29 May 2013


I have got a bit of a cold. My nose is running a little and I have sneezed quite a few times throughout the course of the day. A few people have "God Blessed" me after each sneeze and one or two have 'gesundeited' me.

I have had to go out and get a box of tissues and I have blown my nose in the office. I have blown my nose at my desk. Some Singaporeans have looked at me with a little disdain when I have blown my nose as blowing one's nose in public is not well regarded on the Island. This disregard doesn't bother me in the slightest for when my nose needs blowing I give it a blow.

I find this disdain interesting too for it is quite acceptable and common for the ethnic Chinese Singaporeans to hack and cough and spit in public. I know this because I witness it all the time. Often when I go into the men's bathroom it resembles a tuberculosis ward. There is regularly a hacking and coughing and spitting frenzy. I find this quite disturbing and distasteful and blowing my nose at my desk seems quite trite in comparison.

The origins of the "God Bless You" phrase after a sneeze dates back to the sixth century. It is attributed to the then Catholic Pope Gregory the Great. The story behind this is that he uttered it to the general population when the bubonic plague was ripping through Europe. Hundreds of thousands of people died and sneezing was one of the first visible symptoms of the plague.

The good Pope was basically saying, 'you-are-going-to-die-so-here-are-my-blessings'.

The title "The Great" was only attributed to two Popes. Gregory and some other bloke. "The Great" is a sobriquet which I think is a very good word and I will endeavour to use it in a sentence tomorrow. It pretty much means a 'nickname' although it translates literally to, "a chuck under the chin". This is very peculiar and I will investigate it further tomorrow as there are some French people who work at my office. 

My sobriquet is 'Hep'. The sobriquet of the French person who I will consult about why it means 'nickname" but translates to "a chuck under the chin" is Jo Bo. I will not publish her real name in order to protect her innocence and her privacy. Actually she is not so innocent so I will just protect her privacy.

The Pope who was both Gregory and Great and who started the "God Bless You" phrase for the bubonic plague sneezers was given his sobriquet "The Great" because he was considered to be a very nice and decent man. History records that he was extremely charitable and he went out of his way to help poor people.

He constantly performed random acts of kindness.

The Germans often say 'gesundeit' when they hear someone sneeze and the English speaking population seem to have adopted this as well. God only knows why. The English translation of the word 'gesundeit' is 'health'. If I sneezed and someone said 'health' to me I would think that they were a bit strange but many Germans are a bit strange. They are stern and they don't seem to have very good senses of humor.

Some of the Germans that I know here in Singapore are very strange indeed.

Quite a few countries and cultures have different expressions when one sneezes. If I were to sneeze in the Middle East an Arabic person might well say, "Alhamdulillah" to me. This means, "Praise be to God". If I sneezed in India or Nepal some Hindis could utter, "Live well". If I sneezed in China - which I have done many times - I could well be told "bay sui". This is Mandarin for "may you live for one hundred years".

The reason that I sneeze so often when I go to China is that it is so polluted. The Chinese are choking the planet with their toxic emissions and they need to clean up their act.

People are dying.

If I were to sneeze in Russia it could elicit a response of "rosti bolshoi" - which means "grow big". This is again a little weird. Like the Germans, the Russians are also a peculiar race. I know quite a few here in Singapore and have many as my friends. They are very good people but they often behave a little erratically and unpredictably.

There is a bit of a common thread here with blessings associated with sneezing. There is a school of thought that there are some associated ancient superstitious connections. Some cultures actually believed that the act of sneezing caused the soul to escape from the body and they believed that a blessing could prevent the devil from claiming it.

The Singaporeans sometimes say "bless you" when one sneezes but they mostly don't say anything at all. They will however sometimes look at you with some disgust if you blow your nose with a tissue or a handkerchief in public.

It is quite OK to hack and spit though.

Most of them don't mind that at all.

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