Interestingly a sneeze and how we react to someone sneezing differs widely in languages around the globe. While English speakers associate “achoo” with the sounds made while sneezing, in Russia it is called “abchi” and in Japan “hackschon”. The Germans call it “Hatschi.” Funnily enough, we also really try to adapt our sneezing to this sound. And also the responses to a sneeze differ from country to country. So let’s investigate how to say “bless you” in German.
Why do we say Bless You when someone sneezes?
There are several theories about this, some of them closely related:
- The first theory is that it was believed that sneezing was an act of the body to free itself from satanic influences within. Saying “bless you” (in the sense of “god bless you”) would protect the body from the evil to return. Sometimes only if the person so blessed wouldn’t say “thank you.” In that case the ban was broken and the devil could slip back into the body.
- Another theory is that it originated in the time of the bubonic plague in Europe in the 14th century. The plague was a terrible disease and it is estimated that 30% to 60% of the European population died during that period. Especially during the first outbreak almost everyone who got infected died within a week. As early symptoms of the plague are similar to that of a cold, people who sneezed were thought to have contracted the disease and would die soon. Therefore, they were blessed by others around them to ensure that their soul went to heaven.
- Thirdly it could have been a superstition in ancient times that the soul and body split when someone sneezed. Shouting out “(god) bless you” would save the soul from being snatched up by the devil and would make sure it returned to the body.
How Germans sneeze
As I said earlier, the sound Germans associate with sneezing is “hatschi” (hahtchee). And the response to this is clearly more pragmatic in German than it is in English. The Germans simply say “Gesundheit“, the German word for “health.” And wishing someone sneezing a good health seems reasonable enough to me, without any need for the devil or divine intervention.
Modern experts on etiquette tried to enforce for a while that you should stop saying “Gesundheit” because it would put too much emphasis on the sneezing person’s illness. But this custom is so firmly anchored in the population that they have moved away from their position and instead only recommend saying “Gesundheit” on the first sneeze. Should the person sneeze several times, one does not react to it any more.
Other Translations of Bless You in German when Sneezing
In most languages, of course, there are some jokers who come up with other responses to sneezing. Some of these German responses are:
- Wisch das auf! — Mop that up!
- Verreck du Aas! — Drop dead, you carrion!
- Richtig so, alles raus was keine Miete zahlt! — That’s right, everything out which doesn’t pay rent!
- Schönheit! — Beauty!
Some of these are funny, others are downright rude. So I would recommend you stick to the usual “Gesundheit” unless you know someone really well and are sure enough he or she appreciates this kind of humor.
Bless You in German in a religious Sense
Of course, there’s also the religious meaning of blessing someone. And as Germany is a predominantly Christian country, there are expressions for that as well. So, how does a German bless other people?
- Bless you! — Sei gesegnet!
- God bless you! — Gott segne dich!
- God bless you and keep you! — Gott segne dich und behüte dich