is it wrong to say “bless you” when a coworker sneezes?

A reader writes:

What are your thoughts about saying “bless you” at work? I work in a high-walled cubicle (we can’t see each other, but the walls are very thin) and say “bless you” to my coworker when she sneezes. She is sick quite often (at least once a month) or has allergies or something, so I’ve said “bless you” enough to notice that she never responds. It’s making me wonder if saying “bless you” isn’t appropriate to say in the workplace because of its religious origins. What else should I say? Or should I just not say anything? (Seems rude to me.)

You have to be really picky to be offended by someone saying “bless you” after a sneeze. It’s a polite social convention — not you literally bestowing them with a blessing from God. For most people, it’s a reflex and one based in good intent.

However, it’s possible that her frequent sneezing is embarrassing or annoying for her, and she’s trying to make it as unobtrusive as possible, for both her and others … which could lead to her silence after your “bless you” and could also mean she’d be appreciative if you stopped acknowledging it each time too.

Personally, if I was wondering about it, I’d just ask her: “Hey, is it annoying that I’m always saying ‘bless you’ when you sneeze?” Problem solved.

{ 129 comments… read them below }

  1. Tami

    There was a lady that I worked with that sneezed constantly. We were constantly blessing her. She finally said, jokingly, “I know I sneeze a lot, just give me a ‘blanket bless you’ for the day.” You could turn it around and say to your co-worker, “Sally, I’m just going to give you a ‘blanket bless you’ for the day so I don’t drive you crazy by blessing you all day.”

    1. AnotherAdmin

      @Tami – one of my former coworkers was the same way – she sneezed constantly during allergy season. Usually I would say “bless you” on her first sneeze, and the “blanket bless you!” on her second sneeze b/c she got as tired of hearing it as I was of saying it.

    2. mh_76

      I’ve said something like that. I don’t remember the exact wording but essentially said “bless you” for the whole string of sneezes.

      As for why people say “bless you”, it’s just one of those inane but considered-to-be-polite things that people say… like “have a nice day”.

    3. Tami M

      LOLOL I was going to say the same thing, even before I finished reading the OP’s letter. LOL

      I too have worked with a few people with allergies, and saying a ‘blanket Bless You’ not only kept me from annoying them, but it also let them know that I acknowledged their sneeze(s).

      Some people will sneeze and wait to see who says something, be it ‘Bless You’ or ‘Gesundheit’, and feel ignored if they don’t get a response, so I always try to respond. I’ll even do it in the grocery store when they’re an isle away. ;) (I’ll usually hear a Thank Youuuu…) But I ALWAYS wait until they finish sneezing, and say it only once. :)

      1. Long Time Admin

        I even find myself saying “bless you” to my dogs when they sneeze. My mom kind of over-trained me with the common courtesies.

        1. Jamie

          There is a corner at my work I bump into a couple of times a week – I say excuse me every single time I bump into this completely inanimate thing.

          I say please and thank you to automated voice prompts.

          It’s just conditioning.

          1. 194629

            Don’t worry, I do it all the time also. I once bumped into a lamp and said sorry. I also complimented a stuffed animal. I talk to inanimate objects a lot.

    4. Kat

      I also agree with the blanket bless you. I used to have a co-worker who would sneeze no less than 5 in a row so we’d joke about how our bless you was meant for every sneeze after the first.

      Also I wonder if maybe the OP’s co-worker may be wearing headphones? I say that because at my office 99% of us in our area wear headphones while working. So sometimes a bless you isn’t acknowledged because it’s not herd. I remember when I first started, sneezing a few times and no one acknowledged, and I have to say I felt a little surprised, but then I realized everyone had their headphones on. This was also my cue that it was okay to actually wear them while working.

    5. Rebecca

      Haha, I did that with a coworker with bad allergies. We had a laugh and even now I’ll say “Bless you” the first time she sneezes and add, “That’s for the whole day!”

  2. Monique C.

    I usually say “bless you” if they sneeze once or twice out of habit, but I don’t really expect an acknowledgement of it.

  3. Chocolate Teapot

    “God Bless You” would be a bit uncomfortable, but then I always thought it was bad luck to say thank you afterwards as it meant you acknowledged you had the plague and were going to die!

  4. Anonymous

    I have allergies and sometimes I sneeze up a storm. People at work were constantly blessing me, so I finally told them a “bless you” a day was sufficient! Now everyone says it to me once in the morning and will follow it with “That’s it for the day!”

  5. Emm

    I HATE when people say “bless you” at work. Especially when people interrupt themselves or others (like in meetings) to do it. Sneezing is a perfectly normal bodily function; we don’t need to all draw attention to it.

    If I were the OP, I’d just stop saying it. It’s not rude at all, I promise.

