‘Gesundheit!’ & ‘God Bless You!’: What People Say Around The World When You Sneeze

Most cultures around the world—with the interesting exception of Asian countries such as Korea, China, and Japan—usually have some sort of response when someone sneezes, and it’s almost always some variation of “Bless you!” or “To your health!”

Responding to someone’s sneeze with a “Bless you!” or “To your health!” originated in ancient times due to ancient superstitions. The ancient Romans would respond to an “Ah-choo!” with either “Jupiter preserve you” or “Good health to you.” The ancient Greeks would say “Have a long life.”

The religious response: “God bless you!”

It is thought that the phrase “God bless you” originated with Pope Gregory the Great (590-604 CE) at a time when the bubonic plague was sweeping through Europe, and sneezing was one symptom of being infected with the plague. There were also superstitions throughout the ages that either one’s soul could escape the body through the nose during a sneeze, or the Devil could enter the body while sneezing, hence the wish for God’s blessing.

The secular response: “Gesundheit!” or “To your health!”

As the world grows increasingly less religious, many respond to sneezing with a wish that the sneezer stay healthy. In English-speaking countries, the German word Gesundheit, which is pronounced “Guh-ZOOND-height,” has taken the place of “God bless you.” Basically, it just means “Good health to you.” The phrase is thought to have entered the American vernacular about 100 years ago as more German immigrants made their way to the USA.

As you can see from the following list, there are many ways that people around the globe respond when someone sneezes, most of them having to do with a divine blessing or a simple wish for good health. There are a couple of amusing outliers, though—check the entries for Tagalog and Vietnamese.

How People Respond To Sneezes Around The World

Albanian “Shëndet!” (“Health!”)
Afrikaans “Gesondheid!” (“Health!”)
Amharic “Yimarish” (for female), “Yimarih” (for male.) (“May God forgive you!”
Arabic “Yarhamkum Allah.” (“God have mercy on you.”)
Armenian “Aroghjootyoon.” (“Health.”)
Basque “Doministiku.” (“The Lord be with you.”
Bosnian “Nazdravlje” (“To health!”)
Burmese “Ta Baw Pout Pi Lar?” (“Understood?” or “Got it?”
Croatian “Istina!” (“Truth!”)
Czech “Je to pravda?” (“It is true?” )
Dutch “Gezondheid!” (“To health!”)
Faroese “Jesuspápi vælsigni teg!” (“Bless you!”)
Finnish “Terveydeksi” (“To health!”)
Gujarati “Ghanu Jivo” (“Bless you!”)
French “A tes / vos souhaits.” (“To your wishes.” )
Greek “Steen ygeia su.” (“To your health!” )
Hebrew “Livri’oot.” (“To health!”)
Hungarian “Egészségedre!” (“To your health!” )
Icelandic “Guð hjálpi þér! ” (“Bless you!”)
Indonesian “Tuhan berkati.” (“God bless.” )
Irish “Dia linn.” (“God be with us.”)
Italian “Salute!” (“Health!”)
Khmer “S’baoi.” (“Fast recovery.”)
Latvian “Uz veselbu.” (“To your health.” )
Lithuanian “Sveikat.” (“To your health.”)
Maltese “Evviva.” (“May he/she live.” )
Mongolian “Burkhan örshöö.” (“May God forgive you.” )
Navajo “T’áá bí ání.” (“That/the one said it.”)
Norwegian “Prosit!” (“To health!”)
Pashto “Sah-bur.” (“Patience.”)
Persian “Afiat Basheh.” (“May cleanliness/purity be bestowed upon you.”)
Portuguese “Deus te guarde.” (“May God keep you warm and covered.”)
Sanskrit “Shatam Jeevah.” (“Live 100 years.”)
Slovak“Na zdravie!” (“To health!”)
“Salud.” (“To your health.”)
Tagalog “Naligo ako ah!” or “Sino ang di na ligo?” ( “Hey, I took a bath” or “Who didn’t take a bath?”)
Turkish “Çok yaa, salıklı yaa.” (“Live long, live healthy.”)
Vietnamese “Com voi muoi.” (“Rice with salt.” )
Welsh “Bendith” (“Bless you!”)
Yiddish “Zay gezunt.” (“Be healthy.”) Thought Catalog Logo Mark

About the author

Jerome London