“Gesundheit” – Another Ask Ally Quickie

In Advice, Life on April 9, 2009 at 7:16 pm
Dear Ally,
Can you still say bless you after someone sneezes even if you don’t believe in God, and therefore don’t believe in an entity that can bless the person? If not, then what are you supposed to say so you don’t seem like an uncaring bitch? And not guzuntite (or whatever), because that’s just annoying.
Joanna, Botswana
My dear Joanna,
I thought that your question was just perfect to throw in during the Easter holidaze, since it seems a natural time for me to take a break from work (and procrastination from work). I was going to stay away from blogging during this time of my insane stress, but it seems that I just love my little readers so much that I had to give them something (plus, I couldn’t be outdone by that floppy-eared chocolate pushing imposter who calls himself the “Easter Bunny”. That pervert… I’m on to him!).
Anyway, I felt compelled, in the spirit of chocolate-induced endorphin-related euphoria and subsequent fat-arsery, to respond with a quickie. Your question intrigues me, as I have often dwelled on it myself. Being one who is not necessarily religious, I find myself blessing an inappropriately large number of people – including complete strangers – when they sneeze in my presence. And I got to thinking, what’s the deal here? There has to be a better way. Because it does seem somewhat hypocritical to me for an atheist or agnostic – or, if I understand them right, member of any of number of non-Christian religions – to bless someone, presumably in the name of a god they don’t worship, for the mere act of sneezing. I mean, I know that I am pretty much awesome enough to bless anyone in my own name, but do they really warrant that blessing because some wayward dirt became caught in their nose-hairs? Not in my mind, they don’t.
So I looked into it, and “Gesundheit” actually is the German and Yiddish word for “health”. And while that makes much more sense to me, I am not German or Jewish, and don’t feel right aping their language to soothe my blasphemous soul. Also, you’re right, I find it a little annoying. For a while I considered using the English translation, but people look at you funny when you just say “health” to them for no apparent reason. Especially if they’re strangers.
Then I started wondering why I am bothering to say anything to these people at all. I mean, so they sneezed. So what? Not a big deal. And what if they didn’t bother to cover their nose/mouth? They just sprayed germs and mucous all over me, and I am supposed to say something comforting to them? Hells no.
However, sometimes the sneezing person is a friend, and they have covered their mouth. Occasionally I’ve even had some friends who have apologised or excused themselves for sneezing (one of the perks of being Canadian is that many of your friends are as absurdly polite as you are). And in those cases, what do I say?
Well, consider the motivation behind their sneeze. It’s an involunary reaction, right? It could mean dust or an allergen, but I’m pretty much allergic to life itself, so if that were the cause, I’d be sneezing too. Probably more than them. So if they’re sneezing and I’m not, it means they’re sick. And you never know from what. I mean there are probably hundreds of government laboratories out there, perfecting germs and superviruses into biological weapons. There have been countless movies, television mini-series, and books about it. Hell, Stephen King wrote a book about a superflu that was then turned into a television mini-series. Starring Gary Sinise. Gary Sinise!! The disease that wiped out most of mankind was called Captain Tripps, and it started with some simple sneezing… then everyone died.
Are you as lucky as Gary Sinise and Molly Ringwald?

Are you as lucky as Gary Sinise and Molly Ringwald?

So I thought, if my friend is sneezing, then either they’ve got a simple cold, or a mutated evil supervirus that will kill us all. Which means that what I really, really don’t want to have happen is for them to die. If they die, it probably means we all die (or that they have the immune system of a 96 year old with AIDS and asthma who has just gone through chemo).
My suggstion is that when someone sneezes you walk up to them, slap them right across the face and sternly tell them “DON’T DIE”.
It’s direct, it’s honest, and it’s in no way related to any kind of religious sentiment. In the end you’re pretty much left with “don’t die” or a kick in the teeth. Mine’s really the (slightly) less violent and therefore natural choice!
  1. hello,

    thanks for the great quality of your blog, every time i come here, i’m amazed.

    black hattitude.

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