    1. Rin

      That’s what I was going to say. I don’t say anything after a sneeze, cough, fart or hiccup. The only time I’ll regret it is if I find myself in some recreation of that one scene in “Dogma.”

    2. Ariancita

      I agree. Yes, it’s a social convention, but it’s a weird one. And a particularly American one. I’ve gotten used to not hearing it as I worked a lot abroad and in very multicultural settings here. But recently I had someone say that to me after a sneeze and it made me do a double-take. It was weird. I forgot if I was supposed to answer it with a thank you or ignore it. I find it weird in that you’re acknowledging a body function dealing with bodily fluids and in that it does have some religious overtones, no matter that it’s a convention.

    3. Jenny

      I think ‘bless you’ (or gesundheit, etc.) is one of the simplest and easiest ways to keep that sort of heads-down, anonymous feeling out of the workplace. But I’m a fan of anything that takes away that ‘cube-farm’ feeling.

    4. Janet

      I’m in that camp. In allergy season I sneeze a lot and it’s annoying as hell to hear 8 million bless you’s. Especially since the whole origin of the phrase is weird and unnecessary. If someone says one Bless You, I am not terribly offended or anything but there’s always someone who thinks it’s their comedy routine to say “Bless you again!” after the many consecutive sneezes. It’s weird.

      1. Emily

        I’m an absolute wreck during spring allergy season, and I hear “bless you” a couple of times a day: if I sneeze within someone’s immediate company, from a coworker who sits in an adjacent office maybe just once a day, or from someone who sits farther away if I’ve had one of those sneezing fits. There’s just sort of an unspoken rule that once a day is sufficient and it’s not required at all. It never occurred to me to be annoyed by it. I interpret it as a reflex, or as a sympathetic response, if anything (“I know this time of year is terrible for you and there’s not much you or I can do about it, but I hope you feel better!”) I usually say “thanks” back, but if I’m really not feeling well, I do just pretend I haven’t heard them. If it’s gotten to the point where the OP is making herself uncomfortable with her habitual response to her coworker’s involuntary sneezes, it would be fine and normal to ignore them from now on.

      1. Rana

        Yup. I grew up saying “gesundheit” rather than “bless you,” and it’s completely a reflex. But if someone sneezes more than a couple of times in a row the reflex dies pretty quickly. I also don’t really expect a response.

    5. Sharon

      Co-signed!

      The only time I’d ever do anything to acknowledge a sneeze is if it’s the kind of marathon sneezing fit that leaves the sneezer light-headed.

  6. Jim aka Evil Skippy

    In the world of cubicles, I like the “Let’s Pretend The Walls Are Sound Proof” system. If a Sneeze-a-Thon happens from the other side of the cubicle wall — you did not hear a thing. If you are with the sneezer when the sneeze explodes — go ahead and bless ’em (once per day — I like that suggestion, too).

    If someone is offended because you say “Bless you” in response to a sneeze, send them to therapy. And hand them a tissue.

    1. EM

      ‘In the world of cubicles, I like the “Let’s Pretend The Walls Are Sound Proof” system. If a Sneeze-a-Thon happens from the other side of the cubicle wall — you did not hear a thing’

      This, exactly. I have indoor and outdoor allergies, so I sneeze all the time. Usually at least once a day, more likely multiple times a day. Cubicles have little enough privacy as it is, and I don’t like being reminded that my frequent sneezes are noticed and remarked upon.

  7. Anonymous

    I actually had a co-worker who was, shall we say, devoutly atheistic. He did take offense whenever someone said bless you, so I switched to saying gesundheit (German for “health”) when he sneezed. Its not religious, and it could even be construed as “don’t let me catch that.”

    1. John

      +1 for “gesundheit.” I am non-religious and it also is a low level annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless, when people say “bless you” to me.

      1. Andrea

        Agreed. I generally don’t acknowledge other people’s sneezing–maybe because I don’t want them to notice mine!–but I don’t think “bless you” is appropriate. If I ever do acknowledge, I just say “gesundheit,” which is what my dad always says, so I guess I was raised with that. But then again, I have known and worked with some people who did in fact say this to mean a literal blessing from God. (Maybe AAM has not encountered people like that.) And even if that’s not what is really meant, that is in fact what is being said, so it probably is better to use it around close personal friends or church friends, not for professional colleagues.

        1. TheSnarkyB

          I agree. I sometimes say “salud” (meaning “health” in Spanish) because it’s my second language and to mix it up.
          (That’s code for… I sound like an idiot when i pronounce it “Gu-zoon-tite”)

    2. mh_76

      Good grief. I’m atheist* and I don’t find it offensive at all if someone says “bless you” when I sneeze. I know, the custom has a religious origin but…give me a break… and the Pledge of Allegiance didn’t bother me either when I had to say it in school. Both are inane traditions that are now devoid of the religious overtones they once had, despite the words still used. That cry-baby co-worker really needs Therapy urgently.
      * (though respectful of religions etc)

      1. Laura L

        I disagree about the Pledge. It’s not some old hangover from the 1200s (or whenever bless you became a thing). The phrase “under god” was inserted in the 1950s to specifically refer to the US as a religious and Christian nation. It was largely to differentiate the US from the “godless” USSR, but people still view it as a religious thing, which is why there’s so much backlash against getting rid of it.

