We do it so often and from such a young age, it has almost become an involuntary response. When someone sneezes, we say “bless you.” It’s the polite thing to do.
But the origins of this response are less clear. The primary theory is that “God bless you” emerged in the form of a decree from the Pope during the spread of the Bubonic Plague across Europe. Maybe giving the sneezer a blessing from God would prevent them from falling ill. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work very well.
While the sound of a sneeze is universal, the responses can be vastly different from one language to another. Avoid being impolite while traveling abroad — learn the appropriate response when someone nearby lets out an “achoo!”
Interestingly, Gesundheit, the German response to a sneeze, is also the most common expression for English speakers who prefer not to say “bless you.” It simply means “health,” which is used in a number of languages when someone sneezes (makes sense).
In Spanish there are different responses for your first three sneezes, and they vary by region. The most well-known version tends to be used more in Latin America: salud (“health”) after the first sneeze, dinero (“money”) after the second, and amor (“love”) after the third. It almost makes you want to sneeze! In Spain, the responses are Jesús, María, José (for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph).
The French take a slightly different approach. When someone sneezes, they often say à tes/vos souhaits (“to your wishes”). How whimsical.
As in many other languages, the first time you sneeze the Dutch wish you “health” (gezondheid). But my personal favorite response comes after the third time you sneeze: morgen mooi weer, which translates to “good weather tomorrow.” That escalated quickly.
In Turkey, sneeze responses go beyond just a simple call for health. After the first sneeze, Turkish speakers say çok yaşa (“live long”). After the second, sağlıklı yaşa (“live healthy”). The best part in Turkish, though, is the response to the response. You sneeze, someone says “live long,” and you reply “And I hope you will be there to see it.” It’s not intended to be as snarky as it sounds.
The Russian response to a sneeze is pretty straightforward: A simple будьте здоровы (“be healthy”) will suffice. But things get a bit more interesting if you sneeze while someone else is talking. If that happens, the interrupted speaker will often say правду говорю, or “I’m telling the truth.” A little defensive, aren’t we?
Whether you’re doling out blessings or making weather predictions, it’s useful to know how to respond when you’re traveling and someone nearby sneezes. Just don’t forget your Airborne.