How the world responds to sneezing in their local languages

The Way People in Different Cultures Respond to Sneezing, in Their Languages

Who doesn’t love a good sneeze? It’s a healthy way to expel foreign particles and irritants from our airways, and boy is it satisfying. But the sneeze isn’t the only reflex action — there’s almost always a response that follows. And while the sound of a sneeze is usually the same the world over, the replies vary depending on the country and language.

So how did this custom start? In ancient times, some cultures believed that sneezing was a demon exiting the body. While we’re a bit more relaxed about it these days, many of the responses remain shrouded in superstition.

Some believe it began in the 6th century, when the bubonic plague was tearing through Europe and Pope Gregory the Great instigated “God bless you” as protection against the deadly pandemic. Another theory is that the Ancient Greeks and Romans saw sneezing as a sign of well being, and would offer “Jupiter preserve you” as a well-wishing pleasantry.

Either way, most cultures still can’t let a sneeze go by without comment. The various responses offer a glimpse into the colonial history of each continent, mapping the rise of languages around the world. In Europe many of the responses are in the native language of the nation. In Germany they say gesundheit!—simply meaning “health.” Other languages have equivalent versions, like the Spanish salud, which, due to colonization, is used in Spanish-speaking countries across North and South America. The wide variety of sneeze responses in Australia and Africa can also be directly attributed to colonization.

In contrast, some Asian countries have no response to a sneeze; it’s simply not customary to respond in places like China, Korea, Taiwan, Japan and Malaysia. Islamic culture believes that sneezing lightens the mind, so one should praise Allah when it happens.

If you’re planning a trip, knowing how to respond to a sneeze appropriately will ensure you fit right in. And no matter where you’re off to, we’ve got you covered.


How the World Responds to Sneezing

Embed this infographic about how people respond to sneezing around the world on your site:

Sources
  1. Accredited language. (2015). Gesundheit! Ways to Say “Bless You” Around the World. alsintl.com
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  3. Mama Lisa’s World (2006). How do You Sneeze in Your Country? mamalisa.com
  4. Lyons, Dylan. (2017). How To Respond To A Sneeze In 6 Different Languages. babbel.com
  5. Svane, Camilla. (2016). How to be Polite in Danish. kbh-sprogcenter.dk
  6. Irish Gaelic Translator. (2010). Saying Bless you after a sneeze? irishgaelictranslator.com
  7. Linguanaut (2013). Maltese Phrases. linguanaut.com
  8. Nosowitz, Dan. (2017). Some Delightful Alternatives to the Post Sneeze ‘Bless You’. atlasobscura.com
  9. Al Saloom, Ali. (2014). Ask Ali: Sneezing, yawning and falcons in burqas. thenational.ae
  10. Linguaphiles. (2005). Sneezes. linguaphiles.livejournal.com
  11. Quora. (2015). What is the appropriate response if someone sneezes in India? quora.com
  12. Wordreference. (2010). Lebanese: God Bless. wordreference.com
  13. Glassophilia.(2017). “A-Choo!”- “Bless you.” Sneezing and responding in different languages. glossophilia.org
  14. Estrada, Amy. (2014). What Do You Say In Chinese When Someone Sneezes? languageboat.com
  15. Arabic Student. (2007). Lebanese phrases now making more sense. arabicstudent.blogspot.ca
  16. Tsuji-San, Akiko. (2000). Sneezes Around the World. netlaputa.ne.jp
  17. Thompson, Aimee. (2017). Ways people respond to sneezes around the world. chicagonow.com
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  19. Ferro, Shaunacy. (2015.) 6 Responses to Sneezes From Around the World. mentalfloss.com
  20. Whelan, Corey. (2017.) How to say “Bless You” in Other Languages. rd.com
  21. Mosher, Dave. (2017). Why Americans say ‘Bless You’ after a sneeze. businessinsider.com
  22. Upton, Emily. (2014). Why we Say Gesundheit When Someone Sneezes. todayifoundout.com
  23. Al Saloom, Ali. (2014). Ask Ali: Sneezing, yawning and falcons in burqas. thenational.ae
  24. Rijks Museum. (2017). 1700-1830 Surinam. rijksmuseum.nl
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  28. Graphics by Squareship

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3 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Osama
    March 9, 2018 at 11:51 am — Reply

    Hello,
    I loved your info-graph, it is fun yet informative.
    I just have few comments 🙂
    Muslims and arabs don’t respond with alhamdulillah, when someone sneeze, (s)he says Alhamdulillah and the response is Yarhamuk Allaah.
    Also, Syrians and Jordanians say the same thing (Yarhamuk Allaah/singular) or (Yarhamukum Allaah/plural) (I am from Syria), thoguh some people use Sahhah instead but not the majority.
    Again, great work! keep it up 🙂

    sources:
    https://islamqa.info/en/2750
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ye1Q9Hu-wy4
    https://www.quora.com/What-do-you-say-when-you-sneeze-in-Arabic

  2. Avatar
    Langtraveler
    March 17, 2018 at 8:36 pm — Reply

    A small correction: the entry for Georgian appears to be the Chechen phrase (at least according to your own cited source #22).
    Interestingly Georgian lacks grammatical gender, so no Georgian phrase could ever be gender-specific.
    The correct Georgian for ‘bless you’ can be seen in your own cited source #2 and is იცოცხლე (itsotskhle) – for singular/informal and იცოცხლეთ (itsotskhlet) for plural/formal. The translation of both essentially amounts to “keep on living”. Great infographic otherwise!

  3. Avatar
    Tom
    March 14, 2019 at 5:46 am — Reply

    Really interesting, but there’s lots of mistakes in the language! Get a linguist to look over it and correct it… For example, the Arabic script for Syria is backwards (the letters have been written left to right instead of right to left) and none of the letters are joined up.
    Also an interesting point: in France they have a different response if you sneeze more than once: à tes souhaits (here’s to your wishes) the first time, à tes amours (here’s to your loves) the second time, and qu’ils durent toujours (may they last forever) the third time.

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