        As an aside, it didn’t bother me as a kid because I didn’t think about stuff like that, but it sure bothers me now.

  8. Charles

    Is it possible that she doesn’t hear the OP’s “bless you”? Afterall, she did just sneeze and her senses are temporaily “on hold” and might not have heard anything.

  9. Sabrina

    I had a coworker that I blessed a lot for his sneezes and he also never acknowledged them, but most people at my work have earbuds in and are listening to music or podcasts. So he never heard my bless yous so I just stopped.

    As for frequent sneezing, I used to give a coworker a monthly bless you because of how often she sneezed.

  10. Cassi

    I guess you’d consider me picky. I’m not at all religious and I absolutely hate it when people say “Bless you” to me or “God bless you”. It comes from people thinking the soul is escaping the body through the sneeze, so people would “bless” them (actually say something like “to your health”) just to be safe for superstitious reasons. Whether or not that’s correct, I do not need anyone to bless me regardless of my health conditions. I also do not acknowledge any blessings after a sneeze beyond an annoyed smile. If they want to bless the whole world, let them. But I’m not going to waste my breathe thanking them for their wasted breath. Get it: the whole world is not christian/the whole world is not religious. It’s disrespectful to me as a person to assume I’m of your own ridiculous superstitious beliefs, whether or not it’s a ridiculous social custom. :)

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      “It comes from people thinking the soul is escaping the body through the sneeze”

      But that’s exactly the point. Obviously the people saying “bless you” aren’t concerned that your soul might escape your body, so they aren’t actually invoking God or blessings or religion. The phrase has simply become a social nicety, like reflexively saying “how are you” when you run into someone, even though you don’t actually expect or want a recitation of their kidney stones, flat tire, and irritating boss.

      1. Andrea

        I once asked a colleague how she was when we ran into each other in the break room. She was a fairly new colleague. She told me that she was “blessed” and that the lord loved her and me and every person and that’s why it was so great to be alive and be able to praise him. I never, ever asked “how are you” to her again, but I certainly had to bite my tongue not to say it a few times, because it was such a habit.

        1. Andrea

          Just wanted to say that I’m a different Andrea from the one at 2:17 below me. I need a new name on here.

      2. Andrea

        But that “social nicety” is rooted in superstition and religion, which is a problem for some of us. It’s really _not_ the same as “How you are”, because of its origins. Same problem with “Merry Christmas” – sure, it’s become social convention to wish someone MC, and it’s (probably) not meant to offend, but it still assumes that someone shares your religious viewpoint when they very easily might not. It’s also like calling something “gay” instead of stupid, irritating, or annoying (or whatever other negative trait you’re thinking of). It is social convention now, but does that mean it’s OK? I don’t think so.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I’m Jewish and I’m not offended by people wishing me a merry Christmas. Nor would I be offended by being told “Allah be with you” by someone Muslim. It’s a social custom; people say it reflexively to convey good will toward you.

          I really don’t think you can compare that to using the word “gay” in a pejorative way.

          1. TheSnarkyB

            I agree that they can’t be compared, AAM.
            However, it seems like there is a lot of conversation on this site that revolves around stuff like this. I’m wondering: would you ever be open to writing a post about power & privilege in the work place? I’m thinking it would be a really great way to acknowledge some of the differences that systematically come up. I don’t know if that’s too much social justice for a neutral space, but this notion of comparing and power and privileged/dominant identities has come up a lot (I’m thinking of women bringing food to work/interviews & drinking versus praying at office functions & expecting employees to give to office philanthropy when they might not be able to afford it, etc) I’ve often appreciated your comments on it but I would love to see a larger scale post about the subject in general. (Just a thought)

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Thanks for suggesting it! I actually like letting it come up organically in response to questions about specific situations people are dealing with — I guess mainly because I like to write (and read) that stuff more than I like writing/reading theoretical treatises :)

          2. Cube Ninja

            Were I to hear someone say “bless you” in my staff, I wouldn’t think twice about it despite the fact that I personally think it’s a little weird.

            Given that I have at least one member of my staff that’s openly gay, that word being used in a “social convention” styled manner would likely result in my having a closed-doors conversation with someone that wouldn’t be exceptionally friendly.

            Also, I adamantly disagree that it’s a social convention. Using the word “gay” to refer to $thing in a negative way is no more appropriate than the wide variety of racial slurs out there.

