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Good health to you!

October 23, 2015 The Wine Time Dad 2 Comments Category : , , , , , , , ,

"A-CHOO!" No one at the party skipped a beat.

“Good health to you,” I reply without a second thought. Why should I think too much about my response? I’ve been using it so long it’s not even a thing with me anymore. It’s basically what the German response, Gesundheit, means in English. Yet, when I don’t hear the customary “thanks” that usually goes with a response to someone’s (often a stranger’s) sneeze, I’m a bit taken aback. I’m not baffled when people balk at my response to their sneeze, but I am annoyed.

          “Good health to you?” veiled scorn hardly hidden. A few other party goers looked my way.

“Yes,” I reply, “I’m just putting an English spin to the German response. Would you prefer I not say anything at all?”

“I’d prefer ‘gesundheit’ to ‘good health to you’. Do you have a problem with saying ‘bless you’?” 

I suppose I shouldn’t have a problem with saying ‘bless you’ to someone since I’ve grown up with that response- culturally indoctrinated, as it were. Still, I’ve felt the pressure to re-conform after being back in the States for 3+ years. In Japan, I used the modified phrase casually and with no trepidation of backlash. Those who understood the cultural courtesy of saying anything at all after a sneeze thought it amusing, and, for some people, it caught on (but only in my presence). Yet, I distinctly remember the day I decided to stop using ‘bless you’ altogether.

Repeat that sneeze sound but change the geography from western society to the far east: A-CHOO.

"Bless you!" I respond to my stunned coworkers.

“Ah,” the teacher seated behind me exclaimed excitedly, “they do say it!”

“M***-o sensei (how my Japanese counterparts addressed me) why do you say bless you?” asked one of the JETs (Japanese teachers of English).

Indeed. Why do we say bless you when someone sneezes? Well, as I explained the religious and superstitious origins of the phrase, passed on to us from parents, grandparents and religious schoolteachers the world over, I could see the glaze forming in their eyes. All of what I was saying was overly complex. I decided to just lie and say, “It basically means ‘good health to you’, as in someone wishing you to be healthy.” Simultaneously, the three or four gathered around me said, “Eeeeh! Which is a cultural expression that could indicate surprised understanding/ recognition or amused disbelief. It told me that maybe some of what I said translated.

           I was reinforced to this fact when at a drinking party a few weeks later one of my coworkers shouted, “Good-o healsu to yu!” after someone sneezed. The table got a good laugh after that.

So did I.

However, my thought process on acceptable sneeze responses didn’t end with this small victory on the other side of the world. I decided that, for better or worse, I would keep using it in the States.

I can assure you that it wasn’t from some stubborn desire to be different or contrary or avant-garde. No, I decided that this response, if I was going to use any response, made more sense to me. Since I'm neither superstitious nor religious, ‘bless you’, although culturally acceptable, just doesn’t fit with what response best suits me. If I’m to say anything, I want to indicate that I hope someone continues on in good health.

"I'm free! No, don't bless me, that guy was such a dick."
And, while it’s remotely possible that the spirit might escape a body during a sneeze or that one becomes prone to evil spirits, I haven’t seen anyone transform into a dead-eyed, soulless zombie afterwards. Neither have I seen someone rotate their head 360 degrees and telekinetically toss inanimate objects at bystanders, following that familiar gust of air.

The cause and after-effects of a sneeze seem to be rooted in more mundane things, and they are more so related to your physical health. Ergo, good health to you. Try it out and see if it fits you. I won’t raise an eyebrow at you; in fact, you’ll probably receive the most enthusiastic ‘thank you’ you’ve gotten in response to a sneeze.

Yet, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that ‘(God) bless you’, separated from its more obvious superstitious origins, can be relevant to sneezing. If 'bless you' fits to the very core of your being and you want to say it to show your concern for someone's health, go for it. I can understand that impetus, and while I don’t think it does anything, just like saying ‘good health to you’ doesn’t have the power to instill good health in anyone, I appreciate the gesture. Because I’ve been culturally trained to.

All I ask is that you don’t get angry with me when I use an unfamiliar response but with the same intention of goodwill. I mean, we aren’t sheep here; everyone is entitled to be a little different. Embrace the diversity! You have your response to a sneeze, and everyone else in the world has theirs. Be fucking happy that someone bothered to say anything at all :-).

Now, have a nice day and...