The informant is my roommate who was is originally from Mexico, having spent the first eight years of his life there. His mother used to tell him and his siblings that whenever you sneezed unexpectedly – not from sickness or contaminants – it meant someone was thinking about you. This is a widespread belief in Mexico, but the informant’s family has added their own additional beliefs regarding the number of sneezes.
My roommate told me this after I sneezed unexpectedly one night at his house. His family had me over for his grandfather’s birthday, and after a lamb dinner we sat around outside talking. I sneezed and my roommate’s mother told said something in Spanish that garnered laughs from the other family members. My friend then explained what she had said.
ML: My mother would always tell us someone was thinking about us if we sneezed randomly.
Me: Aren’t all sneezes random?
ML: It’s like, if you sneeze when you’re not sick. It’s the cause of the sneeze. If you sneeze when you’re sick, you’re sneezing because you’re sick and your illness is causing you to sneeze. If you sneeze just randomly, someone is thinking about you and those thoughts are intruding into your body almost, causing you to react and sneeze.
Me: And this is a common belief in Mexico?
ML: Yea, everyone… everyone’s mother would tell them this. But my mother told us that if you sneezed more than two times unexpectedly, it was because someone was thinking affectionately about you. Like they have a crush on you.
Me: So if you sneeze once, they’re just thinking about you in general?
ML: Could be. Could be talking bad about you to someone or thinking negatively about you. Or they could just be remembering something you said or that you two did together.
This was the first folk belief or superstition I’d ever heard regarding sneezing. Sneezing is a bit of a perplexing, spontaneous action, the cause of which is not always immediately discernible. Obviously, if one sick, the body malfunctions in a way, causing a sneeze. However, when illness or allergies can’t be pointed to as the cause, it leaves a bit of mystique and uncertainty as to the cause. This folk belief could be an attempt to playfully resolve the trigger of an unexpected sneeze. Sneezing from illness or allergies carries with it the negative association of being sick or deficient in health. This belief spins a sneeze as a potentially positive event, as someone could be thinking of one in an affectionate way.