              1. mh_76

                (sort-of an aside)
                …but it’s only within the past 60ish years that “gay” and other words came to be used as homophobic slurs. Gay once meant happy. F– once referred to a cigarette. F—-t once meant a bunch of twigs. Fagotte is still German for Bassoon.

                1. mh_76

                  I guess I should clarify my point… over time, meanings of words & phrases change drastically. In addition to the changed words above, “Bless you” now means that I’m robotically acknowledging your sneeze(s) because I was taught in very early childhood that I’m supposed to do that intead of “omigod your soul’s trying to escape! I’ll bestow a blessing upon you and hope that stops the attempted escape”.

        2. jmkenrick

          Playing devil’s advocate here, a lot of our social niceties grew out of religious conventions – even the etymology of the word “goodbye” suggests that it originates from a religious saying. It would be extremely difficult to purge our culture of all sayings and conventions that once had a religious overtures.

          1. fposte

            Yup, exactly. That doesn’t mean it’s always clear-cut on what terms have transitioned enough through time to move away from their earlier meanings, but we all use tons of terms that *have* done so, whether we’re talking religious origin or other issues. “Bless you” is generally said is as reflexive as the “Thanks, you too” you say when somebody wishes you something nice, even if it was “Have a nice birthday”–it’s just the social noise that gets made. (And honestly, as an atheist, I really don’t care if anybody wishes to actually bless me as long as they don’t make me listen to anything more than that.)

        3. Anonymous

          When it comes to the whole ‘holiday/Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa’ debate:

          Imagine you’re at the United Nations, walking down the hallway, presumably with no interpreter. You speak English as your first language.

          Another person approaches. You’d like to say ‘hello,’ and if you knew what language that person spoke, you’d say ‘hello’ in their language if you knew how. So you’d greet the German ambassador with “Guten Tag” or the French ambassador with “Bon Jour.” If you didn’t know their language, you’d probably go with “Hello.”

          And they’d know that you meant to convey a social nicety, and probably wouldn’t get upset that you didn’t do it in Finnish or Flemish or what have you.

          If I saw Alison in December, I’d get her autograph and then maybe say, “Happy Hanukkah.” But if I didn’t know I might say, “Merry Christmas” and she’d understand that’s my language for conveying my wishes for a nice December.

          I celebrate Christmas in the full-on religious way, and I’ve been in groups where someone thought it was appropriate to say “Happy Hanukkah” to me. And I knew what they meant, so it was okay.

  11. Charles

    Wow, just wow, is all that I can say about those who are posting here about how they “hate” someone saying “bless you.”

    There are a lot of things to hate in this world; But, someone trying to be nice shouldn’t be one of them.

    1. Student

      Would you feel the same if that “polite social convention” was something like “Allah save you!” or “Buddha’s nose hairs!” That’s how it is for atheists – you’re invoking a specifically religious convention for someone who doesn’t belong to that religion. I think it’s a bit sad you can’t empathize with minority religious groups at all over this. Personally, as a non-Christian, I think it’s best to graciously accept the thought and politely ignore the specifics, but not everyone follows my particular philosophy.

      Also, I take it you’ve never met someone who follows the practice out of genuine superstition rather than social convention. In those cases, it can be like talking to someone about horoscopes – I don’t believe in it, and I really don’t want to discuss it. I’ll try to gently deter those folks who think it’s some sort of soul-related imperative to chant it for every last sneeze, even when my sneeze frequency is clearly too high to make that approach sensible. socially acceptable, or polite.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I’m a minority religious group and I still see it as a social nicety that isn’t about religion — or “accept the thought and ignore the specifics,” as you put it. Honestly, I’m a big defender of religious minorities in the workplace, and I understand that argument that one time long ago (like thousands of years ago, not the recent past) this was rooted in religion, but this just seems like looking for something to be offended by.

        1. Chinook

          Thank you for voicing that. As a practicing Catholic, I have never been offended by blessings/greetings from other cultural/language backgrounds (and in Canada the language issue can be as politically fraught as religion). I appreciate that I am acknowledged in a way that is respectful in their culture and doesn’t mean that I am a lesser person. After all, why should I be treated differently from those around them just because I am different (as long as I among actively being asked to deny my own beliefs)? After all, being part of a multicultural society means we acknowledge all the cultures, including both the dominant and founding cultures, doesn’t it?

          1. Bill

            Agreed. Why should I become upset if someone wishes me something good, even if I suspect them of believing in medieval sneeze-demons, or even if I don’t agree with their worldview? We are all human beings, more alike than we are different, and we can all learn to accept the polite gestures of others with goodwill.

      2. Charles

        All I said was that there are better things in this world to hate than someone wishing you well, and Student here decides that I have no empathy for others.

        Now THAT”s sad.

