In Asia, when one sneezes, there is no such thing as “Bless you.”
When you sneeze, you’re either reprimanded for not covering your mouth or just left to be as you were. So, imagine my surprise as a six- or seven-year-old, freshly minted into the American school system and sneezing. What a wild experience. I sneezed a hefty sneeze and the teacher said: “Bless you.”
Me? Bless me?
As a young Catholic sapling, I naturally began questioning the merits of my humanity that required a blessing. To my knowledge at the time, I was to ask for blessings from my elders whenever I encountered them and receive it via the touch of the back if their hand to my forehead. Or we usually blessed new houses or new cars or new babies. I knew that Americans weren’t familiar with this tradition of giving blessings to the young and I couldn’t see a new house or a new car or a new baby around. So why was this lady blessing me?
Did Americans simply throw blessings around willy nilly for any occasion?
I didn’t want to ask, so I let it be, opting to investigate the situation in silence. Weeks went by and I couldn’t seem to decipher the “Bless you.” The teacher would say it once in a while and sometimes students too… But why? WHY?
Finally, I broke. During recess, I turned to a girl in my class who seemed friendly enough and asked, “Why does everyone keep saying ‘bless you?’”
She looked at me strangely and in a tone that was equivalent to that of a man-splainer, replied, “Because that’s what you say when someone sneezes..?”
It took me a moment to process.
“Bu.. But, why?”
Baffled by my questioning of modern American tradition, the little girl gave me a sigh, shrugged and left, leaving me feel more confused. Why would the excretion of bacteria require a blessing? Did Americans revere sneezes as ungodly or in need of holy intervention and thus requiring a “Bless you?”
I decided not to question further. But now, equipped with the knowledge of the “bless you,” I found myself hyper aware of every single sneeze in my vicinity. My scientific mind began keeping tabs on the “bless you” to sneeze ratio: The popular outgoing kids and the teacher got all the “bless you’s,” but the lowly and moderate class of students went by the wayside with little to no “bless you’s.” Suddenly, my eyes were opened to my social standing.
My “bless you” to sneeze ratio was low. Little to none per sneeze!
I began observing my social interactions and found that I was still a stranger, the New Kid. I needed to step my game up. I had to increase interactions by 500% to raise my “bless you” to sneeze ratio. Painfully, I began asking my fellow students to borrow pencils or asking what 3+7 equaled. Despite my self-imposed rule of no non-lunchtime bathroom breaks, I raised my hands and asked to go to the bathroom at least once a week.
My “bless you” to sneeze ratio climbed. I was on the map! I was no longer a stranger, I was Denise, the kid from the Philippines. Not super cool, but alright. I was sustainably blessed for every sneeze.
Now, it was time to give back. I would be the “bless you” queen.
Everyone deserves a “bless you.”
I really enjoyed reading this! I’ve often said “bless you” to people who said nothing back, and I used to think they were just rude or unaware; it never crossed my mind that it could be a cultural thing! Thanks for enlightening me, and it’s so true that the more popular people get the bless-you’s, LOL. There have been times I didn’t get any simply because people couldn’t tell whether it was a sneeze or a cough; oh well.
Oh my Lord! I was such a confused little bean for so long! And I have a very aggressive sneeze, too. So a lot of people have to clarify before giving me that “Bless you.”