Bless you, or not

I’ve lived in Chile for a grand total of 22 months (if you include study abroad) and in that time I’ve learned a lot about what is polite and what is not.

But apparently, you can teach this old (as of tomorrow) gringa some new tricks.

I sneeze a lot. In fact, I have Achoo Syndrome which means that I sneeze when exposed to bright sunlight. I also sneeze when I comb my hair. And when I pluck my eyebrows. And when normal people sneeze, like in dusty places or if I have a cold.

In the U.S., people say “bless you,” or if you’re my father, “Gesuntheit,” when someone sneezes. It’s considered kind of rude not to say it. If I’m alone, or talking in front of a group of people when I sneeze, I’ll even say “bless me”.

In high school Spanish class, we were taught to say “salud” (health) after the first sneeze, “dinero” (money) after the second and “amor” (love) after the third.

I always noticed that in Chile nobody really says this. I always felt kind of sad after I’d sneeze in class and no student would say “salud” or “bless you”. Not even my Chilean friends would say it to me. A few weeks ago I was waiting in line at the pharmacy and I sneezed, and the woman next to me said “Salud!” I was so pleasantly surprised that I thanked her probably a little too profusely.

Then last week, while talking to a student about what is considered polite in Chile, I found out that, at least in some circles, saying “salud” after someone sneezes is considered rude! My student wasn’t exactly sure why but he guessed that it has something to do with calling attention to the fact that the person has just sneezed.

Now I feel a bit silly because even though no one here says “salud” to me, I say “salud” to everyone who sneezes. That and keeping my mouth open while I yawn sounds like a recipe for disaster, politeness-wise.

At least now I understand, but I haven’t decided yet if I want to quit the habit. I feel like this is a situation in which I can easily play the crazy gringa card.

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