What Happens If You Don’t Respond to Someone’s Sneeze? March 18, 2009

What Happens If You Don’t Respond to Someone’s Sneeze?

As if you needed another website to get addicted to.

This one is called (The Customer Is) Not Always Right and it’s full of hilarious conversations between employees and their customers.

In the following conversation, the customer service person (“Me”) is talking to one disturbed caller (“Customer”)…:

Me: “All right, just a moment here while I bring up the info…”

Customer: “Just hurry it up, will you?”

Me: “OK, it’s coming up now…”

Customer: *sneezes*

(About 10 seconds pass in silence. I can hear children talking in the background.)

Customer: “Excuse me…”

(I stay quiet, assuming she’s talking to the children.)

Customer: “EXCUSE ME!”

Me: “Sorry, were you speaking to me?”

Customer: “YES YOU IDIOT! WHAT THE F*** is WRONG with you people?”

Me: “I’m sorry? I’m not sure I understand…”


Me: “Actually, ma’am, I really don’t, but I apol–”

Customer: *interrupting* “YOU’RE A F***ING HEATHEN! I HOPE YOU BURN IN H*** FOR THIS YOU…” *continues screaming*

Me: “Ma’am, I apologize if I’ve offended. I’ve found your account information, and it looks like your service was terminated three months ago.”

My response would’ve been “Gesundheit!”… but I don’t think that would’ve gone over very well with this lady, either…

Has anyone faced similar crazy reactions when dealing with sneezes?

(Thanks to Becky for the link!)

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  • Jason Peper

    Over here (were “Gesundheit!” comes from) it’s more and more considered impolite to react to sneezes at all.

    I think this is partially because is it simply unnecessary to make wishes for a bette health for a common cold and during season you might have to say it every minute or so.

    Additionally, allergics don’t like it to receive get-better-wishes when it’s their immunesystems doing rampage unto it’s own body which is causing the sneezing.

    But instinct still makes me say Gesundheit most of the times (and I’m even allergic myself)

  • Tracy

    I like to say “Good One” when they sneeze the first time. Any further sneezes get “that’s enough now” in a totally sarcastic tone 😉

  • Um, no, I’ve never come across that particular problem. And I’ve been on a telephone help desk for the better part of ten years. Perhaps it’s an “only in America” thing.

  • One night at the bookstore my co-worker andI were talking and the question came up: if you say ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes, what do you say when they cough.

    My co-worker thought for a while before she finally said: ” you should say ‘stop it’.”

    So, now when someone coughs, I say ‘stop it’. not in a demanding way, but in the same tone of voice you’d use for ‘bless you’.

    The real question is, how is that woman going to get her soul back in her body now that she’s sneezed it out?!

  • andrew

    i generally say ‘god bless you’ or ‘bless you’ just out of habbit.

    I did have someone say ‘god bless you’ after i coughed. that was a little weird.

  • lessfriendlyatheist

    I once instinctively said “Bless you” to a girl who sneezed, to which she replied, “I’m already blessed.” Stuck with gesundheit after that.

  • Godfrey

    I usually say “goesintight”. The proper response to that is “comes out soft”, but I’ve only heard that maybe twice in my life.

  • David

    I draw on my Jewish background here and use the Yiddish, “tz’gezunt” which means, “Be healthy!”

    But I REALLY want to know WTF that loony thinks “…will happen if you don’t bless someone when they sneeze.” Their ass will fall off?

  • soft_on_demand

    i live in japan and nobody says anything when you sneeze. i kinda miss it, actually. seems like nobody cares that you sneezed. whereas in western countries i think that manner is roughly the same as “are you ok?” doesn’t bother me that they say “bless you.” the “god bless you” thing is a bit much, tho, i must admit.

  • Lauren Cocilova

    I trained myself out of the habit of saying “bless you” and say “gesundheit” instead because people at least recognize what that means. My husband says “knock it off” or “I’m a douche” (because he feels like he should say something but isn’t going to bless anyone and doesn’t speak German).
    I usually do say something when someone sneezes, but I never, ever bless anyone. If someone blesses me, I ignore it unless they’re making a big deal about it and putting the emphasis on the “bless” (some kids of my friends do this when I burp, too) and then I say, “that’s not necessary.”

