Someone just sneezed, and for the billionth time since I’ve started working here, I’m confused what the protocol is. In a place where virtually everyone assumes that professionalism means having no personality, I’m not sure if it’s even professional to acknowledge a sneeze here.
Growing up, I always said ‘Bless you’, but I never equated it with a religious aspect. It just seemed like the right thing to do. Why do people say it? Is it to cover up that awkwardness that someone might feel after they sneeze in a quiet place, or in the middle of a conversation? I remember way long ago when I was taking the SAT and it was dead silent in the room. All of a sudden, someone made one of the loudest “ACHOO”s I’ve ever heard in my life. I have no startle reflex, so I didn’t jump…I was actually kind of irritated at the interruption. I looked around the room and there were looks of disgust on everyone’s faces as they looked around trying to find the sneezing culprit. Finally, someone in the most disgusted voice said “GOD BLESS YOU!”. It was absolutely hilarious and mean, but at the same time, it was necessary in order for everyone to forget about it and go back to taking the exam. We never did find the culprit, as he/she never said the follow-up “Thank you”.
I never really started to question sneezing protocol until my freshman year in college when I said “Bless you” to someone, and they never responded with a “Thank you”. I was so confused. I also noticed that very few people blessed me when I sneezed. Ever since then, I’ve been extremely selective with my blessings, because I guess not everyone wants to be blessed. I now only “bless” family/close friends. I think in my head, “Do I care about this person’s life/well-being?”. If not, then I don’t say “Bless you”. I don’t know whether or not that seems like the right thing to do, but it works for me. Since then, I’ve also started to kinda sneeze internally, if that makes any sense. I don’t sneeze with my mouth open and release millions of germs (I’m rather considerate) nor do I really make a sound, so no one really knows when I do sneeze.
I also feel that people get out of hand and always feel the need to match the intensity of the ‘Bless you’ with the intensity of the sneeze. Sometimes after a really intense and loud sneeze, I’ll hear “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph – Bless you!”. Seriously?! This is usually followed by an uncomfortable laugh and ‘Thank you’ by the sneezer. It’s so unnecessary.
What is it about natural bodily functions that make people so awkward?