USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘sneeze’
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection

“Bless You”

The Main Piece
“I always was told to say bless you after every sneeze, I came from a very religious family and even though I didn’t totally get why I had to say it every time I would get yelled at if I didn’t.” Some folk practices are intensely practiced as in this case. The practice of saying bless you is instilled at a young age so it became a social norm for certain groups or communities. It was believed that when one sneezed the devil could come inside you so everyone would give you their blessings, at least that is what my informant was told. She later learned about the history behind the belief in high school when she learned about the bubonic plague. People would say “bless you” because if you sneezed, then there was the chance that you had the plague, which evidently meant death.
Background Information
My informant is Elizabeth Kim, a current first year undergraduate student and personal friend of mine at USC. She and her parents are Catholic, attending church every week. Her parents constantly attempt to instill in her religious values and while she does deem herself as Catholic, she is far less intense or strictly abiding to Catholic customs or practices. She found the saying interesting because it is so common among a variety of groups and communities, yet not many people know of or have different variations of why people say “bless you” when one sneezes.
Context
I was interviewing Elizabeth towards the second semester of our freshman year outside of Parkside Apartment at USC. The setting was casual and conversation flowed easily.
Personal Thoughts
It was interesting to hear about the overlap in education and religion. The commonalities between the two reveal that there can be these similarities bringing together the two. It was also interesting to hear about Elizabeth’s difference in values from her parents yet their common belief or practice.

Folk Beliefs
general
Protection

“Pull up your ears”

“So, when I was younger, um, my grandparents, like my grandparents . . . my parents are older so by nature my grandparents were older and my grandfather died in 1995. And I remember he didn’t—I remember my mom telling me he passed away and . . . whatever I just remember sitting, we had like this, it’s called an LDK in Japanese, it’s like just a huge room where we all like . . . there’s a kitchen, living room and I remember sitting there and I remember I sneezed and I was watching TV and my mom was like, ‘Pull up your ears.’ And I was like, ‘What the fuck?’ But it’s a thing! After someone dies and the other person sneezes you pull up your ears because if you don’t pull up your ears it’s like then that’s bad juju . . . So you have to pull up your ears!”

 

I asked the informant what it means to “pull up your ears” and she demonstrated by taking the top of her ears between her thumbs and forefingers and lightly tugging upwards.

 

“And I do it all the time now because when I sneeze I instantly think of death and then I’m like, ‘Well, just to be safe . . .’ And I’ll do it if I’m in class too . . . And when my grandmother died two years ago, we were constantly pulling up our ears. Still! My mom still does it.”

 

The informant was a 22-year-old USC student who majors in English and minors in genocide studies. Although she grew up in Santa Monica, she comes from a large Jewish family and travels to Israel twice a year to visit her older brother and other extended family there. The interview occurred when we were sitting in the new Annenberg building and started talking about superstition within her family. She said, “There’s a lot of things I have no idea why I do them, but I do them because someone might die if I didn’t do them. Like, that’s how we’re taught . . . It’s kind of a life or death situation.” She said she learned this practice from her mother, but also said she thinks most of the superstitions her family practices come from Romania because her great great great grandmother was “the Romanian town palm reader and she read tea leaves and, like, they were a very mystical family.” When I asked her further about why she thinks this was, she said, “Because they were poor, that’s probably why. Because they had nothing. And the pogroms were going on that were attacking the Jews, so stuff like that . . .”

 

This superstition was fascinating to me because it seems similar to the practice of saying “Bless you!” after someone sneezes, i.e. it is a fairly innocuous action that people do as a way of warding off something much darker. I also think the fact that there are multiple superstitions surrounding the normal bodily function of sneezing is interesting, as it reveals something about the way humans respond to slightly odd and surprising occurrences. I agree with the informant that performing actions like this in order to ward off “bad juju” probably has something to do with the performer feeling a lack of control over forces bigger than humanity, such as death. This would make sense in the face of large-scale discrimination and genocide, as occurred in the pogroms. When you are reminded that death could come for you at any moment, it is comforting to think the performance of small actions such as this could help keep you safe.

general
Proverbs

Proverb – Chihuahua, Mexico

“Salud, Dinero, y Amor”

My informant first heard this phrase at the age of ten when her mother responded to her first sneeze with “salud,” her second sneeze with “dinero,” and her last sneeze with “y amor.”  She learned the phrase growing up in a rural town of Chihuahua, Mexico.  She recalls her mother saying this to her every time she had a series of sneezes during her childhood.

The three terms (salud meaning good health, dinero meaning money, and amor meaning love) are a sign of wishing good tidings upon someone during everyday happenings, such as the common sneeze.  She continued by explaining that these three assets will “make you a happy person,” and that these are three very crucial pieces that are needed to live a blissful life.

The situation I first heard this proverb spoken to me was when I stumbled across some dust, resulting in me sneezing multiple times.  After the first sneeze she said, “Salud,” after the second, “Dinero,” and the third, “y Amor.”

Alejandrina informed me that the context in which this saying is used is whenever someone has a chain of sneezes that they can’t stop.  It stems from the idea that your heart stops every time you sneeze, so with each time your heart stops, someone is wishing good things upon you.

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