I suffer from a chronic sinus condition. I have had it since childhood and have just learned to live with it, to the point where I hardly notice. My nose is always stuffed, not due to any allergy per se, but I think it may call for some sort of surgical procedure. I know I should look into it, but money seems to be the problem and the current state of our health care system is…..blah, blah.....not the point of this blog…..

Here’s the real issue:

I work around many people in close quarters a lot of the time and several of them are very aware of my condition, in which I am a very active sneezer. I can go into a sneezing tirade 15 deep. They just keep coming. It’s quite amazing, really. I should see what the world record is. My frustration is the social need for others to bless me when I sneeze. When I get blessed, I say nothing. I know the standard response is “thank you”, but I am not thankful for their blessing. That would be fine, and the moment would normally pass, except I sneeze again and again. So the drama play out like this…

Me: ATCHOO!!

Co-worker: Bless you

Me: no response…….ATCHOO!!!

Co-worker: Bless you

Me: no response……..ATCHOOOO!!!

Co-worker: Bless you

Me: no response…….ATCHOOOO!!!!

Co-worker: Bless you (becoming irritated, and I can’t tell if it’s because I keep sneezing, or because I fail to be grateful for their blessing)

Me: no response……ATCHOOOO!!!!

Co-worker: Bless you

Me: It’s really ok, you don’t have to………ATCHOOO!!!.....keep blessing me…..ATCHOO!!.....this could go on for a while and…….ATCHOOO!!.........I’m pretty sure the devil is not……ATCHOOO!!...going to enter my soul, or my heart……ATCHOOO!!!.......is not going to stop……ATCHOOO!!!.....beating….

Co-worker: Fine.

It becomes a very awkward and uncomfortable social situation.
That’s one side of the coin. Here’s the other side…..

When I’m alone with someone in a close working situation and THEY sneeze, I say nothing, but I can feel their anticipation for me to give them a blessing. I don’t, I never do, ever. But it seems you are socially expected to acknowledge a sneeze. It’s like, nobody really believes they need to be blessed, in order to be saved from the devil in these modern times (well maybe some do...), but it seems to have become a display of politeness in society. Since I will never bless someone’s sneeze, they look on me as being rude. I think I am a very polite and well-mannered person. My mother raised me well (my mother is a very polite atheist). It’s just that I think sneeze blessing is a very stupid, superstitious waste of voice. I just won’t participate in that. But sometimes I do feel like I’m the party-pooper for not playing everyone’s silly sneeze game.

Once I responded to someone’s sneeze by saying, “could you just shut up?” joking of course. They didn’t think it was very funny.

How do all of you polite (or impolite) atheists deal with this kind of thing? Any suggestions? Curious.

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Comment by Moonbeam on February 18, 2009 at 7:10pm
Lol, yea I hate that too! The whole ritual is so stupid. "Curse you" is no better than "Bless you", is it?

I didn't know Gesundheit meant "good health"; that's a good alternative if it's necessary to be polite.

@ Hal: I like the "No, thanks" response. Or maybe, "I don't need no stinking blessing!"
Comment by Michelle on February 17, 2009 at 7:29pm
I also an training myself to use Salud, instead of bless you, but darn that catholic upbringing, bless you comes out sometimes anyway (although I have at least changed it from god bless you). I got the idea because this winter I was at Target, and started sneezing, and a lovely hispanic gentleman kept saying Salud, Salud, Salud. So, I thought, THAT'S what I am going to say from now on! No more "bless you".
Comment by Ann on February 17, 2009 at 6:51pm
I've been encountering this problem myself. At work, I usually say geshundit or nothing at all when they sneeze. Sometimes we'll joke around and say, Wow, that was a juicy one!!, etc. If I sneeze and I hear bless you, I'll grunt a "thanks" only because I know they are trying to be polite and I think it is just an automatic response. Most of them are gradually learning where I'm coming from.
Comment by Jude Johnson on February 17, 2009 at 6:28pm
I either don't say anything when someone sneezes, or I use the title of your blog, "gesundheit" -- no harm in wishing some good health, even if you know they're a frequent sneezer. Of course it all depends on the audience. Sometimes I say something like, "Glad you got rid of those evil spirits!"

My ex husband sneezes 7 to 15 times like you do -- I used to tell him, "Okay, now you're just sneezing for the blessings!"
Comment by zeeman barzell on February 17, 2009 at 4:36pm
Well, I say that when I'm drinking. But, yeah, I guess it works either way.
Comment by cj the cynic on February 17, 2009 at 4:33pm
You could say "salud" (pronounced suh-LOOD) when someone sneezes. Spanish speakers say that when someone sneezes, and it means "health".
Comment by zeeman barzell on February 17, 2009 at 4:12pm
Oh, of course I use "Damn you!", "Shut the hell up!" and "Keep your snot to yourself!" with friends. But saying that to strangers or worse, co-workers, might be worse than nothing at all.
Comment by Adam Steele on February 17, 2009 at 4:04pm
Usually I just don't say anything either. Sometimes when I'm around people who know me I'll say something like "Ewwwww" or "Wow, good one" but those are just with friends.
Comment by Leslee Love on February 17, 2009 at 2:58pm
This is so funny! I was thinking the same thing the other day. My mother sneezes all the time (same problem as you, I suppose)...and I never say 'bless you'. When my sons sneeze she says 'bless you', and again, I never do. I need to think of something witty to say after someone sneezes, because like you said, they are obviously waiting for a response...

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