When someone sneezes, the most popular thing for someone in the United States to respond with is the phrase ‘bless you’ or ‘god bless you’. There is one semi-popular alternative, gesundheit, which references health. While being more secular and thus more inclusive than the religious message that comes with a blessing, gesundheit is less often said. I have learned from following Penn Jillette’s public persona that his family says the phrase ‘that’s funny’ in place of ‘bless you’. I do like that a bit and I am sure he would not care if I borrowed it as many of the other children in his kids preschool have according to his book, but that is Penn’s thing, not mine.
Sometime after realizing that there are no supernatural deities, only natural humans who like to think they are gods, I adjusted my habitual response to sneezing to gesundheit. It took me a little while to adjust, so I completely understand why some of my non-religious friends hold to the ‘bless you’ response that they grew up using. Despite my understanding however, I will usually make some smart-ass remark such as, “Jesus can do nothing to stop my body’s natural reactions”. This is merely my crass sense of humor. It is nothing personal.
The switch was long before I had kids to pass the habit down to. For a while, I decided not to say anything at all since saying anything has a basis in kooky superstition. The truth is, anything I say to a sneeze has absolutely no affect. It is nothing more than an attempt to proliferate another unnecessary tradition of manners. It is as futile as prayer.
Then one day I sneezed and Jupiter said to me, ‘bless you!’ While this is mostly harmless, I was uncomfortable with this newfound habit of his. I decided that the best way to rectify this was compromise with my own example. I went back to using gesundheit.
I have been using gesundheit around Jupiter in the case of sneezing for a while and he started to pick it up. Except for one thing. He had a little trouble pronouncing the word gesundheit and what he said actually came out “goose eyed”. I thought this was perfect. Since then it has become our family’s custom. Whenever someone sneezes, the appropriate response in the Augustine household is now ‘goose eyed!’ I am happy to grant the use of this tradition to anyone else who would like to use it as well.