        1. Laura L

          Also an atheist. I say bless you. It’s so far from it’s religious meaning that it’s not worth worrying about. Yes, language matters, but I’m not going to waste my time on the convention of saying “bless you.”

      3. Nikki

        My coworker is Jewish, sometimes I forget and wish her Merry Christmas, she’ll wish me a Happy Hanukkah in return… we’ll smile at each other and move on.
        I imagine most people mean absolutely no harm.
        I’ve had cashiers wish me a Happy Hanukkah, I smile, its just a wish for a nice season.
        I mean, can we not accept happy thoughts because they are different than how we believe/feel/etc.

      4. fposte

        Deter it because of the sneeze frequency, by all means, but I think you’re misunderstanding the impulse behind the saying. It’s not necessarily a sign of deity invocation any more than somebody who calls a female a “woman” is doing it to make her ancillary to man, which is what it etymologically means. I mean, I say “Goddammit” a lot, and I can assure you that it’s not because I’ve suddenly found the error of my atheist ways–it’s just a good, solid, linguistically successful swear.

    2. Ariancita

      I don’t hate it. I think it’s weird and unnecessary to draw even more attention to my expelling of bodily fluids. It’s embarrassing enough on it’s own, thanks. :)

  12. Sophie

    That brings to mind another question – do you have to say “thank you” every time someone remarks at your sneeze (using either “bless you” or “gesunheidt”)? OP’s coworker may feel compelled to say “thank you” each time – many people do – and therefore would just rather not say anything at all instead of a million thank yous.

    I haven’t said/received a “bless you” or anything else in such a long time, it’s a little odd for me to hear it. Not wrong, just odd. I prefer to not comment on the sneeze at all because it draws attention to that person that they may not want. Of course, I have known the opposite, what I call “attention sneezers”.

    1. The Other Dawn

      I always thank people who take the time to say, “Bless you.” I even thank my husband. I just think it’s polite.

    2. Andrea

      I sneeze a lot. And I blow my nose a lot. I can’t help it. I take allergy medication and it helps tremendously, but I still sneeze a lot. I cover my nose and mouth and try to muffle the sound. I frankly perfer that no one mention it. I mean, I don’t really want to have conversations about my bodily functions. One time, several years ago, I needed to blow my nose at work, so I went to the bathroom to do it. When I came out, a colleague said “Wow! I thought you were playing a trumpet in there!” He and several others thought it was hilarious to call me Louie (after Louis Armstrong) after that. Now, if I were really shy or self-conscious, I might have been upset or embarrassed by that, but as it is, I was just kind of annoyed at the immaturity. I mean, I had to blow the hell out of my nose, I was as considerate as I could be and went to another room to do it, and somehow this is worthy of attention and comment from others? This is the kind of nonsense that makes me grateful that I work from home.

      1. Emily

        Now that’s awful. 1) I dislike dopey nicknames, especially when they’re based on something unflattering or unfavorable, which they usually are; 2) I especially dislike dopey nicknames in an office setting; 3) I don’t think anybody should ever comment to anybody else about what goes on inside the office bathroom. That you excused yourself there to blow your nose clearly meant that you wanted privacy (as well as to be considerate). He shouldn’t have acknowledged that he heard anything, let alone turned it into a running gag.

      2. Ariancita

        Yes, this is exactly how I feel about it. I’m not going to say thank you for something I’d rather they didn’t do. Fine if they want to do it, but I’m not going to thank them for drawing more attention to my bodily fluids. And there’s the other side of this: when someone sneezes and then expects you to say “bless you” and think you’re sort of impolite for not doing it. Nope–I’m happy to sit through that pregnant moment of expectancy and not deliver. :)

      3. Anonymous

        This! I grew up with teachers and classmates who thought my severe allergies and constant nose-blowing were either a) hilarious and to be made fun of, or b) something I could control and was doing for attention. I still remember my mother having to go to school and explain to my teacher, who’d reprimanded me in front of the class for sneezing and blowing my nose too often, that it was, in fact, a medical issue and not something I was doing to intentionally disrupt class!

        So yeah, while I don’t find “bless you” offensive in itself, I’d really rather co-workers ignore my sneezing during allergy season (and all body functions at any time, for that matter).

        1. Laura L

          Ugh. People are so annoying about allergies. I’ve known people who think it’s all “in my head” or that I shouldn’t take medication for it. Seriously? I don’t want to be sneezy, and headachy, and tired all day, I’ll take the medicine, thank you very much.

      4. Jamie

        Oh wow! I am not easily shocked, but that someone would comment about a sound heard from behind a bathroom door is just astounding.

        This is why all bathrooms should be sound proofed and installing a silent ceiling fan should be punishable by death.

        Although I am glad you’re secure enough to be annoyed and not embarrassed that’s still no excuse for your co-worker forgetting his manners in his other pants.

