bad; is silly really worse?

Also, saying nothing is fine. This is super trivial so if you don't like any of your options, stick with nothing.
posted by gideonfrog at 6:06 PM on July 17, 2022 [8 favorites]

You could always ask "are you all right?", offer a tissue, or otherwise show that you care, which is all that "bless you!" is really about.
posted by emjaybee at 6:06 PM on July 17, 2022 [3 favorites]

A brief “you okay?” conveys the same sentiments of well wishes and sympathy without the religion. Depending on vernacular “alright?” also works.

I also like to ask “have a nice sneeze?” when it’s a particularly emphatic or loud one, and sometimes I’ll get a pause and then a considered “actually, yeah!” with a smile like they’d not thought about the relief aspect before.

Saying nothing isn’t rude though. If the sneeze is like, in my face, it’s a little odd to ignore it, but if it’s a stranger sneezing most people don’t say anything and it’s fine. Saying something does draw attention to an involuntary bodily function, which is kind of rude when you think about it.
posted by Mizu at 6:08 PM on July 17, 2022

I don’t usually say anything either, and I don’t think it’s rude. When I sneeze, I excuse myself like I do when I cough or burp or yawn or whatever.

Maybe more millennials are atheists or something but I feel like the “bless you”s are less and less common among my peers.

I do like the idea of saying, “Make a wish!” though lol.
posted by moonbeam at 6:08 PM on July 17, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I don't say anything because I don't think your soul is flying out your nose when you sneeze. Why bother to comment on that?
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:09 PM on July 17, 2022 [9 favorites]

Best answer: What about santé? Obviously not the "right" context, but the literal meaning is appropriate and is French while somehow feeling less insufferable?
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 6:13 PM on July 17, 2022 [3 favorites]

I don't do this either and TBH I don't feel weird about it at all. I don't hear many other people do it either.
posted by potrzebie at 6:14 PM on July 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

I’m not offended when people say “bless you” or similar when I sneeze, since it’s such an ingrained habit for a lot of people, but I’d prefer they say nothing. I think it’s weird to remark on someone’s sneeze. I know there are historical superstitions behind the things we say after someone sneezes, but… they don’t hold any meaning for me, and I suspect that’s true for most people. I’d be surprised if anyone is offended by your lack of sneeze acknowledgement.
posted by theotherdurassister at 6:22 PM on July 17, 2022 [14 favorites]

I've always considered someone saying bless you or Gesundheit an extra bonus when said to me, not something required. I try to do it, especially with friends and coworkers. But not reacting at all to a sneeze is fine.

I have sneezing fits. 10 or 12 huge sneezes in a row is common a few times a week. 27 is the record, I think. I would not expect anyone to say bless me or anything while in one of those.
posted by vrakatar at 6:25 PM on July 17, 2022 [2 favorites]

I don’t know if I’d notice a random person doing/not doing this, but I definitely cared when my partner didn’t and had to kind of train him. Because I don’t want the DEVIL TO FLY UP MY NOSE!! Or whatever. I’m an agnostic Jew, so I’m pretty sure I officially don’t believe this happens, but you can’t be too careful, especially in this economy.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:30 PM on July 17, 2022 [19 favorites]

Personally I prefer "Gesundheit" but occasionally I go with "Salud" instead. No complaints yet.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:36 PM on July 17, 2022

I say "bless you" but I'm not asking for divine intervention to save the sneezer from pollen or cat dander or demons. To me it's an acknowledgment similar to "how ya doin'?" as a polite acknowledgment/greeting that a person has entered your vicinity. It's not really a question you're looking to be answered.

Some people don't even want to be "hello'd" anymore so I think in this day and age it's okay to say nothing at all.
posted by kimberussell at 6:36 PM on July 17, 2022

Best answer: In most professional contexts people do not remark on sneezes - I've been in a few very casual workplaces where people might, but in general not. And if it's just friends - hey, I know we like each other, they don't really need to make themselves say anything like that for fear of offending me.

I really think this is more a you-feeling-awkward problem than a people-secretly-think-you're-rude problem.
posted by Frowner at 6:36 PM on July 17, 2022 [3 favorites]

We must have the same mother.

I notice lots of people keep quiet after a sneeze in their presence, as do I.
posted by happy_cat at 6:37 PM on July 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

I really think this is more a you-feeling-awkward problem than a people-secretly-think-you're-rude problem.