    Now I just have to stop using religious expletives…

  • silver

    Actually, I’ve never had that problem, but one time I did sneeze (a really big one, with a drippy nose and all!).

    A friend of mine said “God Bless You!”

    My response? “Keep your god, give me a tissue!”

  • Personally, I always get in a pre-emptive apology if I sneeze near to someone. Same as when I have to cough.

    Living in the most godless part of the UK, I can’t remember the last time someone used “Bless You” in a non-ironic fashion. Most of the time people just ask if you’ve got a cold or need a tissue.

  • TK

    I have an understanding with my friends who know of my non-belief. If one of says “bless you,” I say “no offense taken.”

    If someone else has a particularly good sneeze, I follow up with a “BOOM!”

    For strangers, I just ignore it. I’ve once (years ago) been bothered into saying thanks for the “blessing” and I just ignored it.

    Should someone really pressure me into it today, I would tell them that I’m not a religious person and that I refuse to lie by pretending to be.

  • I always say “bless you”.

    It’s short for “I bless you”. I figure it’s just as safe a bet as any god, and it seems to keep people happy.

    I never say “god bless you” and I’m still trying to think of a good comment when people say it to me.

  • Ned

    This is in my top 5 annoyances. When someone sneezes I go all out. I do the sign of the cross followed by a prayer in Latin. That really annoys people but I tell them that it’s serious business. I actually got people to stop telling me ‘bless you’ at work because I was such an asshole about it. It’s really f’ing annoying superstitious crap. Does a fart get a Hail Mary? Oh no, I just sharted, call the Pope!

  • I don’t say anything except for “Cover your mouth! Germs just went flying everywhere!”

  • zoo

    soft_on_demand: “seems like nobody cares that you sneezed.”

    Why should anyone care? Sneezing is just your body’s defense against foreign things in the nose. I’d rather not feel obligated to thank people for something when I just needed to get a little hair or dust out.

    Funny though, I’ve never been in the habit of saying anything because my (Southern Baptist) parents taught me it was (is?) a silly superstition.

  • Jessica

    Why do people say, “God bless you,” after someone sneezes?

    There are varying accounts as to the origin of this response. One belief is that it originated in Rome when the bubonic plague was raging through Europe. One of the symptoms of the plague was coughing and sneezing, and it is believed that Pope Gregory VII suggested saying “God bless you” after a person sneezed in hopes that this prayer would protect them from an otherwise certain death.

    The expression may have also originated from superstition. Some people believe that the custom of asking for God’s blessing began when ancient man thought that the soul was in the form of air and resided in the body’s head. A sneeze, therefore, might accidentally expel the spirit from the body unless God blessed you and prevented this from occurring. Some ancient cultures also thought that sneezing forced evil spirits out of the body endangering others because these spirits might now enter their bodies. The blessing was bestowed to protect both the person sneezed and others around him.

    VIA: http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/sneeze.html

  • Takma’rierah

    I’m not particularly bothered if someone says “bless you” instead of “gesundheit,” which is used about half of the time or so. Even my boyfriend (somewhat mystifyingly) says “bless you,” and I know he’s an atheist! I just take it as well-wishing, no matter which version, even if it is a little weird.

  • beckster

    I always say excuse me when I sneeze before anyone has a chance to say anything to me. The most annoying is when you sneeze more than twice in a row and everyone around you says bless you after each sneeze.

  • Grimalkin

    I get an irk when I hear people say “bless you.” Maybe because where I grew up, people just said “sante” (which means “health”). The idea of putting a religious slant on it just bugs me on a gut level.

    I’ve never said anything when people sneeze. I prefer people not to say anything to me when I do it (with the exception of Tracy’s “good one!”).

  • Alycia

    I’m going to use the “I’d rather have a tissue” line from now on…Thanks!

  • Ann

    I say “bless you,” sometimes even a “g’bless you.”

    Being a polite person and ingrained in the catholic religion and its communities for most of my life made it a reflex out of force of habit.

    I do get really annoyed at myself after I say “bless you”

    I try to say “Gesundheit,” but that doesn’t really happen unless I take a moment to think about it after someone sneezes.

  • Guy G

    The origin of “Bless you” is, I believe, from the time of the plague, when a sneeze could indicate that you were well and truly screwed, and hence a blessing would be a good thing.

