51

I am slightly annoyed by my co-workers who say "bless you" everytime I sneeze. It feels awkward to me to reply with a "thank you". I usually only thank people when they really helped me out in a matter and that's also when I expect other people to thank me.

In my opinion blessing someone after he sneezes does not deserve such attention. It really just adds more interruption than the actual sneeze act, which is annoying enough by itself.

I am currently handling the situation by just staying quiet and not responding to any blessing. This makes me feel awkward because I can feel my co-workers expecting me to say something. I don't want them to feel ignored by me.

How can I communicate (actively or passively) to my co-workers that I don't need a "bless you" after I sneeze, without being rude?


Side notes:

I live in Austria, a German speaking country in Europe. In German we say "Gesundheit" when blessing someone which literally translates to "health". So it does not have any religious context like the English "bless you".

16 Answers 16

40

I know the issue. The next time when they say "bless you", simply tell them:

Thank you, but it's OK if you don't mention it.

I did the same and it was no problem. We even joked about it, when we realized they shared my opinion about this.

Your co-workers might also be curious if they should say it or not. The problem is, everyone treats it differently. Some people expect you to say "bless you" and others (like you) don't like it. I have observed older generations seem to expect it and younger generations don't like it.

  • I was thinking about some rephrases but each one which comes to my mind sounds passive-aggresive (also in one of my mother tongues German). – arminb Oct 16 '17 at 11:32
  • 3
    On a London bus last week, I sneezed. A young Asian girl said 'Bless you!' which I found absolutely charming! I sometimes use the 'hands together in prayer' gesture to communicate thanks or respect. No-one yet has seemed insulted. – Laurence Payne Oct 17 '17 at 12:10
  • 3
    Actually, the original source of saying "Gesundheit" was meant to wish health to oneself, not the one sneezing. So it's kind of hypocritical (blog.derbund.ch/tingler/index.php/36054/… is a source I found in a 1 min search) – Mafii Oct 18 '17 at 8:16
  • 2
    So according to @Mafii, when someone says "Gesundheit", your perfect response would be "Oh screw you!". Would that work better than "thank you" to you? :) – Crazy Cucumber Oct 18 '17 at 11:46
  • @CrazyCucumber yeah but today, it is not meant the same way ;) – Mafii Oct 18 '17 at 11:49
170

No intention to be harsh, but:

Just suck it up and say "thanks".

There are so many things I think are odd or unneeded, but society dictates that those habits are polite, despite my personal opinion.

A very simple "thanks" suffices. You don't need to thank them with a whole sentence, just some positive sounding word to acknowledge their effort.

(I'm a programmer myself and like to keep my focus as well. I often just say something sounding like thanks, so automatically that I often don't even recall what I actually said.)


The alternative is explaining to everyone you meet on a regular basis that you don't want a "Gesundheit" ("hey man, no need to say Gesundheit every time"). This will raise a few (small) eyebrows and has to be applied to every new regular.
You are deviating from standard behaviour, socially this is weird, all of which is mitigated with "Danke".

55

I'll pass on something I heard on the radio this week.

The local station (SWR1, Germany) had a call-in program where exactly this subject was raised. The suggestion was to pre-empt the calls of 'Gesundheit' by saying 'Excuse me' when you sneeze.

Might work...

  • 6
    +1 This is exactly what I do. When I sneeze, I say "excuse me"; if they say "Bless you", I've already put in my two cents. – anongoodnurse Oct 16 '17 at 13:20
  • 3
    @anongoodnurse "Pardon me!" in your best "Grey Poupon" voice... – Michael Oct 17 '17 at 4:09
  • Rofl yeah but then you're putting in more effort on your own behalf and not really solving the original "problem" of annoyance, or whatever we're going to call it. – Andrew Oct 17 '17 at 19:25
  • 3
    @Andrew As it should be. You either have one person putting in more effort, or EVERYONE ELSE putting in more effort. The annoyance should be on the lessor of the two groups, which is obviously the OP. – user3316 Oct 17 '17 at 21:18
  • 1
    @Beanluc Most people I know (unless maybe you're in close proximity with someone and/or interrupting a conversation), and I wouldn't expect anyone to, either. They're too busy recovering from their sneeze to have to bother. – Andrew Oct 19 '17 at 1:20
21

How to communicate to my co-workers that they don't have to say “bless you” when I sneeze?

The best I know, so far, comes from Ask A Manager: “I know I sneeze a lot, just give me a ‘blanket bless you’ for the day.” With a big smile, as usual :)


In some countries in Europe, and as far as I know, sneezing is sometimes seen as "not so polite" (I was raised that way). Therefore, acknowledgement is also "not so polite". That's why many people, after sneezing, say excuse me, and no one answers, depending on the culture and education.

But it's also something that you can't control.

Some say something, some don't. Check the local rules there, it can be different from country to country. Same at the workplace.

