But the polite reaction to a sneeze varies across the globe and, fascinatingly, it’s a good indication of a culture’s beliefs and history. The response can even be used as an example of the way in which various corners of the world were colonised by travelling Europeans.
In some cultures, sneezing is a cleansing activity. In Hawaii, they say “kihe a mauli ola” which means “sneeze and live”. In Islam, it’s believed that sneezing lightens the mind, and Allah should be praised.
The Ancient Greeks and Romans responded with “Jupiter preserve you”. This is one of our favourites. Not because of the very boring possibility that they believed that sneezing was an indicator of good health, but because it’s thought that these ancient folk may have believed that your soul could escape through your nose while sneezing, and they were calling on the god for protection – quite possibly the worst side effect of a cold we’ve ever heard.
For those countries with a long tradition of christianity, a common response is “bless you”, or “God bless you”. Some believe that this originated during the 6th century when the bubonic plague was sweeping across Europe, with Pope Gregory the Great instigating the blessing as a means of protection – albeit useless – from the deadly pandemic.
There’s no end to the sneezing trivia. But whatever the bizarre origins of the response, it is quite useful to know how to react when you’re abroad. Learning the nuances of a new language is challenging enough, but when you throw in colloquialisms and basic etiquette, it becomes a nightmare. To help, Expedia put together a handy infographic. Here is our pick of the most curious.
How to respond to a sneeze in 15 countries
- Azerbaijan: Alhamdulillah! (Praise be to God)
- Denmark: Prosit (May it help)
- Mexico: Sancho/Sancha (Superstition that if someone sneezes, it means their significant other is cheating on them with someone else, referred to as Sancho or Sancha)
- Cape Verde: Santinho (Little saint)
- Rwanda: Kira (Be Healthy)
- Uganda: Bbuka (Recover)
- Nigeria: Ndo (Sorry)
- Sri Lanka: Ayubowan (Have a long life)
- Jordan: Dukha vehil/Dukha yehil (Live long)
- Mongolia: Burkhan orshoo (May God forgive you)
- Ireland: Dia Leat (God be with you)
- Canada: A tes/vos souhaits! (To your wishes)
- South Africa: Thuthuka (To health, grow!)
- Myanmar: Ta baw pout pi lar (Understood?)
- Iraq: Kher be inshalla (It will be a good thing, God willing)
Countries that have no response
According to Expedia, a sneeze in the following nations will elicit no response whatsoever.
China (a superstition in China suggests one sneeze means someone is missing you, two sneezes someone is criticising you, and three sneezes means you’ve caught a cold)
- North Korea
- South Korea
- Vietnam (they don’t respond to adults sneezing, but if a child sneezes, they say “rice with salt”)