        1. Andrea

          Well, I know now that I should have said and done something about it, though, because someone else might not have been so secure or might have been upset by it. And he was way out of line and should have been corrected. Who knows what else he might have thought it was reasonable to tease someone about? But it was one of those situations where I already had one foot out the door, and I was not all that interested in what might happen after I left.

  13. Student

    I propose this set of brand-new sneeze rules:

    “Blessings” should be accepted in the spirit in which they are given – if you don’t like the sentiment, discourage it with a smile instead of a snarl. Try to understand it’s nearly automatic for some people, and try not to make it any bigger a deal than the original sneeze was.

    “Blessings” should be limited to once per sneeze-attack, or once per hour at most. Preferably, limit it to once per day per person. Once you start chanting for every single sneeze, you step over from “polite social custom” to “obnoxiously drawing attention to someone shooting goo from their nose” and the nice gesture becomes annoying. Do you hope the other person feels better, or do you want attention for your amazing sneeze-accounting skills?

    1. Anonymous

      Hearing “bless you” does not immediately conjure up religious connotations for me – “blessings” would. Regardless of these sayings or Gesundheit or Salud, my answer is thank you!

  14. HR Gorilla

    My ex-husband is a master of the blaring, trumpeting nose-blow–and he takes no pains to hide it. At the dinner table? Sure! At the dinner table, in a nice restaurant with me and my parents? He honks away. I shall now refer to him as “Louie” (which is immature, yes, but also hilarious). If he insists on subjecting everyone to the ejection of his bodily fluids at the dinner table, he can wear the nickname with pride. ;)

    1. mh_76, fan of Louis A. & Jazz

      Please don’t insult the Great Louis Armstrong that way. As he’s your ex-, hopefully you won’t be stuck sharing any more meals with him.

  15. Scott M

    As much as it pains me to admit it, this was the ONE good thing that I learned at a 3-day, excruciating, ‘team building’ shindig: “Always assume good intentions.”

    Or my personal translation: “When someone does something that pisses me off, they probably didn’t do it on purpose”

    Now, I’m a (closet) atheist, and I chuckle inwardly when ever someone says ‘Bless You’. But I always just assume its a reflex, not an attempt to indoctrinate me into their superstitious world.

    Just makes the day go by easier.

    1. Jamie

      This. I can be easily annoyed, but it takes a lot to rise to the level of offending me because for me to be offended I would have to think it was deliberate.

      Even the most Machiavellian of co-workers would have a hard time putting real malice behind a response to sneezing.

      On the subject of annoying co-workers in response to maladies, though…can issue an edict to stop asking if someone is “okay” unless there is copious bloodshed or visible bone? I get migraines so well meaning really wonderful people ask me if I’m okay if I so much as rub my eyes or squint (which is something I do to keep from rolling my eyes at people…so there are a lot of false migraine alerts for me out there.)

      Asking is someone is okay should only be done if you can do something about it if the answer is now. Pity isn’t helpful – jokes which turn out to be really helpful are, though.

      On Saturday we came in to do this intense semi-annual project which is unofficially known around here as “Jamie’s Headache.” So when I got in my boss had left for me a coconut donut (which is the traditional offering) and a pack of Mentholatum Well Patch Migraine Cooling Patches as a joke. This little strip of gel on what looks like a bandage which is scented with menthol and lavender oil and stays cool and sticks to forehead, neck, whatever.

      The joke was funny, but the product is amazing. Had a serious headache today and they really work – you don’t have to freeze them or anything. Talk about a new permanent addition to my desk drawer. I know some other commenters have migraines also, so I thought I would share.

  16. Kat M

    Not an answer to the question, but a funny related story.:

    I was working in a daycare center with toddlers, when the other teacher in the room sneezed. I said “Bless you.”

    Naturally, one of the nearly-3-year-olds in the room repeated what I said: “Bless you!”

    “James,” I said, “Do you know why we just said ‘Bless you?'”

    “No.”

    “It’s because Ms. Tara just sneezed. When somebody sneezes, it’s polite to say something. You can either say ‘Bless you,’ or you can say ‘Gesundheit.'”

    He thought about that, then answered, “And my daddy can say, ‘COVER YOUR MOUTH!'”

    I almost died laughing.

    1. Jamie

      Also not relevant to the bless you issue – but funny work related sneezing story.

      When temping I worked next to a lovely woman who, whenever she sneezed (which was daily) sneezed 12 times. Not 11, not 13 – always 12. She said she this was something that she’s dealt with her entire life – no idea why.

      It would have been a part time job in and of itself to bless her for each sneeze.

      1. jmkenrick

        I always sneeze twice in a row. My coworker finds this hilarious. I have no idea why. But 12 – that blows me out of the water.

        1. Andrea

          I have always sneezed in threes. And I was much, much older than I should have been when I finally noticed that not everyone sneezes in threes.

