Count your blessings

“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.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. … and illustrates an odd linking of monotheism with monoculturalism, in the land of the melting pot. Wo ist “Gesundheit”? And – more significantly – dondé esta “salúd”? God seems to speak English these days in His own country, and perhaps with a [cultivated] southern drawl?

    An entertaining selection of comments on this subject may be found at http://www.answers.com/topic/sneeze?cat=health, but it’s worth noticing that nowhere does it mention the custom for responses in Aramaic. In a Christian bastion perhaps it’s convenient to forget God is Jewish, or was. Unless he’s become a Born Again Christian – following GWB’s example. Heavens! Will that lead to A Bigger Bang?

  2. It’s strange because my family has never been religious but I was brought up to say ‘Bless you’ as etiquette. I still automatically do it whenever someone sneezes, but I’ve found (in Australia) it is not very common at all anymore.
    Perhaps I should try and kick the habit!
    BTW, enjoying your NY observations very much – as someone who would love to go there (and be involved in the literary world there) it is fantastic to project myself into your posts!
    Thanks, Angela

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