Definitely. On the other hand while I don’t have any judgment on people who don’t say something, I notice and appreciate it when someone does. Well, up to the third sneeze anyway. After that it’s everyone for themselves.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:42 PM on July 17, 2022

Best answer: In Québecois French they say "Santé" in response to sneezes and I really like that.

I don't so much like à tes souhaits because it can get overly complicated (vouvoyer/tutoyer-ing in particular but also the traditional response to each sneeze), but it's kind of cute I guess.
posted by urbanlenny at 6:43 PM on July 17, 2022 [3 favorites]

I never could stomach "bless you" either, and I sometimes said gesundheit, but I eventually got sick of that too and started saying Gewürztraminer and glockenspiel just for gits and shiggles.
posted by kiblinger at 6:44 PM on July 17, 2022 [3 favorites]

I don't say anything when people sneeze, and I don't think it is rude in any way.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 6:46 PM on July 17, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: As someone who gets uncontrollable sneezing fits, I wish people wouldn't say anything.
posted by Candleman at 6:51 PM on July 17, 2022 [5 favorites]

I (an atheist) actually do like it when people say “Bless you” to me, because it feels folksy. But I don’t notice or care when people don’t say it. And especially if they’re not Christians, I don’t expect it at all.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 6:52 PM on July 17, 2022 [3 favorites]

I have a super-loud sun sneeze that often catches people by surprise. I have much-enjoyed reactions that take this to be a moment of shared humanity, including: “Good morning!” “Yeahhhh!” “That was a good one!” “Get it!” Not appropriate in all situations, but options like this might by handy at times and places when someone else’s sneeze is an opportunity to share a smile with them.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 6:53 PM on July 17, 2022 [6 favorites]

One option would be to sneeze back. That way you acknowledge the sneeze but demonstrate fellow feeling. The correct way to sneeze back is to say "KeChoo" or "Ahchoo".

Not saying anything is fine too. In fact acknowledging a sneeze is something you do with people you are intimate with, as commenting can be intrusive. It's not professional at work. Like hearing a fart, often the really polite thing to do is to pretend it didn't happen except you also just happen to casually look in some other direction to give them privacy in case there is mucus that needs to be hastily wiped.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:02 PM on July 17, 2022 [4 favorites]

I had a friend who says "schönheit!"
And the sneezer says huh?
And my friend says "Du bist schon gesund."
(Wishing them beauty instead of health... as they are already healthy)
Which is not at all helpful to you as schönheit is probably not any easier than gesundheit.
But yeah I think you're fine to say nothing!
posted by evilmomlady at 7:10 PM on July 17, 2022

Seconding Jane the Brown that this is for people you are intimate with... and who enjoy engaging in teasing.
posted by evilmomlady at 7:13 PM on July 17, 2022

Best answer: I hate it when people bless me. Since I don't want my sneezing acknowledged, I never say anything when another sneezes, trying to set a good example. It's no big deal, I sneeze all the time, feel better after any sneeze; but no, I don't have allergies. And you're not in holy orders, and I'm not even a Christian, so STFU with the blessings!
posted by Rash at 7:16 PM on July 17, 2022 [5 favorites]

Sometimes my sneezing fits get high pitched, so between sneezes I say "Hee-hee" or "SHAM ON" in my best Micheal Jackson impersonation. It still makes my SO laugh after 14 years.
posted by vrakatar at 7:18 PM on July 17, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I have no problem with "bless you" and it wouldn't ever occur to me to think of it as religious, but I do find that commenting at all on someone's bodily functions is kind of intrusive. I don't think you need to worry about this. Just look away politely to give them a moment.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:20 PM on July 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

BTW, a related previously, from 2005: Is it rude not to say, "Thank you" when someone says, "Bless you" after you sneeze?
posted by Rash at 7:25 PM on July 17, 2022

I say nothing. I don't know if that's normal. Nobody has complained. (Maybe I should ask friends?)

I do often say "excuse me" when I sneeze. I sneeze very loudly. A friend years ago used to do the sushing finger to lips motion when others sneezed. I think only to close friends.
posted by eotvos at 7:35 PM on July 17, 2022

Personally, I have learned to say "Gesundheit" on the first sneeze, "One more" on the second, and "Make a wish" on the third. But this is optional too.

Omg please don’t do this. As an allergic person who’s prone to sneezing fits, people COUNTING MY SNEEZES makes me so uncomfortable. Seriously I hate it so much please help this tradition die out.

