I’ve never said “God bless you” when someone sneezes, because I’ve always been an atheist. But it’s customary to say something when someone sneezes, and in America, that something is “God bless you,” or simply “bless you.” So I did the shortened version for about thirty years.
One day, it occurred to me how silly it was (I know, three decades is a pretty ridiculous amount of time to wait for an epiphany). I’d heard that we say “bless you” because people once thought that sneezes we caused by demons, or some such nonsense. Did I believe in sinus-monsters? No. Did I believe that there was a giant man in the clouds that could cure someone of their hay fever, if I invoked his name? No. So what was I doing, reciting this little spell whenever anyone sneezed within 50 feet of me?
People in other countries have less religious invocations available to them when they witness a sneeze. I knew that in Brazil, they say “Saúde,” which means “health.” Germans says “Gesundheit,” same meaning. But you can’t just go around yelling “Health!” at people in America. What about the “Seinfeld” response to a sneeze, “You are sooo good-looking”? Well, that only works if the person is a hardcore “Seinfeld” fan, and if the person is ugly, they may think you’re being sarcastic. Talk about adding insult to injury.
I settled on saying nothing at all. After all, we don't say anything after someone coughs, and nobody gets offended (or possessed). It felt awkward for at least six months. I worked in an office at the time, a cubicle farm, and there was no shortage of people sneezing within close proximity to me. I felt like every time I declined an opportunity to bless someone, everyone was giving each other looks behind my back about what a jerk I was.
But it was also freeing. The woman directly across from me would sneeze so often, I began to suspect she was doing it just for the blessings. Well, you’re not getting any more from me, sister! Deal with that! I had so much more free time, now that I no longer had to waste precious seconds cramming her soul back up into her nose with those magic words!
It’s been [mumble] years since that day I turned my back on the sneeze status quo, and I’m very happy with my choice. I’ve never been confronted about it, but I look forward to that day, should it ever occur. I have solid reasoning for it, and a proven success record of zero possessions taking place on my watch.