    I personally tend to say “Nice sneeze” as a mark of sneeze recognition.

    I had a friend who could only ever sneeze in groups of >6ish. In a Maths lecture he let off about 8 in a row, to which the lecturer exclaimed “My God! Someone’s deflating!”. Best sneeze response ever, IMO.

  • Miko


    According to Christian mythology, sneezes occur when the soul is attempting to escape from your body. St. Paul was worried that this would lead to people going to Hell for some reason, so he had a chat with God and they came to the agreement that God would forgive one person for the sin of sneezing for every prayer that was said (with “Bless you” counting as a prayer). Thus, according to myth, the effect of not saying “Bless you” is to damn someone to Hell (but not necessarily the person who sneezed, as the accounting gets rather complicated).

    I myself opt to say the same thing in response to a sneeze as I would to most other bodily functioning. i.e., nothing. It’s never been an issue.

  • Some other suggestions:

    “Wow. Is your head still attached to the rest of you?”

    “Ugh. I heard the plague was making a comeback.”

    “Thank you, sir, may I have another?”

    “Damn you!”

  • Justin

    Transplanted Lawyer, my fiancée and I use “Damn you” on each other most of the time when we sneeze. It’s gotten to the point where, when I forget to say anything, she’ll occasionally ask me, “Aren’t you going to damn me?”

    Good times.

  • No. I always say “bless you” or “gesundheit” or “i sveikata” (Lithuanian for “to your health”)….

  • Bill M

    Aren’t you suppose to say, “You’re so good looking”.

  • I want to know what happens, really, because here we don’t say anything like a blessing so it must have been happening to us for a long time, but WHAT?

  • mike c.

    Years ago I asked my wife why she never said “bless you” after I sneezed and she told me in no uncertain terms that it was a “very” silly superstition. I agreed with her and since then always try to head off the “bless you’s” with an “excuse me” after I sneeze. And she’s not the atheist in the family.

  • Ashley

    the funny thing is she is “Christian” yet she talks to people like that. I say bless you only out of habit but I’ve been trying to refrain from saying anything.

  • Maybe this can shed some light on the issue:


  • britne

    I always say “a tes souhaits” (ahh-teh-sway) which I learned in French class years ago. It means, roughly, “good wishes to you”. Most people haven’t heard that phrase, so it makes for good conversation.

  • Art

    Whenever I hear someone say “Gesundheit” I respond “Comes out tight too.”

  • I had no idea there were so many awesome choices before me. Just had a brief conversation about this at my own blog (Friendly Humanist).

  • Janis Chambers

    Incredible, I imagine her life is ruled by stepped-over cracks and dodged ladders. I find it very disturbing that this kind of insanity is allowed to continue.

  • Mathew Wilder

    I try to ignore when people say anything to me after I sneeze, unless it would be quite obvious that I was simply ignoring them, in which case I will just say, “Thanks.”

    My ex-girlfriend, a nominal Christian, was really bothered that I didn’t say anything when she sneezed. She thought it was rude; I wonder why anyone cares. It’s just a fucking sneeze! I finally caved and started saying, “Salud” when she sneezed. (Spanish for ‘health’.)

  • David D.G.

    I often say “Gesundheit” in response to someone sneezing.

    If the person sneezes again, however, my response is to say, “Ibid.”

    (For those who don’t get it, that’s a now-largely-outdated research paper term that is short for a Latin expression that means “repeating the previous reference.”)

    ~David D.G.

  • sc0tt


    Means “health” but you say it both as a response to a sneeze and as a toast (like “cheers”).

  • J Myers

    Ryan, glad I read the comments first; I would have written exactly the same thing. In response to “god bless you,” a few replies I’ve used are:

    Which one?
    No thanks.

  • Tom

    I’ve learned over the years that a lot of religious people think “gesundheit” is German for “god bless you.” It actually means “healthiness.”

    Before I started regularly taking meds for my allergies, I used to fairly often have bad sneezing fits. When a friend was around it would go like this:
    me: *sneeze*
    them: Bless you.
    me: *sneeze*
    them: Bless you.
    (*lather, rinse, repeat*)
    So, I drew from this the conclusion that I am allergic to “bless you” and started replying by telling them “stop saying ‘bless you’, I’m allergic to it!” Which got interesting reactions.

  • dave

    “You are SOOOO good looking!”