I like it when people don’t say anything.
posted by tan_coul at 7:37 PM on July 17, 2022 [20 favorites]

I honestly don't care what people say or don't say after I sneeze. Though I do agree that many people consider it polite to say something - with friends I wouldn't worry about it, but in situations like a workplace "sorry, I wish I had to tissue to offer you" should work. But also, don't worry about saying Gesundheit correctly - people pronounce it in all sorts of ways.
posted by coffeecat at 7:44 PM on July 17, 2022

maybe try a greek "oopah!" or a mefi oldie "zippity bop!"?

There was an episode of Cowboy Beebop where "take care" was what was said to the sneezer.
posted by vrakatar at 7:47 PM on July 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

Yes - as Holyrood notes, there's a Seinfeld episode where they decide that if you want to make someone feel good after sneezing, don't say bless you, instead say "you are soooo good looking." The whole episode actually is about George's faux pas in saying bless you to someone else's wife. Might make you laugh instead of feeling anxious!
posted by nantucket at 8:09 PM on July 17, 2022

Re the French, my partner and I say "to your wishes" and "to your loves" (in English). Avoids the perception of pretentiousness, and if asked we say where it comes from and that we use it to be more inclusive in case whomever we are talking to doesn't believe in God - by which I mean it doesn't even need to be about your own beliefs.
posted by solotoro at 8:10 PM on July 17, 2022

Best answer: My partner (also a Marxist atheist!) does not say bless you. It took me a while to notice and doesn’t bother me; I don’t think anyone else in his life has noticed. Sometimes after I sneeze he’ll squeeze me knee or take my hand, a subtle little acknowledgment that he notices my experience, and that’s nice.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 8:24 PM on July 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

I’m another person who finds “bless you” mildly annoying, and the cutesy additions after each sneeze extra annoying. Something like gesundheit or salud/salut doesn’t bother me, but saying nothing is perfectly good with me.
posted by eviemath at 8:35 PM on July 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

As a hardcore atheist I also don’t look at “bless you” as religious so much as spiritual and just a good intention. That said, not saying anything is also fine.
posted by tubedogg at 8:46 PM on July 17, 2022 [2 favorites]

Atheist here who says it sometimes out of habit and general friendliness. I don’t care if others say it or not and I think it’s kind of silly if people care one way or the other. And just in the spirit of total honesty, yeah, unless French is your native language I’d think you’re kind of pretentious if you say it in French. And I study the language myself.
posted by imalaowai at 8:53 PM on July 17, 2022 [3 favorites]

Ugh. I always say “bless you” Bc it’s like a reflex. I feel like I would not notice if someone didn’t say anything if I sneezed, but it is so automatic to me to say it when someone else does. Please don’t assume I’m a holy person If I do this around you I am actually a dirt bag
posted by capnsue at 10:28 PM on July 17, 2022 [3 favorites]

The Wikipedia article about responses to sneezing features a table of traditional exclamations in reaction to sneezing and the typical replies by the sneezer from various cultures and language groupings around the world.

It says that no response is usual among Mandarin Chinese and Japanese people, for example, but the similarities and contrasts are fascinating.

Even before Covid, when I was out in public among strangers and someone sneezed, I had developed a strategy of holding my breath for 15-20 seconds and closing my eyes to slits as I moved at least twenty feet away as circumstances allowed, but I did my best to be unobtrusive about it, and I never got over feeling that I was being extremely rude.
posted by jamjam at 11:47 PM on July 17, 2022 [2 favorites]

I usually yell "COVID, go home!", but my colleagues don't expect me to be socially adequate anymore.
posted by b33j at 12:43 AM on July 18, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Another vote for 'its fine to not say anything, in fact please dont'. I hate getting responses to my sneezes - sure, let's draw even more attention to me! I will never understand why we're supposed to comment on that vs any other random noise my body makes. And something cutesy or that changes after more sneezes is awful.
posted by unsettledink at 2:00 AM on July 18, 2022 [5 favorites]

Personally, I have learned to say "Gesundheit" on the first sneeze, "One more" on the second, and "Make a wish" on the third.

