6 Responses to Sneezes From Around the World

iStock / iStock

Throughout human history, sneezing has been considered an act worthy of comment. In ancient times, some cultures believed that sneezing was a sign of a devil exiting the body. When Odysseus’ wife hears her son sneeze in The Odyssey, she interprets it as a sign that her husband will come home safely. In Japan, a sneeze indicates that someone is speaking well of you somewhere. 

The verbal blessings bestowed upon sneezers are often attributed to the 6th century pope Gregory the Great, who invoked “God bless you” as protection against the bubonic plague that was raging through Europe at the time. However, while an American sneeze is likely to garner a blessing, other cultures respond to a snot rocket differently. Here are six international alternatives to “bless you.”

1. “Health!”

The common German-language response to sneezing—Gesundheit!—simply means "health." “Gesundheit” came into American vernacular by way of German-speaking immigrants. Other languages have equivalent exhortations, like the Spanish “Salud!” or the Maltese “Evviva!” The Russian version, “Будьте здоровы” is a more forceful “be healthy.”

2. “Live long and prosper.”

The full Turkish response to a sneeze is straight out of Star Trek: “çok yaşa, rahat yaşa” means “live long and prosper,” though it’s often shortened just to “live long.” The response, “sen de gör,” literally translates to “you see it, too.”

3. “God smother you!” 

A common Portuguese response to sneezing is “Santinho!” or “Little saint!” However, you may also hear “Deus te abafe,” a phrase that roughly means “God smother you!” (It’s translated by some as “May god put a blanket over you,” which is a far better thing to imagine.)

4. “To your wishes!”

In French, it’s polite to express a hope that all your sneezy companion’s wishes come true. The French version of bless you, “à tes souhaits,” means “to your wishes.” A second sneeze is greeted with “à tes amours,” or “to your loves.” 

5. “The weather will be nice tomorrow!”

After the first two sneezes, the Dutch welcome a third sneeze with the phrase, “Morgen mooi weer!” or “The weather will be nice tomorrow!”

6. “Grow!” 

In his 1976 ethnography of Zulu culture, author Axel-Ivar Berglund reports that “of a man who sneezes, it is said ‘Thuthuka.’” Or, in other words, “grow!