Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Betty Has A Sneezing Fit/ A Fit About Sneezing

Warning: Betty's Taking Off For a Long Rant. Please secure your belongings.

I grew up in a family in which sneezing was tolerated as a pesky inconvenience but certainly not something to be rewarded with any sort of generous response.

I think my parents probably automatically placed sneezing in the same category as say, a bleeding leg or a fast-growing wart. That is, they saw it as suspect, a possible attempt to garner some self-centered attention. And that, my brethren, was akin to courting the devil.

Sneezing at home was tolerated, but sneezing in public was to be avoided at all cost and if you heard someone sneeze, it was to be treated the same way as if that person had passed gas—politely ignored. You would certainly never call attention to it. You just averted your eyes and acted like it never happened.

I moved to California in the '80’s and became acutely aware of the growing trend of saying “Bless You” after sneezing. Indeed, while I was busy actively and vigorously ignoring the fact that someone had just spewed massive amounts of saliva into his/her hand, people around me nearly killed themselves off showering Bless You's all over the affected person, tossing the saying about like nonpareils on party cupcakes.

Thus, I became even more reluctant to sneeze in public. Now, instead of a sneeze being just a sneeze, it was a social contract. After all, when someone “blesses you” then you are obligated to say “thank you” to the blesser.

It does not help that I just happen to be a double, sometimes triple sneezer. So when I have finished up the first sneeze and am waiting for the second one to occur 3-5 seconds later, some do-gooder has already inserted a “Bless You,” into the space after sneeze number one.

Thus, when sneeze number two comes, it appears as though I am just milking the situation. The blesser feels obligated to say “Bless You” again. After all, if it was important to say the first time.....

When the third sneeze comes, the intonation of the “Bless You!” changes, indicating a clear irritation, a sign that somehow I am deliberately, consciously, maliciously pushing the limits of politeness. Though the words are the same, the intonation takes on an accusatory tone, bordering on profane.

Now, after this sneezing bonanza, let us not forget: I must say thank you each and every "blessing" that I DID NOT ASK FOR IN THE FIRST PLACE.

Social Dilemma Alert:

The scene is reversed. A person who normally says “Bless You” sneezes in my vicinity. Am I now obligated to say “Bless You” to this person? The answer: Yes. After my “blessing” I can’t help but wait expectedly for my “Thank You.” The person then supplies it, but possibly only because he/she senses I am waiting for it. Awkward Social Situation.

(BTW, who am I to “bless” someone? Am I truly qualified? What if there is no genuine feeling behind the expression? Does that make the blessing null and void?)

Fantastic Betty Idea: Could we not just anoint about 700,000 people to be Sneeze Blessers? These good people, chosen to represent the rest of us, trained in intonation and timing, could be placed strategically across the country. If a Sneeze Blesser (SB) were in the area when you sneezed, then you would get blessed. If not, then, you wouldn't. No Big Deal. It was a matter of chance anyway. The SB's could be viewed in the same light as leprechauns or other lucky icons. Think of the dinner time conversations. “There I was on a train and I had to sneeze. Would you believe there was a Sneeze Blesser right across from me? Can you believe my good luck?”

Rant Continues: Remain Seated With Your Seat Belts Securely Fastened.

Scene in Betty’s Class: Jumpy 17 year-olds and 18 year-olds come in, rustle about, spend five-ten minutes getting settled in class. Betty calls for some silent, individual writing. Notebooks fly from backpacks. More chatter in the ranks. Pens and pencils are fetched; there is a general hesitancy to be still and quiet and focused. Last minute phrases are uttered to one another, laughter erupts from row one. Betty sends Teacher Glare in general vicinity of laughter. Finally, finally, finally, all students are quiet and writing. Two minutes pass. Peace. Tranquility. Creativity.

Then it happens: One. Student. Sneezes.

One student says the dreaded words: “Bless You.”

Sure enough, like someone has flipped on the ON switch of the hot air popper of etiquette, individual students erupt like kernels of popcorn with individual “Bless You's” and the sneezer says her thank you's and the silence and concentration is gone, gone, gone.

Now, Betty is a good person and I understand the whole concept and history of the "Bless You." However, my people, we no longer face the bubonic plague. Most of us no longer believe that the soul will escape during a sneeze or that our hearts will stop beating. Is it not time to rise above these superstitions and see sneezing for what it is—a convulsive expulsion of air, often releasing 40,000 droplets of saliva? Is this not something that we can all just see as a natural body function and not as a basis for a complicated/emotionally-charged social contract?