The practice of blessing someone after a sneeze is probably as old as the first century. The origin of the practice is most likely rooted in superstition: the belief that a sneeze is the body trying to rid itself of evil spirits, the thought that the heart stops beating when a person sneezes, or the fear that a sneeze somehow opens the body to evil spirits. In these cases, saying, “God bless you,” was a kind of protection or good luck charm that shielded the sneezer from being invaded by spirits or affected by evil. (From Got Questions)

This way, you are polite, you don't say anything rude to co-workers, and may stop them from doing it again. They know you heard them, and that they don't have to say it all the time. No real way out though, if people were raised saying "whatever is nice after sneezing".

How can I communicate (actively or passively)?

The first time it happens, you'll have to say something. Not answering would lead to 2 things: rudeness and do-it-again attitude from both sides. You have to let them know. But I strongly recommend that you avoid the passive-aggressive approach, especially at the workplace. This would most probably lead to damaging the atmosphere within the cubicle.


Related: 1. myths and clarifications about sneezing 2. feel obligated to say bless you: can we stop? 3. saying bless you when a coworker sneezes 4. sneeze etiquette

  • THANK YOU! You're the first person to point out that sneezing can be impolite. I was raised that if you need to burp, fart, sneeze, etc, then you go to the bathroom to do it. At the very least SOMEONE needs to say SOMETHING. Whether it's you saying "excuse me" or someone else saying "Gesundheit"/"bless you" – user3316 Oct 17 '17 at 21:23
  • @SteffenWinkler : I don't say it's wrong or wright, just that "sneezing is sometimes seen as "not so polite"". I give a fact I've witnessed, but don't say more than that. And that's why I tried and was as careful as can be with the wording. – OldPadawan May 30 '18 at 14:54
16

If you find saying "thank you" to be annoying, just don't say it anymore, especially if you are not already in a conversation with the other person. It's not strictly required and many people will be more comfortable with not getting a response than having to remember you're an exception to the general social rule.


Alternatively, you could recognize that the other person is saying that out of concern for you and your health, and appreciate that they care about you at that human level, even if it is a simple gesture.

I usually only thank people when they really helped me out in a matter and that's also when I expect other people to thank me.

Showing gratitude much more often, even for minor things, is often helpful to building good relationships and even for your own well-being. The interaction could even strengthen your immune system a tiny bit.

Further, giving people that little bit of social reward for helping you out even a bit can leave an impression that even the little things they do for you are appreciated, motivating them to do more rather than less, and those little things can turn out to be quite valuable sometimes. So, there may not be as many downsides as you might think in a few extra opportunities to say "thanks."

10

The easy answer to this is to simply not reply "thanks."

Responding to sneezes with something akin to "bless you" is a subconscious response in many people. It is very hard to suppress such responses, so if you want them to never say "bless you," you're actually asking for quite a lot, psychologically. However, as a general rule (which may be different in your country), you aren't required to respond with "thank you." You can ignore them.

If you feel wrong ignoring them, perhaps just give them a little nod, or just eye contact. A little gesture may fulfill this social contract for them.

7

No need to say thank you

There are many other phrases you can say that don't encourage the blessings but also aren't rude. Depending on the situation try on:

  • Wheewww, that was a big one
  • Uggghh, I think I feel another one coming
  • Flu/pollen season sure is a pain.
  • Excuse me / Pardon me / Sorry.

You can also probably get away with just a "miserable grunt" especially if you've had several sneezes in a row. Blowing your nose also can work as @yohohoho mentions in comments. Additionally or instead a "smile and nod" can also work.

6

I would suggest following @OldPadawan's answer as the most polite way to tell your coworkers not to bless you every time you sneeze. That said, you need to be prepared for the fact that for a lot of people, saying "Bless you" or "Gesundheit" after a sneeze is such an ingrained response that it becomes almost as involuntary as sneezing itself.

Much as some people who are accustomed to using curse words struggle not to use them in situations where they are not appropriate, your coworkers may struggle to comply with this simple request not to bless you after a sneeze. Some will stop right away, and some will keep doing it and not even realize they had done it unless you point it out to them each time, at which point they will start policing themselves and eventually train themselves out of it.

So, I'm not sure there is a 'one time' thing you can say to your coworkers to stop this habit, it will be something you have to politely nudge them about when they do it, which you may or may not want to do.

4

One of my coworkers has a habit of saying "thank you" immediately after he sneezes! It's a shocking twist that some find funny, some find rude and some (like me) find it absolutely infuriating. By saying the "thank you" himself, he doesn't give anyone a chance to say "bless you". It doesn't really serve your purpose of not thanking for nothing, but it immediately raises questions (and often a heated discussion*) about the point of having the custom in the first place.

It's a very controversial method, but it makes people aware of the issue.

I know it's not an actual answer for you, but I think it's worth mentioning for someone else.

*mandatory point in such discussion is an anecdote/urban legend about university teacher who sneezed during the lecture and when someone said "bless you" from the audience, broke into a tirade about how saying "bless you" is a low-class custom and people from upper classes just ignore the sneeze with dignity. OFC another student stood up and asked the audience how many high-borns are present and from the absence of any concluded that it's the professor who's wrong, as among peasants, peasant customs should be observed.