I love the idea that these responses need to get progressively more elaborate the more sneezes there are. On the fifth sneeze, you should bless the person, and the rains down in Africa. On the eighth sneeze, it’s considered good manners to recite the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic. On the twelfth sneeze, it’s common courtesy for everyone in the room to immediately perform the Harlem Shake.
posted by mhoye at 6:10 AM on July 18, 2022 [3 favorites]

A friend of mine was in a similar situation: her boyfriend was an atheist and never said anything when she sneezed, and that bothered her. They got into a discussion about it and what it came down to was this: saying "bless you" (or similar) after somebody sneezes is just a way of saying "I care about you". Once that was established, every time she sneezed thereafter, he would say "I care about you". That might not go over well at work, but the principle is the same. It's just kind of a common courtesy. I am mostly atheist and I still say "bless you" when somebody sneezes. Even other atheists. It's fine. No cognitive dissonance here.
posted by number9dream at 6:39 AM on July 18, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I have always sneezed a lot, and count me as another who wishes people would not say anything or comment on my sneezes. Especially if they feel some need to get cutsie or creative.
posted by fimbulvetr at 7:27 AM on July 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

When someone sneezes I whistle a particular tone which I can not describe here. It simultaneously acknowledges the sneeze, is slightly humorous (you had to be there), and is enigmatic. OK, its just plain weird. I think saying namaste after someone sneezes would be pretty good now that I think about it. Funny, eccentric, and vaguely in alignment with the spirit of "bless you". I
posted by jcworth at 7:29 AM on July 18, 2022

"Gezundheit!" was what I was brought up to say, except that we pronounced it like "KIZZ-int-height."
posted by brianogilvie at 8:06 AM on July 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

A brisk and businesslike "Elbow next time, please" works for me, or nothing at all if either that or sneezing down the inside of their shirt is already what they're doing.

If you're not comfortable with being that stridently assertive (and there's definitely an attentional cost attached; if you're going to drip as much condescending self-righteousness as this then you'd better make sure that none of your own sneezes is ever seen to escape) you might want to embrace the game that little ms flabdablet and I have for burps: when either of us belches, the other apologizes, and the more sincere and less contrived the apology sounds the more points it's worth. The purpose of the game is to disorient onlookers, hopefully to the point where they experience genuine confusion about who actually just burped.
posted by flabdablet at 9:05 AM on July 18, 2022

Whatever you do, don’t be like me and utter a small, sad, surprised, “oh boy!” When someone sneezes very loudly.

Or do. It’s a lifestyle.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:21 AM on July 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

I want to link to a most delightful answer from when a similar question was asked in 2009 that changed my habit regarding this sentiment. I now say "you exploded!" when it feels appropriate and I just love it when the opportunity arises.
posted by rabidsegue at 9:30 AM on July 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

Also: Even "good bye" came from a contraction of the original "God be with you."
You certainly don't have to say "bless you" to be polite, and shouldn't say it if it makes you uncomfortable, but you also don't have to assume much about anyone's belief system when they utter conventionalized bits of social nicety.
posted by nantucket at 9:45 AM on July 18, 2022 [6 favorites]

I think that saying something or nothing after sneezes has real American regional/class variation

I would like to know more. It's my impression that it's a lower (excuse me, working) class custom. And definitely Christian. However, my devout parents both came from Kansas, and they didn't do this, nor did they teach their children to. So, not mid-Western? More Southern, maybe? I only guess that because of their adjacent "Bless His (or her) Heart" put-down I've learned from you-all.
posted by Rash at 10:44 AM on July 18, 2022

I really think this is more a you-feeling-awkward problem than a people-secretly-think-you're-rude problem.

Yep. In the US generally your unmarked options are "Bless you" "Gezundheit" or nothing. Anything that is otherwise outside the norms will be noticeable maybe in a good way but maybe in a bad way or possibly in a confusing way which is probably the worst way of all. It's fine to say nothing. If you want to do this in a way that is meaningful with close friends or partners you can have a special phrase that you use between you. My partner alternates between bless you and gezhundheit but he is a multiple sneezer so I usually don't say anything with an occasional gezhundheit.
posted by jessamyn at 11:18 AM on July 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This fellow atheist thanks you for not saying 'bless you.' I don't think you're being rude. No one needs to acknowledge a sneeze in any capacity.

I once had a co-worker who would just look you deadpan and say "Stop it." If a second sneeze occurred, they would say "Right now."

Granted this depends on the context of knowing this person and having a friendly, fun relationship with them, but it was always hilarious and I loved it every time.
posted by furnace.heart at 11:30 AM on July 18, 2022 [4 favorites]

I like random strangers to say "bless you" when I sneeze. I also like it if Donald Sutherland is there to point at me and scream.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 1:24 AM on July 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

I have gotten in the habit of saying "knock it off" or "Stop It!" with people that I know and some co-workers. So far people have taken it in the spirit of fun, or more usually just ignore me. My chum always says "gesund" which I think means health in German or Yiddish.
posted by Carlo at 4:05 PM on September 6, 2022

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