The Worst of the Rant is Over. Betty is Coming in for a Landing. Please Return Your Seats to Their Upright and Locked Positions.

HOB does not sneeze very often but when he does, everyone knows it.

It’s an event.

Now, when we first got married I discovered he had a habit that I found more than a little distasteful. (He claims he did this even while we were dating, but I don’t think so.)

If he had to sneeze while driving, he quickly rolled down his window, stuck his head out and let it go. He liked the fact that the saliva went straight out the window and not on his hands.

I told him this habit would cause trouble one day and sure enough it did.

It was a semi-warm day and we were driving in a crowded parking lot with extraordinarily high speed bumps. He had just cleared the bump with his front wheels and felt a sneeze coming on. He quickly rolled down his window and stuck his head out to let out a major sneeze, closing his eyes and spewing with the force of garden hose sent on “jet.”

When he opened his eyes, he found himself face-to-face with a driver who was also halfway through the speed bump going in the opposite direction and yes, her window was all the way down.

I’ll never forget the look of disgust and dismay on her face. I am sure she thought this Bozo had planned--rolling down his window at the precise moment her face would be directly in front of his.

She sat, frozen in shock, absolutely appalled, as I said to HOB, “Just go! Floor it! GO!!!” He did, gunning the engine and leaving her there still staring out her open window, with a look that can only be described as absolutely horrified and, well, a little moist too.

We sped out of there and never looked back.

Say, I wonder if she uttered "Bless You" to HOB?

My guess is she said something like it.

Don't you think?

*Photo from Wikipedia Commons


Cricket said...

Brilliant. I love it. The best way to start the morning is with laugh.

My darling dear is also a "serial sneezer," the final sneeze is always deafening. I've learned to wait for it, as she gets upset if left unblessed.

I've assured her Satan is not, to the best of my knowledge, going to slip in. not that way, anyhow. But who listens?

Great post.

My Mind's Eye said...

BB I am literally lol and crying.....
thank you for this wonderful hilarious post....HOB sneezing out the window oh my cats!!! All I can say is

"Bless you"and no I'm not qualified either!!!
Hugs Madi and Mom

Susan Fields said...

I just had myself a great Wednesday morning laugh - thank you Betty! When I sneeze, it's also an event, and my family gives me lots of grief about it. I've never rolled down my window to do it at a passing driver, though - that's classic!

Joe Cap said...

And now for some boring trivia:
Years ago, when humans were not as enlightened as they are today, there was a belief that your heart skipped a beat when you sneeze. This started the tradition of saying 'GOD bless you'...the person is not giving the blessing, but asking God to bless the sneezer.
Did you know that sneezing releases many of the same endorphins as an orgasm? You KNOW it feels good to sneeze...

Shrinky said...

what an image you have left me with, too, too funny! Hubby was raised to politely ignore any sneezes, but I wasn't - it irks me he doesn't bless me when I let fly!

I heard somewhere of a tradition in China - not sure if it's true - but when choosing a name, a long list of potential ones are read out to the new baby (it may take several months of tries), and only when the baby sneezes is the name chosen. A sweet, if impractical method!

Lora said...

OH, that last story was awesome!

I have the loudest.sneeze.ever. I don't sneeze, I erupt. It's ridiculous. My cat runs away. My boyfriend jumps. I once sneezed during a prayer at a church I was visiting and EVERYONE including the person LEADING the PRAYER blessed me. In unison.

Alexandra said...

I am very sensitive about my sneezing, mostly b/c hubs teases me about the amount of times I sneeze and how loudly I sneeze.

Vry sensitive about this topic, thank you, Miss Betty.

See..I just now sneezed...three times in a row. And quite loudly, too.

Parsley said...

HAHA This has bothered me too. I didn't 'bless people' when they sneezed and would get that expectant look like 'well???? aren't you gonna bless me/them????'

Seriously, it makes me uncomfortable. Always has. In fact, if I remember my history, the reason people are 'blessed' is because of the assumption that someone was sneezing out a demon or some kind of spirit. The person was blessed so it wouldn't re-enter. In the case of a serial sneezer, that would send some blessers to an alter of prayer!!

Great post. I may have to pick up on this topic myself someday.


