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Wednesday, August 18, 2004 

Cultural Sneezes

We have a masters level intern in the lab this summer named Ricky, and I like him a lot. He's really nice, and he's here from India while he studies at University of Maryland. It was just me and him in the lab this afternoon. He was working on something, and I put on my dust mask and weighed out SLS (it's really fine dusty super soap and the darn stuff just coats your lungs like crazy and gets all in your system.) So even though I'm wearing the mask the dust still gets in my nose and I sneeze and then I sneeze again and I'm like, "Dammit!" And then Ricky asks me if he can ask me a question (he's very formal like that.) And I say sure, and he asks me why is it when Americans sneeze other Americans bless them? Oh! I died! It was so funny! It had never occurred to me that other cultures might not do that! I told him I thought it started in medieval times when they thought that if you sneezed it was the devil escaping so if someone blessed you right away the devil couldn't get back in. Or something like that. He laughed at that! I asked him what they do if one sneezes in India and he said they do nothing, they don't acknowledge it. How funny! So then we were both laughing.

I wonder what they do in England? I don't want to go around blessing people if that's not appropriate.

I heard in Japan they don't sneeze in public. I don't know how that works. It's like my best friend Heather who is a TV reporter and I asked her, "what do you do if you have to sneeze on camera?" and she told me you just don't sneeze. How do people manage not to sneeze?

What if you were in Japan and threw a bag of SLS in someone's face? I wonder if they would sneeze then. ooooook

They certainly do say that here in England - indeed I thought it was an English-only custom until I read your post! At university my friends modified the tradition slightly. When someone sneezed we would all shout "Bless you!" as loud as we could. The sneezer would then have to shout "Thank you!" even more loudly...


I always thought it came from the Black Death days. Sneezing generally signified the onset of the disease, so god bless you was meant to be a kind of deterrent.

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