      2. Andrew

        I can relate–I always sneeze at least 5 times in a row, and my all-time record was 14 ( I always count). For me I suspect it’s genetic as my grandmother did exactly the same.

        It is incredibly irritating when someone who thinks they’re being funny reels off an equivalent string of “bless you’s”. This happens more often than you might think.

    2. Laura L

      Ha! You should send that story into Reader’s Digest. It sounds like something they’d publish and you get money if they publish it!

  17. Kris

    blesssing .. noun… a special favor, mercy, or benefit
    While I do agree that this began with a religious context the word to bless is not neccisarily religious. The way it is used and ingrained in children is the same that saying please, thank you, and excuse me are. That’s my opinion at least.

    1. Ariancita

      A blessing is also a herd of unicorns. So maybe people can start saying, “Unicorn!” when someone sneezes.

  18. Anonymous

    People had come to say “God Bless You” when someone sneezes because sneezing actually causes your heart to skip a beat – which could potentially be dangerous (potentially even though it’s rare when sneezing).

    Some people get offended when one leaves out God in the saying because people don’t bless, God does.

    I sometimes say the German word for it (sorry, I don’t know the proper spelling of the word) which means “Good health.”

  19. Jeanne

    I worked with 3 other people in a shared office. One day one flipped out on me because I didn’t say Bless You to her even though I was a Christian. I didn’t say bless you to anyone. I find it a little silly. But I was really surprised she was offended that I didn’t say it.

  20. Nanani

    Any chance she has a different cultural background than the OP?
    Where I live, it’s considered more polite NOT to draw attention to the sneeze, so there is no equivalent to “Bless you”, religious or otherwise, in the language.

    Just a thought.

  21. Kate

    I didn’t read through all these comments, but I have terrible allergies, and I work in the same type of cubicle environment. The woman that works across from me “blesses me” every. single. time. I sneeze. Like 50 times a day. It’s so annoying.

    I know she’s being nice but it drives me up the wall. Just food for thought :)

  22. Cassie

    I don’t think most Asian cultures have a phrase like “bless you”, at least not traditionally. So if most of your coworkers are Asian (immigrants), it’s likely they wouldn’t say anything at all. Having grown up in the US, it’s funny to see that difference – when I hear someone sneeze and nobody says anything, it feels awkward. Like we’re waiting for something to happen.

    At work, we do say “bless you” over the cubicle walls when someone sneezes. We do tend to pause a moment, just in case the person is a multiple sneezer. Once in a while, I won’t say “bless you” – and if it’s one of the guys that sneezed, he’ll say “I guess I have to bless myself then”. And we always say “thank you” in response to the bless yous.

    My former supervisor (an older lady) would say “excuse me” everytime she sneezed. Was that the etiquette back in the day? Would you then say “bless you” after she says “excuse me” or do you ignore the sneeze?

    1. Jules

      I am probably of the same generation as your “older lady” supervisor . I was also taught to say “excuse me” after I sneeze. The script goes like this- I sneeze, I say “Excuse me”. You say “Bless you” or “Gesundheit”. I say ” Thank you”.

      1. Anonymous

        I’m 43, does that make me an older lady? I always says “Excuse me” when I sneeze, burp, hiccup, etc. I was surprised as I was reading the comments that it took this long to come up in the conversation. The funny thing is that my husband always says “Bless you” after I say “excuse me.” So my burps get blessed quite frequently too. He’s sweet.

      2. Tami M

        As an ‘older lady’ myself, ;) Jules, you hit the nail smack dab on the head. Hubby & I follow the same protocol….Sneeze==>Excuse Me==>Bless You==>Thank You==>You’re Welcome.

        Anonymouse, in my family, for burps it goes…Burp==>Exuse Me==>PIG! LOLOLOL :D

  23. Leon Sparrow

    Really? You all have nothing better to do? To stop you all from wasting any more precious time, saying bless you came from England during the plague. Sneezing was a sign of being infected and therefore people would “bless you” if you sneezed. Now get on with your lives.

      1. fposte

        And actually, now that I think about it, that at least indicates we don’t have to worry about its being a Christian tradition if Tiberius did it :-).

        1. Anonymous

          I enjoyed the last few paragraphs of that little snopes explanation. All of the athiests complaining that they find “bless you” offensive should read it!

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Me too! For people who don’t feel like clicking through, here’s what it says:

            “These days, one says “Bless you!” because it is expected, not out of concern for the wellbeing of the sneezer’s soul or heart, a need to disassociate oneself from the dying, or envy for another’s presumed luck. We do it because we’ve been taught this is an obligatory response whose omission would seem glaring. We “bless” out of a desire to not be perceived as impolite, a perception that would take root if the sneeze were to be received in silence.

            In the final analysis, it may not be as much about souls leaping out or demons clawing to get in as it is about simple human acknowledgement of another’s presence.”

