“God bless you!” “Thank you!” “Bless you!” “Thank you!”
Every time someone sneezes in my NYU class, it triggers this automatic call-and-response. The blessings are multiple and instantaneous, coming from all over the classroom. Their combined sound often drowns out the teacher who continues to lecture while this strange linguistic exchange takes place. Often the teacher stops mid-sentence to offer his or her own blessing. A multiple-sneezer can set the class back for the better part of a minute.
No one but me seems to find this practice – a reflection of the religious undercurrent of American culture, in which saying “God bless you” is intended to protect your sneezing soul from the devil – peculiar.