Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Eastern Observation: Bless You!

People in the east are avid bless-ers.  If you sneeze here, everyone (and I do mean everyone) in a 300 yard radius will stop whatever they are doing and say, "Bless you!"  I'm not kidding.  I sneezed once outside a medical clinic and three surgeons leaned out the nearby window, blood up to their elbows, and yelled, "Bless you!" in unison.

It has come as a complete shock to me and my western roots.  It turns out that I have been a lazy bless-er.  It's not that I never blessed a sneezer.  If I was in conversation with someone and they sneezed all over me, I would say, "Bless you!" as I wiped debris off my face and torso.

But, if I was standing in line at Costco and the older gentleman seven people ahead of me in line sneezed quietly into his hanky, I would not even think about sending my blessing from among the cases of granola bars and giant bins of licorice.  The way he tried to muffle the sound would make me think that he preferred to sneeze in private, and that the kindest thing I could do was pretend that no such thing ever happened. 

Does this make me a bad person?

I don't really have a problem with all the blessing that's going on here on the east coast.  It's kind of sweet if you think about it.  Known for being stuffy and aloof, it turns out that easterners are incredibly conscientious, especially when it comes to one's involuntary, spasmodic actions.  

However, I have to say that sneezing--a subject I spent very little time and energy on in the past--has pushed it's way forward in my list of Things I Have Mild Anxiety About.  

First of all, I feel like my ears have to be cued to catch any unsuspecting sneezes from people around me.  I always feel dumb when I'm the fourteenth person to bless someone.  But I don't really want to be the first bless-er either; it feels a little too eager.  I prefer to be fashionably late to the blessing.  Being the second or third person to bless a sneezer is ideal, but not easy.  It takes a lot of practice.

Secondly, and most importantly, I used to really enjoy the occasional sneeze.  You know, just giving in to the whole thing with gusto and ending with a melodramatic crescendo of, "Aaaachooooo!"  

It felt good.

Now, when I feel a sneeze coming on, I immediately glance around in horror, making a quick tally of all the people who will suddenly shift their attention to me.  And then I check my teeth for broccoli.  I try to stifle the sneeze.  I clench my toes, my teeth, my butt.  I close my eyes and shake my head as if to tell the sneeze, "No, no!  Not here!  Not now!"  Sometimes I raise a single finger into the air, the international sign for, "Just a minute, I'm staving off a sneeze."

But it never works.  I sneeze.  And all the clenching and shaking before is sucked into the sneeze and wrangled into the whole ugly spasm.  By all accounts it looks like I have not only sneezed but suffered a grand mol seizure at the same time.

Wait a minute.  

I guess that explains why people feel it so necessary to exclaim, "Bless you!"  For a split second, it must appear as if everything is on the line.  People watching me sneeze must experience mild panic, reaching for their cell phones to dial 9-1-1 if necessary.  When the moment passes, they must be so overwhelmed at my return to normal, they call out to invoke God's blessing--to reward me for my courageous fight and to keep me from ever suffering again.

I think I get it now.

Sneezing is much simpler in the west.

20 comments:

Tiffany said...

1. This was hysterical!
2. I heard you can ward off sneezes by saying "Bumblebee, bumblebee, bumblebee."
3. I never remember this when I'm about to sneeze, so I have no idea if it works. Let me know...

Becky said...

So funny! I just knew that moving out of Utah would teach you some valuable lessons....I just never knew it would be about sneezing!

Leslie said...

Bless you! That was a great start to my day!

Travelin'Oma said...

You are a fabulous writer! Please, please, tell EVERYONE that I am your writing coach!

rychelle said...

funny you should bring this up....
i am a blesser. always have been. i didn't grow up in utah. when i was recently in utah, it was brought to my attention that it was "unusual" that i always said "bless you". i work with a lot of westerners (ca, nv, or) and they are all blessers. i think it's actually a utah thing and not a western thing, to not bless.

Ginnie said...

I am so with you on this.
When we lived in Philly I once had a lady say, “bless you” while she was in the bathroom stall next to mine. I thought it was nice in an awkward sort of way.
My question is, what is the correct way to respond to “bless you”. I haven’t quite figured that out yet.

Emily said...

I hear you can get out of a traffic ticket for running a red light if you tell the cop you were sneezing. This is because it's physically impossible to keep your eyes open while sneezing. Not related to blessings, but I thought I'd pass it along. Bless you!

Kristina P. said...

I admit that I am a blesser.

A teacher I work with always says "God bless you", which is weird to me.

Kim said...

This is all true...we've got it pretty bad in the south too. Sam has picked up the "bless you" and does it ALL THE TIME then when he sneezes & I don't bless him, he reminds me to bless him. We are blessed!

Kate said...

Funny! I have mastered the skill of holding sneezes. I can't completely eliminate it, but I can stifle it to near silence. I'd be happy to teach you, but I suspect that it's a skill you have to be born with. :) My hiccups, on the other hand, can be heard for miles. :)

Christy said...

You know, I never really thought about it before but I do think highly of those who make it a point to bless. You have inspired me to be a blesser too!

Colie said...

Very funny post, thank you!! :) In my office if my coworkers don't feel they've blessed me soon enough after I sneeze I get "I'm sorry, bless you" which always cracks me up!

Soul-Fusion said...

at some point in my adulthood I became a blesser - I will now attribute that shift to living out here for the bulk of the last 8 years. It becomes an unconscious reflex after hearing a sneeze once you fall into the habit. And I believe the proper response after being blessed is just a thank you or even a nod. At least that is what I have observed and what I do.

Mindi said...

you KNOW, don't you, that sneezing is the second greatest sensation?

at least that's what they tell me.

love love LOVE to read the way you write things. i guess that's why you are the only one smart enough to write a book. (how's that coming along, btw?)

bless you!

Kami said...

what a bummer... I love being able to let loose when I sneeze. I would hate to have to worry about everyone paying attention to that.

great writer as always...how is the book coming?

jennie w. said...

People in Texas are avid blessers. That's the comment I get most after I tell people I have six kids, "Well, God Bless You!" said in such a sincere, loving way that it brings tears to my eyes.

Jesse C said...

I experienced this once on our trip, and I was equally surprised by the sneezer's reply to his blessers, "likewise."

MiaKatia said...

You are such a funny gal! What a great post. People bless a lot in the south too. I kind of like it.

shannon p. said...

Loud sneezing must be a family trait. I (ALMOST) never try to stifle a sneeze (who am I kidding it will still be LOUD), and if I'm at home, I like to end my achoo with an even louder WHEW. I'd probably end up rupturing my esophagus if I did sneeze in a more lady-like fashion.

Thanks for the great laugh!

tiburon said...

I am a blesser.

One time (right after I joined the church) I blessed my roommate when he sneezed. He and has girlfriend were having issues that I was a Mo Mo and they tried to get their digs in whenever possible.

So I said "Bless You" and he said "Are you sure you have the authority to do that?"

I busted up laughing...

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