            1. Charles

              ” . . . it is about simple human acknowledgement of another’s presence.”

              AMEN!

              Oh, wait, – “amen” – that will twist more folks knickers into a Gordian knot. Sorry! (naa, not really)

  24. Lynda

    In one workplace if you sneezed twice, a colleague said “One more of those and you can go home”!

  25. Brightwanderer

    Wait, what’s she supposed to say? I’ve always heard that you’re not supposed to say “thank you” because it undoes the blessing, or something. I’m not religious – or superstitious in this area – but do tend to say “bless you” automatically – but I wouldn’t expect someone to respond and would be a bit confused if they did.

  26. Jess

    I’d agree with the folks who think your coworker might be embarrassed that she sneezes so much. I have allergies and sneeze a lot, and sometimes I do get embarrassed when my cube-mates keep on acknowledging it with a “bless you” every single time when it’s my 10th sneeze of the hour. I know they mean well, and it doesn’t keep me from saying thank you–but I do secretly wish that they’d stop! Could definitely be what’s going on here.

  27. OP

    Whew! Lots of replies! Thank you for responding. :)

    I’m not really offended at the lack of reply to my “bless you,” I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t making a huge err in judgement by saying it. (Although there seem to be many different opinions on this.)

    Based on everyone’s replies, I think I’ll just stay quiet and not say anything. Especially since, in most cases, it seems like the bless you isn’t expected. Who knows, maybe my neighbor will think I’ve started wearing headphones and don’t hear the sneezes anymore — a more comfortable situation for both of us!

  28. Nathan A.

    Say “bless you” if you feel inclined.

    If they are offended, apologize, and move along = )

  29. Jojo

    I actually hate it when people say ‘bless you’ after I sneeze, but for a very different reason. I normally sneeze twice, and when I hear ‘bless you’, I automatically feel the need to say ‘thank you’ and that somehow cancels by second sneeze. And you know how annoying it is when it happens.

  30. Anonymous

    Being bothered when someone says “Bless you” = 1st world problem. Geez! Get help.

  31. Anonymous

    A “blanket bless you” … thank you for the thought. This is a thought to consider for next time. Thank you.

  32. Mogs

    It’s really provincial to say, “Bless you.” The reasoning is that it is rude to call attention to the fact that the person has emitted body fluids. In addition, some are annoyed by using religious imagery on persons whose religion you do not know. My advice, if you ever find yourself in polite, upper-class company, don’t say, “Bless you”; just have the courtesy not to notice that the person has sneezed.

  33. Anonymous

    “Bless you” is not necessary a religious thing.
    I take it that people say that based on whatever they believe in, wishing that “bless you” as long as long as no deity name was provided.
    People receiving the “Bless you” can feel the gap up with whatever is relevant to them. :-)
    God, Nature, Yahee, Krishna, Zeus, Piece of stone or wood…whatever…
    The idea behind the expression does not belong to a RELIGION.

  34. Snotrag

    I think it’s the stupidist thing in the world to say “bless you” or anything else like that after someone sneezes. It’s meaningless.

  35. Cindy

    My co-worker says ‘bless you’ every time I sneeze and during allergy season I sneeze often. Sorry, I can’t help it, I am rarely out sick (much less often than him) and do take allergy medicine. I’ve told him I appreciate the thought but if he feels he must say it then once a day will suffice. He said he won’t stop and he kinda giggles every time. So he knows I don’t want him to do it and I’ve told him I feel like I am interrupting him. It is just pissing me off at this point. I don’s say it to him because I don’t believe in the sentiment.

  36. Zack

    As an atheist it bugs me that people say bless you. How would you like it if you sneezed and I said “May science help you”?

  37. Philip Bourdon

    I will eventually give a very different perspective. First, for those that sneeze often/multiple times, it must become annoying for all that attention to something unpleasant. To hear choruses of “god bless you” can not only become annoying but it reveals that the response is no more than an automatic one with usually no sincere desire or intent to offer blessings.

    I take giving or receiving blessings seriously. To the person above who said only god blesses has not read a bible with much retention. To offer a blessing is a special, wonderful INTENT. I sincerely feel that this rote, automatic response has no intent outside if a mindless response that is customary.

    Question. How many blessings have the “god bless you” crowd given without a sneeze being heard? If you haven’t been, then tou have reduced a precious intent down to a mindless reaction. There is more sincere intent from an “excuse me” when bumping into people than this sneezing absurdity.

    Ah yes, some friends of mine tell me a blessing should always be welcomed. That had merit. However, may I suggest to all you sneezing polite people who feel ok with blessing people that you start doing your best to bless others with thoughtful intent , caring and love? Start blessing people with powerful intent and be an exponent of goodness. No one needs to hear it.

    Again, elevate your blessings to more than a sneeze episode. Think, intend and give.

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