What do you say when somebody sneezes? Some of you may say “God bless you”. Others will use the Germanism “Gesundheit!” (pronounce: ga-‘zoont-hite), which means health and is a kind wish on the sneezer. How this word made it into American English? Because of the vast numbers of German immigrants, of course.
Don’t ask me how many times in the past months I have wished “Gesundheit!” on somebody. I have had the crud myself for more than four weeks. Sneezing is usually the start of something bigger. And that is exactly where this kind wish comes from. In the Medieval Ages, the plague raged through the world and decimated its population. “Gesundheit!” was meant as a blessing to the sick, same as the wish “God bless you” and similar reactions in other languages.
It is quite interesting that at some time about a decade ago, though, the thought occurred that the person saying “Gesundheit” was actually wishing it on themselves. Thus, the wishing of “Gesundheit” suddenly was tainted by egotism. Which also makes me wonder what other rules of etiquette suddenly get the touch of self-servicing. The world is turning stranger and stranger.
The long and short of it is that, according to the Stuttgarter Zeitung, the biggest of my birth town’s newspapers, new rules have been established about sneezing in Germany. First of all, the person who sneezed has to apologize – for interrupting whatever process was interrupted by the sound and for spreading germs. If the sneezing happens in a meeting, nobody should say anything. Imagine if somebody sneezed in Congress and every single polite person wished “Gesundheit!” What an interruption would THAT cause! So, silence it is. Also, nobody who has hay fever and sneezes ten times in a row expects a “Gesundheit!” each and every time.
Whereas a decade ago ignoring the sneezer was the thing to do, rules have slackened again. Nowadays, it’s considered empathic to wish the sneezer “Gesundheit!”, even in a small group. And if you can offer a tissue to the sneezer, you are the bee’s knees.
That being said, there even used to be an Australian puzzle video game called Gesundheit! in Australia in this millennium’s early teens. Here is a trailer:
And you might be aware of the American Gesundheit! Institute founded by Hunter Doherty “Patch” Adams in 1971 – indeed, the one whom famous actor Robin Williams played in the movie. Adams believes that “the health of an individual cannot be separated from the health of the family, community, and the world” (thus a quote from Wikipedia) – Gesundheit in this case is a holistic concept.
I have found an English nursery song called “Gesundheit!” as well.
Having finally recovered from the sneezes (and the even more annoying coughing), I can finally put a lid on 2023’s nasty surprises (this one having been timely to ruin our Christmas and New Year’s plans …). Hopefully, you all stay in good health in 2024. One of my first go-to remedies after the first sneeze is usually some chicken soup made from scratch to boost the immune system. I don’t know anybody who would sneeze at that. You?
A sneeze usually precedes a longer period of sickness. (Photo: Brittany Colette @https://unsplash.com/)
Home-made chicken soup is my way of wishing my husband “Gesundheit!”