How to handle, or not handle, a sneeze

Today at Gotham, we had a lengthy morning discussion about sneezes, and how different people, and different cultures, handle sneezing. Generally, people say “bless you,” as you probably know, but in places like Japan, there isn’t a lot of blessing going around post-sneeze. It’s a cultural thing.

For some, like Alex, a sneeze is a personal endeavor that need not include anyone else. He doesn’t say “bless you” because he, in turn, wants to be left alone when he sneezes. He doesn’t want someone to “be involved” in his sneezing, and was perturbed about what would happen if he were to sneeze again after already being blessed. Then the stranger who blessed him would feel inclined to start a conversation with him about his sneezing.

Our intern, Aizhan, shed some light on what it is like in Kazakhstan, where it is expected for people to respond to sneezes. But they don’t say “bless you.” They says “sau bol,” which translates to “be healthy.” Or she may opt for the Russian “bud’te zdorovy.”

Alex then asked Aizhan what she would do if the man repairing the copier sneezed at that very moment. She said she would say “bless you” no matter what, even if he didn’t hear it, because if she didn’t, she would feel anxious.

Sona, our CFO, explained that she, too, almost always blesses someone who sneezes, unless the social situation makes it improper, such as at a reading, or a conference, where the room is meant to be quiet.

For me, it’s not such a cut-and-dry issue. I don’t automatically bless a sneezer. If someone has done something that I find annoying, like taking up two seats on the subway with their backpack, and they sneeze, then they don’t get a bless you from me. They don’t deserve it. Maybe I’m petty.

Also, don’t expect a “bless you” if I’m reading.

In terms of what happens around the Gotham office when someone sneezes, there is usually a sputtering of blessings fluttering around the room. Sneeze a second time, and it’s much the same. But if you start a sneezing fit (three or more), you’re going to be questioned, recommended to an allergist, or asked if you need medicine (we’re a helpful bunch).

Even as I type this, Street sneezed twice and each time, our intern Beige and I both blessed him. It’s second nature.

What does how we handle sneezes say about us as individuals? And, that said, how do you handle a sneeze?

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