Monday, September 15, 2014

Etiquette Nazis

If you don't say "Bless you!" when someone sneezes in this house, you're likely to get cursed. Unless you're a guest, of course; then we'll generously make allowances for your pitiful rudeness while making faces behind your back.

The whole "Bless you!" thing isn't my pet peeve. It's Matthew's, my chivalrous husband. For years of our marriage, I suffered under his cruel tutelage as he lambasted me each time I didn't say bless you when he manfully sneezed. Now I'm so scared not to bless people that I nervously cry, "Bless you!" when anyone passes gas, coughs or burps in this house.

For quite some time I thought it was Matthew's upbringing that dictated this strange adherence to a, pardon me, somewhat out-of-date practice. I mean, really! When people used to say bless you in the Middle Ages it was because they thought you were likely going to die, and they wanted you to know they wouldn't harbor any grudges when you're poor sneeze-racked body was lowered into the ground. But as for my man's family, I soon discovered it wasn't actually their thing, because you can sneeze until you're blue in the face or go into a seizure around those fine people, and they wouldn't bless your disease-ridden cat. It's not because they don't care, I believe, but because they are simply far too pragmatic to think you might die from that common cold, dust inhalation or allergic attack.

Regardless from where Matthew's obsession with sneezing sympathy stemmed, I have now been well-trained and am stuck for life compulsively blessing strangers at the movie theater, whispering bless you at church during the priest's homily, and on frequent occasions when my bum kids won't take notice of my own sniffles, pitifully consoling myself with a, "Bless me..."

But don't pity me too much, I beg of you, for I have my own etiquette insanity that I have forcibly hoisted on my man in return. It's a little thing, really, and it goes like this: when I speak - no matter what nonsense I say - I demand a response of some sort. It can be a rhetorical question, an observation, or a simple statement, but you'd better acknowledge me. I blame my need for validation on the fact that I was the youngest and most ignorant of four kids. (I still am.) Even when I dramatically uttered cuss words in order to be heard, I was merely laughed at.

So, you see, I can say, "Meatloaf - it's what's for dinner!" and I expect my man to politely respond with an, "Umm, umm, good!" even though the guy can't stand meatloaf - not even with quality ketchup on it.

If I pointlessly comment on the duration of the hot weather here in town, I will burn holes in his head until he answers it with, "107? Yep, toasty."

Because I spend all day with a preschooler and most of the afternoon with arguing, school-weary children, I crave back-and-forth conversation and the assurance that I still have interesting things to say to adults without imitating the whining or shrieking tactics of my little ones. Therefore, I often end long discourses on the state of world affairs or thorny personal conundrums with a You know what I mean? or  You hear what I'm saying? in order to elicit the response I crave. Even with the most inane utterances on the most mundane things, I must have a response. It may seem like I am talking to myself when I muse, "I wonder why these plates overheat in the microwave?", but if you don't answer me, Bucko, one of them is likely to crash on your head.

All this reflection makes me wonder, though: is it good manners to force anyone save your own children to observe their manners? Is it right, for instance, to do what my four-year-old does a millisecond after he sneezes and yell indignantly, "No one said bless you!" before anyone had a chance to say it, or sarcastically mutter as my man has been known to do, "Thank you for all the bless yous..." or glare at my husband as I demand, "Well?" to get that assurance that he really is following every word I utter? In short, are etiquette Nazis all that polite?

Nope, we sure ain't. But if you do indeed die from that common cold, you can rest assured that you will have a thousand of our "bless you!"s to send you on your merry, blessed way.


  1. I thought the "bless you" came from the face that your heart skips a beat when you sneeze and the blessing is so that it keeps going after the skipped beat, but who knows. That's funny that Matthew is adamant about it. Ah, our personal quirks ;)

    1. You are probably right, Holly. I thought I heard that people used to think that because you were sneezing, you were ill (who knows just how bad) and therefore in need of a little blessing protection. But I probably made it up. I've been known to do that. :)

    2. I couldn't resist looking it up (hmmm....should have done that before). We were both right, I guess, according to this interesting site:

  2. You get the need for acknowledgement from me, Hoodoo; sorry. Just ask your Mom.

    1. That explains it! We're the creative types.


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