  • Tom

    Oh and incidentally… I used to work for a consultancy that advised on proper call center management. It’s wrong that the customer service rep (CSR) should have to deal with a woman like that. There are two proper ways to advise a CSR to deal with a nasty screaming swearing person like that. The moment the caller becomes personally abusive (as opposed to just upset about a problem), the CSR should be empowered to either:

    1) Say “I’m sorry, let me get you a manager,” and transfer them to one. (The manager should tell the caller that their behavior is unacceptable and the company will be delighted to do business with them as soon as they’re prepared to behave in a civilized manner.) Or,

    2) Hang up at once. If the caller calls back and gets the same CSR and demands to know what happened, the CSR may tell them “I’m sorry, I don’t know what happened, we must have gotten disconnected”… and the CSR may “accidentally” disconnect the call every time the caller becomes abusive until the caller takes the hint.

    The important part is, you don’t need a customer that abusive, and it does a world of good for the CSR’s productivity for them to know that their employer has empowered them not to have to put up with abuse.

  • epe

    I had a conversation about sneeze responses with my boss the other day, and how weird it is to think that someone’s soul was going to fly out their nose or evil spirits fly in. We decided that if I hear him sneeze, my response will be to yell ‘SALUD’ over the cubicle wall as loudly as possible.


    Not a bleeping thing.

    Oh, I stand corrected. People with nutty ideas will get bent out of shape if you don’t fall over yourself to “bless” them when they sneeze.

    Why is it they don’t expect the same treatment when they pass air through other orifices?

  • epe

    I wonder what happens when she sneezes while alone. Does she have to run out of the house and find someone to bless her? Does it count, if the person did not witness said sneeze? Maybe it only applies when someone hears the sneeze, like a tree falling alone in the forest? Maybe if you hear someone’s sneeze you have to say something; the ‘bounces off me, sticks to you’ theory of soul-sneezing?

  • Ben

    My brother has started saying “Sorry you sneezed!” Emphasis is his.

  • Kaitie

    I don’t really have atheist friends (I’m from a small town) but all my friends know about my atheism, so they like to say “I’m sorry you sneezed” when I sneeze. I prefer to say nothing at all, as I don’t really like it when my sneezes are acknowledged.

  • Indigo

    When someone sneezes especially vigourously, my father usually says “there’s no need to get violent.” It’s funny the first time. Not so much after that.

  • *atchoo*

    “Hail Xenu!”

  • curious

    I think the CSR should have transferred her to disconnect! If someone blesses me when I sneeze, I generally say, “no, thank you” or “that’s not really necessary”. Strangers don’t know how to take it and friends think it’s just me being funny. When they ask, I explain, but I’m not going to preach to ’em!

  • I had a run of sneezes the other day at work at each one was punctuated with a “Bless you”. I tried to make them stop but all I could manage was another sneeze. These people read the horoscopes everyday too. I could destroy their foolish superstitions and rituals but they’re old already and will die soon. I’m being merciful, see?

  • Larry Huffman

    Guy G said…”The origin of “Bless you” is, I believe, from the time of the plague, when a sneeze could indicate that you were well and truly screwed, and hence a blessing would be a good thing.”

    Sounds more like a pronouncement of doom, since there was nothing (like a god or such)that was going to ‘bless’ the person with the sneeze…and so apparently the plague. How hollow is that…”yikes you have a deadly plague…god bless you.”

    Makes my comeback…”If your god were all he is cracked up to be, there would not be a need for the blessing.”

    Of course, this was a time period where people did not understand the germ theory and so they can be forgiven, somewhat, for having built superstitions around it. Sadly, people have a hard time letting go of traditions that come about this way…and will hang onto them long after the real issues are understood and the need for the superstition defeated.

    Personally I have always thought it odd to be overly concerned with other people’s bodily functions. If I think they are in need, I may ask if they are OK, or if they need a tissue…especially if they just let fly all over me.

    Silly superstition…just like whistling past the graveyard.

  • Larry Huffman

    That is truly christlike compassion, Hoverfrog! 😉

  • Larry Huffman

    Ashley…in the broad scope of things, which is worse to say:

    You are going to hell


    F*ck You

    I would say condemning someone to hell, going by intent. Of course there is no hell…but there will be no copulation invloved with the F-U either…so you have to look at intent.