3

I usually end my sneezes with a semi-long groan. There's a window of opportunity to say "bless you" after someone sneezes and when that window has passed, it's awkward for people to say it. So, my groan (it's something like a "nghuuugh") takes just as long as it's needed to close that window. People usually don't say it to me for that reason. Even if they do, I can just pretend I didn't hear them over my own voice. Unless, of course, they say it really loudly, in which case I reply with an unenthusiastic thanks. This solves most of my problems with this type of unnecessary communication.

3

As daft as this sounds; there is a myth that when one says 'thank you' following a 'bless you', a fairy is killed. I told my colleagues this, which was verified by another, and now I don't have to say 'thank you' so that I spare the lives of fairies.
While this does not stop my colleagues saying 'bless you', it does stop me having to respond with a 'thank you', thus avoiding the need for an awkward reply.

  • Hmm... While this doesn't really answer the question (tell co-workers not to say 'bless you'), it does offer a solution for the awkwardness experienced because OP feels his co-workers expect him to say something. Maybe @Schmocken, you could add a line to your answer to state this? And welcome to IPS.SE! – Tinkeringbell Oct 17 '17 at 15:46
2

Don't suck it up and say 'so kind of you'.

Staying silent is not an option. Sooner or later somone will take ofence thinking you ignored her, even if you did not.
Explaining that you don't need the blessings only works in theory. No matter how you word it there will eventually be someone who takes ofence at what he perceives as being told "not to do what he just did". Besides, the ultra-casual "conversation" which happens around a sneeze is not the place to discuss such things.
Saying thanks is a bad option. Sucking up things eventually builds up and might sour you. Only resort to it if it is unavoidable.

By saying something like 'so kind of you'(*) you avoid the ice wall of silence. You don't give undeserved thanks for unhelpful blessings. Nobody will feel ignored neither offended. And when you eventually discuss this issue, maybe taking a coffee with your coworkers at a break, you have a starting point much better than "I always say thanks but I'd rather not be blessed".

(*)Actually I would say 'muy amable' in spanish which roughly translates as 'so kind of you'. But 'muy amable' is a very common expression in spanish so it does not stand out. I don't know what the equivalent in other languages would be but surely there is some common expression where you acknowledges someone is kind without thanking that person.

2

If you find it uncomfortable to reply with a thank you it will not make it stop. To make it stop you could ignore it altogether, but I would advise caution as it may be perceived as rude. However, it may depend on whether the person knows you enough to understand that you are already kind, so it is likely he will not take it out of context.

In order to avoid taking a risk, you could also try to reply in a less engaging way. For instance, you could try "reply" with a node or a smile. I would be surprised if this would be thought of as a rude reply, and I think it will be less encouraging to their behavior. Also, you could try to make this incrementally to the point you almost not engage with them at all, however it will appear more smooth compared to you stopping cold turkey.

Of course the two previous possible ways to deal with the situation depend on how much the other person knows you and it will be a judgement call which one to use. Also, another important parameter is whether you happen to encounter with that person a lot. If that is the case it would always be possible to manage to mention it in a non awkward way. And otherwise, maybe it is not worth your time to find a delicate way to deal with it.

Final thoughts, personally I would try to reply with a node or a smile as I would find it less distracting and less energy consuming and showing them that I appreciate their sentiment.

2

For some cultures its completely normal and expected, even mandatory to both say bless you and thank you. (mine included)

When I first started working in the UK I'd both say bless you and thank you for sneezes. One time i sneezed and I didn't get a bless you, I was so hurt I thought no one respected me. I started keeping track on who got a "bless you" and who didn't. At first it seamed that only the boss got them, but after a while it become apparent that not every sneeze got a comment. I soon understood that this was the norm.

You can try to communicate it this way to your colleagues.

1

Following the modern Knigge manners, blessing someone with a "Gesundheit" after he sneezes can in fact be interpreted as rude, because it's implying that the sneezing person is seriously ill - which is wrong most of the time. In my opinion, not answering with a polite thanks should do the trick after a while.

0

Saying "bless you" is a cultural standard, as is saying "thank you" in response. Making people not apply that standard to you will make you look weird, and it is guaranteed that you'll offend some people in the process, and make quite a few people think less of you, no matter how you go about it.

You cannot make people stop their cultural habits without offending some people, that's why we only try to do so for things that really matter to us.

Luckily, it seems you're more worried about your expected response of "thank you". At this point it's important to say that "thank you" on its own is rarely appropriate when someone "really helped me out in a matter". In many English speaking cultures a lone "thank you" or "thanks" is indeed most often used (and sometimes expected) for very minor matters, like someone passing you an item, a cashier handing you your change, the person ahead of you not letting the door slam in your face, or a passersby saying "bless you" when you sneeze.

If you don't want to say "thank you" after "bless you" you can substitute another well meaning short phrase like "you too" ("gleichfalls" in your case).

protected by Community Oct 17 '17 at 14:22

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.