Enjoyed the read, both my younger son and I if we sneeze once we sneeze a dozen times, we get some funny looks should we sneeze outdoors.


Larri said...

As a Grand-Daddy sized Sneezer who also sneezes in multiples of threes, I am laughing with side splits.:o) Your post reminded me of the Seinfeld episode where Elaine & Jerry decided "Bless You" was ridiculous. They went on to decide that instead they would say, "You are so good looking." after every sneeze. I think that's what I'll do today, and see if anyone notices. Thanks so much for the Wednesday giggle. :o)

Alison said...

Wow...I was going to say, m'dear, you're over-thinking this. But it sure seems you're not the only one.

I always thought of "bless you" as a question of etiquette rather than religion. Perhaps you could think of it as a polite way to say "I saw that embarrassing sneeze you just let out, but am giving you a socially-acceptable way to acknowledge it and move on."

And whatever you do, don't move to the South, where "Bless you" is a conversational tool!
"Everywhere I went today, they had just closed the building. I couldn't get anything done!"
"Well bless you, honey!"

Old Kitty said...

Oh BB - you're gonna throw the book at me!!

I am a serial Bless you and Thank you sayer!! Oh dear!!

When I say it, I make friends of total strangers and I simply enjoy how people look askance and startled by such politeness from lil ol me!!!!

What I get most upset about is when people sneeze WITHOUT COVERING THEIR MOUTHS!! LOL!!!

They still get a Bless you from me though - with an added EW!!!!!!!!!

Bless you and bless HOB! *Ducks from thrown book* Take care

Velvet Over Steel said...

Wow, that was a long rant! :-) But very enjoyable.. as always!!!

We have lots of 'beliefs' in our family about sneezing! lol

Have a Great day!!!

Anonymous said...

I`ll see your rant, and raise you a rant. I was talking to someone recently who started to get that look in her face that said she was going to sneeze. She knew it and I knew. She stopped talking for a second, did that little hand wave thing to say wait a second, cringed, then cringed again, and then finally sneezed. And with all that warning that she knew she was going to sneeze, she didn`t even have the decency to turn her head or cover her face. I was so grossed out and appalled. She thought her sneeze was cute. - G

KLZ said...

I would love designated Sneeze Blessers. I think that actually may be my life's calling.

Baby Sister said...

Hahahahaha!!!! That story of HOB made me laugh SO hard!! Thank you for that.

You know, I have never thought of sneezing like that. It's interesting to see it from a different perspective. Thanks. :)

Anonymous said...

I just laughed so hard picturing your husband sneezing out the window. that poor lady. hahahaha

You reminded me of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry decided to tell people "you are sooo good looking!" when they sneezed instead of "bless you."

I personally like the whole "bless you" ritual :-) I don't get upset if someone doesn't say thank you to me or doesn't say bless me when I sneeze.

One Photo said...

In England people do not comment when you sneeze so after moving here I found it so very odd when complete strangers would say bless you if I sneezed in public, it somehow draws so much unwanted attention.

I'll sign your petition to ban it :-)

Anonymous said...

When I see someone close to be ready to sneeze, I cringe. I'm not a germophobe, but Lord only knows what's spewing out of their mouths. Where has that mouth been. I don't want to know. Thanks for the humor just the same. good stuff.

And thanks for stopping by Talli's blog today and saying hi.

Brian (not the cat) said...

I love the way you overthink the quotidian, Betty. I especially like the idea of a permanent corps of sneeze-blessers -- I was wondering how we would get out of this unemployment morass the country is in, but you have hit upon a great public works project.

Now when I sneeze, it's usually thirty or forty at a time, all very muffled and with a minimum of excreta, like a cat. Onlookers are generally at a loss, as they aren't really sure if I am coughing, sneezing, or having a seizure of some kind. Therefore the blessing, if any, is given tentatively, and instead of saying thank you, I'm mostly obliged to explain to them what exactly it was they just witnessed. said...

This is a fantastic case study of the sneeze, Betty. That "bless you" tradition is peculiar, indeed. I am still laughing as I envision you shouting "Gun it!" to HOBS. I'm glad I don't drive the same roads. xo

Tracy said...

Thank you for sharing your wit and humor in regards to sneezing!
My husband's sneeze is also an event that scares the Bee-jeebies out of me and blares in my ears...instead of saying 'bless you' I resort to 'Damn YOU!