    I have been told I am going to hell by many many christians, usually because I do not believe something they do. I have also been told how bad I am for saying F-U…usually by those same people.

    Needless to say, me and those people do not see eye to eye. F-them. (Hey, they were thinking that I am boound to hell as they read this!)

  • Mikko

    here in sweden we say prosit

  • «bønez_brigade»

    I don’t say a god damned thing when someone I don’t know sneezes; but my friends usually earn a “curse you!”

    When people bless me after a sneeze, I usually say “no thanks!” (although, “no, thanks!” is probably more grammatically correct…)

  • vivian

    I always say “Ramen”. That usually gets a look and if they actually ask about what I said, then I tell them to google the FSM.

  • CybrgnX

    I heard an odd fable-myth-cute story..
    If you sneeze 3 times in a row with someone ‘blessing you’ that a troll (of the opposite sex although most say they look the same) appears and takes you back to faery-land to be its slave/mate. Thus living in a missurable hole.

    So when a person sneezes I don’t say anything until they look at me and I tell them I’m waiting for the 3rd sneeze so I can meet the troll.

  • A Guy Named Chris

    This has been one of my pet peeves for years, and is actually one of the few things I’ve had a problem with since “becoming one of the wandering faithless” as one of my co-workers put it.

    I’ve never understood why in modern times we still say anything after a person sneezes, let alone some psuedo-religious phrase to ward off the demons from stealing your soul.

    Unfortunately, as the story suggests, it is considered rude in our society to not say anything when someone expels bacteria from their lungs through their mouth and nose. A “Cover Your F-ing Mouth” is rude, while “If you’re going to die, die quietly” is a little too morbid and is better reserved for a coughing fit.

    That is why when someone around me sneezes, I say “May the Force be with you.” It’s something positive without sounding like an overbearing zealot, while at the same time those “true to the faith” (Read know the difference between a light saber and a light saver) will get a kick out of it.

  • jmdoran

    Post-sneeze blessings are cross-cultural. I doubt the plague-origin story for the English version; where would we get evidence for that? Origins for things like that are probably lost to history.

    Here are some really smart people discussing it:


  • «bønez_brigade»

    @ CybrgnX,
    IMO, the one who says “bless you” is the troll — a real-life concern troll.

  • AxeGrrl

    I say ‘gesundheit’ for ALL bodily functions that ‘manifest audibly’ 🙂

    sneezes, farts, burps, cracking-of-knuckles….

  • AxeGrrl

    britne said:

    I always say “a tes souhaits” (ahh-teh-sway) which I learned in French class years ago.

    Being Canadian, I’ll offer a better (imo) French phrase for the situation:

    ‘ferme ta gueule!’


  • Derek

    Aren’t you suppose to say, “You’re so good looking”.

    There really aren’t enough Seinfeld fans in here.

  • Jen

    I have a completely irrational hatred of “Bless you” because then I am supposed to thank the person. Here’s what gets me though- they didn’t do a damn thing! You only get an actual thank you from me if you hand me some Klennex. Otherwise, I will say it, but only because people will think I am rude for not saying so, even though they didn’t do anything but point out that I have allergies. I am probably glaring at you the entire time, though. Damn stupid waste of my time. I loathe this especially since I sneeze all the time, and loudly.

  • John

    I don’t say a damn thing when someone sneezes.

  • Michael

    I always say, “Stop dying.” It tends to be ineffective, though, as they always continue dying, just like we all do.

  • Lauren
  • Christian

    If it’s been a really loud one I sometimes say “Aufwischen” (german for “Wipe it off (the floor)” 😀
    As a German atheist I don’t have the trouble with “Bless you” because over here it’s just “Health” (Gesundheit), instead I had to train myself to stop greeting people by saying “Grüß Gott” (Greet God). That wasn’t that easy at all…

  • Cubby

    I usually say “gesundheit” when someone sneezes, though I used to say “bless you.” I had to train myself out of saying it. If a sneeze is particularly bombastic, or if there are multiple sneezes, I’ll ask “You okay?”

    When someone blesses me, I usually take it in the spirit it’s offered, and thank them. I’d rather no one acknowledges the sneeze at all, but in American culture, it’s unavoidable.

    Every once in a while, if I or someone else sneezes, I say “whoops!”

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