The Sneeze Response

Recently, Jon Acuff re-posted an old post about saying “God bless you” at work when someone sneezes. He was trying to figure out how many times one is obligated to say it. Do you say it every time someone sneezes? Or, is there an acceptable cut off point?

It was an intriguing question. I forwarded the article to the people that sit around me at work and we came to a general consensus that 2-3 times is sufficient. We all share space with a woman who has sneezing fits at least once a day. She will sneeze a good 6-8 times in a row. This made his article very humorous, and totally relevant. We all recognize the cap now so we take turns dolling out the “God bless you-s.”

Now we have run into a new problem.

A new girl started a couple weeks ago. She is shy and has been slow to get to know people in the office. That’s fine – there is nothing wrong with taking time to feel out the office and figure out your place in the sea of gray carpeted walls, white dry-wall, brown carpet, freezing temperatures and conditioned air.

The other day, she sneezed. It was early in the morning and I was the only one around so it was my responsibility to handle the “God bless you.”

“God bless you.” I said.

No response. This sometimes happens as the person might be prepping for a second sneeze, or cleaning up after the first, so I didn’t think anything of it.

A few minutes later she sneezed again.

“Bless you.” Now I had reached my cap and there was still no one else around to chime in if she were to sneeze again. I hoped that was the last one.

But again, no response. And no additional sneezes.

Except she did sneeze again a few hours later. And again, she sneezed twice. We can now be reasonably sure that she is a two-sneezer. The girl that sits next to me took care of the “bless you” issue and then came to me to let me know that there was no response to her “bless you.” I hadn’t said anything about it to anyone despite thinking it was a bit odd. With this new information, I started to wonder about the sanity of our new co-worker.

I don’t know the exact wording in the office etiquette rule book, but I think there is an implied responsibility to say “thank you” when someone gives you a “bless you” or “God bless you” after a sneeze. I mean, if you know you are prone to sneezing fits then it is totally appropriate to wait until after said fit has expired and then give an overall “thank you” just as it is appropriate to save your “God bless you” until the fit has finished. But to not say anything at all? Who does that? Apparently, this girl does.

She must know she is a two-sneezer at this point. But I wonder if anyone has ever confronted her about saying “thank you.” Or, maybe she does say it outside of these gray walls and she just doesn’t like us enough, or care about us enough, to say “thank you.” We shall see how this plays out as time passes. I for one am looking forward to her next sneeze.

How would handle things if you said “God bless you” and didn’t get a response?

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