Brian said...

That was quite the rant...and I thoroughly enjoyed it!!!

Out on the prairie said...

Those who spew without covering their mouths, get a thank you for sharing your germs.I noticed a old neighbor coming into the doc the other day, he sneezes into a kleenex and then sticks that hand out to shake after removing the unwanted tissue.I found the restroom quickly.The noise some people make is interesting, sometimes handed down through generations.

Ami said...

The whole post made me laugh.... except that DISGUSTING picture at the top o' the post.

And of course I work in a germ factory, so people sneeze all day long.

If I feel a need to acknowledge the sneeze, I say, "Goodness!" or "Wow!"

One of 'my' kids always says, "I always fart when I sneeze." every time someone sneezes in his presence.

Hilary said...

You are just too funny. I never really gave much thought to the "bless you" thing. It was just considered the polite thing to do. Now I'm going to picture HOB and that poor sneeze-receptor whenever I hear the next one.

Marlene said...

I am laughing so hard right now, I couldn't sneeze if I tried!!! This is a brilliant post, Betty! Funniest post I've read all day!

*still* laughing!

baygirl32 said...

funniest post I've read in a while! I am behind you on the annointed sneeze blessers.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Now that's a funny story!
I'm a sneezer, and yes, after the second sneeze, my wife's "Bless you" carries a hint of annoyance.

Pat said...

Being raised a good Catholic girl, we were always taught to say "God Bless You" when someone sneezed. I've shortened it to "Bless you" since I've grown up. And yes, when some one sneezes multiple time, I do say Bless you, bless you, bless you! Sometimes my husband doesn't thank me for blessing him, then I get in a snit and refuse to bless him after he sneezes again!

Kittie Howard said...

What a fun post, Betty! You had me laughing! I'd never thought about sneezing before, other than, people sneezed. Now I'm gonna have a little smile. Unless your hub rolls down the! Don't think I'd say 'bless you' on this one. And I'm from the South where 'bless you' is non-stop.

Venassa said...

Posts like these are the reason why I love your blog :)
I am not a fan of the 'bless you' as well. Just let me sneeze, and let that be it. I enjoy sneezing sometimes, but not the attention afterwards.
I remember many times in school when all was silent until someone sneezed, then you couldn't get the class to stop talking. We also had two 'scream sneezers' in my class. You know the ones.. where they half scream when they sneeze, scaring the bejeezus out of everyone.

Ann said...

my question has always been, if two people sneeze and someone says bless you to one person but not the other does that mean they like that person better than the other?
I can guarantee that HOB was being blesses over and over again

Gigi said...

A Classic Betty Blog!! One that will be remembered and re-visted for years to come!

I tend to be a Blesser. Unless it's my Hubby. His sneezes irritate the living snot (pardon the pun) out of me. So no "Bless You's" for him unless I'm feeling particularly generous that day.

Lydia Kang said...

Sneezing will never be the same for me, ha ha!
I want to know whether something catastrophic will happen to a non-blessed sneezer if they aren't blessed. What are the odds?

Sara said...

I always feel sort of disrespectful to God, too, when I say "Bless You" to someone. What gives me the power to bless someone? I mean, sure, I'd love to have that power, but sadly I do not, and I feel as though only God should be given the power to bless people. I'll continue saying it, though, just because it's the polite thing to do...

jenny_o said...

Awesome as usual - thank you!

Liz said...

It is so interesting to me that you have such an issue with the age old "bless you" after sneezing. You are like a sweet, sweet onion, with many layers.

Catherine said...

Bawhahaha... oh girl... you always make me laugh! Love it!
xo Catherine

Connie said...

Bless you, Betty, for making me laugh. (I'd bless you if you sneezed too, but I hope you'll forgive me for that.) :D

Jimmy said...

We were raised to be the Blessers of a sneeze Betty, I so enjoyed your outlook on this one and feel sure HOB got a very special blessing for that sneeze of his :)

Sueann said...

I too am a serial sorry! It is in my genes!!! I can't help myself. When I hear a sneeze I don't just say bless you...I say God bless you!!!

Zuzana said...

Oh, this was avery entertaining post and i did not need to fasten my seatbelt.;) Particularly the last bit made me laugh out loud.;)
I was brought up every much like you and even today I try to hold back my sneezing when in public, even though I have been told this is not heathy.;)
I do believe that some people over exaggerate their sneezing and I dislike that very much.
There is one guy at work and he gets sneezing attacks. He can sneeze for 30 min straight. It is so annoying I had to leave the lab once as I could not endure it. He claims he can not help but me thinks he only wants some attention.;)
I truly enjoyed this post very much.;)

Nikki (Sarah) said...

this is soooo funny. loved it.

Fitter After 50 said...

What does one say after a post like this? Bless you! :) LOL!

Cool Gal said...

How funny. I've never thought of sneezing this way.

You're right about sneeze number 2 and 3. The "blesser" does begin to get a bit annoyed as well as the "sneezer."

The story about your mister cracks me up. That is SO something mine would do. What is it with men? Are they really that creative??? Abnormal??? LOL!

Joey Lynn Resciniti said...

Why was her head out the window? That's just not safe. Hopefully she learned her lesson!

Sonora said...

HAHAHAHAHA! I can just see her face. That is so so funny. I would have floored it too. Get the heck out of there! You kill me, I have never really thought about sneezing. Once you put it this way, it really does make me think. Especially since I tend to be a multiple sneezer too. But then, I also have the compulsion to say Bless You. If I ever have the good fortune of meeting your in person, I'll be sure to hold in all of my Bless Yous. :)

Shan said...

Oh em gee! Yuck! (I might be laughing, but that doesn't mean I like it.)

I prefer to try doing the pressure point thing to at least delay sneezes. Sure, I look like an idiot for pressing my finger right *there* like that, but whatever.

Joann Mannix said...

I, too, am a triple sneezer, but I don't let the Blessers bless me on that first one, because I yell, "MORE ARE COMING" in between sneezes. Helps all sides of the sneeze.

Your husband's story is gross and hilarious all at the same time. The timing of the universe is perfect, is it not?

The Retired One said...

You had me giggling with this one, especially when you gave reports that you were almost done and coming in for the, love your humor, you goof!

Linda Myers said...

I don't think we can change the way we sneeze.

Mine are usually in the morning, about nine in a row. When I was a kid, my mother used to tell me my sneezes were an attention-getting device!

ds said...

Ha ha HA, and a little bit "ewww." Compliments on your impeccable timing. At yoga last night, we had reached the final, relaxation, silent stage of class when a fellow student let rip with four sneezes in a row. Chorus of Bless Yous. Oh, and the pose we were in is called Corpse...

Thanks for the laughs!!

Jennifer Shirk said...

LOL! I know when you think about it, how did sneezing become so spiritual? LOL

Anonymous said...

For that matter, Betty, why can't we all just bless ourselves if its so bloody important and let everyone else around us off the hook to go find some antibacterial lotion. Are we not equally qualified to give blessings? And do we not bless other people? And should we not do unto ourselves and we would do unto others? Or something like that?

Joanne Olivieri said...

Bless you for making my day yet again. I am one of those sneeze blessers. I grew up learning to bless people when they sneeze.

I had to laugh about HOB sneezing out the window. I have so many times seen people on a bus or streetcar out here stand up and open the window above their seat so they could sneeze out of it. Your story brought back such fond memories. I will never again sneeze or see someone sneeze without thinking of you. And, I will no longer bless them either :D

Shan said...

Tom and I were out (alone!) last night. I attempted to adopt your non-blessing lifestyle, but even when I didn't say it, I thought it. And gave the sneezer a look that told them everything I couldn't say (possibly starting with, "Bossy Betty says...").

Unknown said...

Great post Betty, great laugh. I'm used to hearing the "bless you" and will usually give it when I hear a sneeze nearby. Must be differences in regions.

Congrats on POTW mention!

CiCi said...

I can just imagine the blessings that woman was bestowing on your husband from her wet window in her car! Ha.

Anonymous said...

First off, I have to agree.
And also? You left me laughing!
Great POTW!

Maria said...

Hey, Betty, don't take it personally when a person blesses you for sneezing. It's cultural. They can't help it. Have a heart, they are probably quite embarrassed. Ignore, ignore, ignore!

Moannie said...

Great story, brilliantly told.

JP would be in total agreement with you, but I, as a multiple sneezer every morning [worse in summer of course but winter still brings on allergies]must admit that I would much prefer at least one 'bless you' rather than the irritated 'do shut up' that I usually get.