“We must go back to teach Europeans to love Europe.”
Jean Claude Juncker
Achoo! Atchoum! Hatschi! Etcì! Why does the same body reaction produce different sounds all over Europe? This is somewhat entertaining to note that all Europeans use a different onomatopeia to transcribe into words the simple act of sneezing. This shows the great creativity of our European languages. And all Europeans do not answer the same way when someone sneezes. Depending on how superstitious they are, some will reply “Jesus”, “God Bless You” or even “may God put a blanket over you”; others will just answer “to your health”, “health” or “be healthy” and others will just say “wealthiness”, “beauty” or “to your wishes”. The act of sneezing is even full of popular beliefs: in some Eastern European countries, sneezing during a speech is regarded as a confirmation that the speaker is saying the truth, in other European countries, the act of sneezing enable individuals to get rid of evil spirits hiding inside their body… United in diversity, we told you!
Portuguese people sneeze with a short but effective “atchim!” and they usually answer with “Santinho” (“Little Saint”), “Saúde” (“[To your] Health”), “[que] Deus te salve“ (“[may] God save you”), “Viva” (the closest would be “long life [to you]”), or “[que] Deus te abafe” (may God put a cover/blanket over you). In Brazil, Atchim & Espirro were a duo of clowns that spawned several hits during the 1980s. And in Portugal, kids can enjoy a short (kitsch) song entitled “atchim”. But I have to warn you: this is not the best song ever…
¡Achu! – ¡Achís! – ¡Achú!
There are three different ways to put the act of sneezing into words – even though you technically always sneeze the same way! In Spain, when someone sneezes, people answer with the exclamation “Jesús” or “Salud”. “Jesús” because the first Christians just change the greek habit of saying “Jupiter” after sneezing to get protection from disease or sickness.
French people will answer to someone sneezing with the expression “A tes souhaits!” which means “to your wishes”. One explanation lies in bubonic plague epidemies of early Middle Age. Sneezing was one of possible first symptoms of the plague. Pope himself ordered in 6th century to bless a sneezer immediately. Nowadays, the story about sneezing has been continued: if a person sneezes a second time, one may say “à tes amours“, which means “to your loves.” If the same person sneezes a third time, then he will hear “et que les tiens durent toujours“, which means “and may yours last forever.”
Icelanders sneeze with the interjection “Atsjú!” and reply with the expression “Guð hjálpi þér!” meaning “God help you!”. There is also an old custom in Iceland to respond three times to three consecutive sneezes like so: “Guð hjálpi þér” (“God help you”), “styrki þig” (“strengthen you”), “og styðji” (“and support”). Next time in Reykjavík, try not to forget to sneeze three times in a row!
In Gaelic, people will say “Dia linn” or “Dia leat” (“God be with us”) after “Achoo!”. Another possible answer may be “deiseal“ – a deprecation meaning “may it go right”, though the more likely explanation for this is that it is a short form for “Dia seal” meaning “God with us for a while”. The sneezer can simply answer with “gabh mo leithscéal” meaning “excuse me.”
The Brits transcript the act of sneezing with the word “Achoo”. The usual response is “(God) bless you” or less commonly “Gesundheit” (from German, meaning ‘good health’). In the United Kingdom, they even discovered the ACHOO syndrome which is a generally a benign condition characterised by sudden, uncontrollable sneezing after viewing a bright light. Pay attention next time you open the door of your fridge at night…
Norwegian people sneeze with the word “Aatsjoo!” which is not far from the current sneezing onomatopoeia in other European countries. People will tend to respond with “Prosit“ (“to [your] health”) after someone sneezes. Isn’t it the old toast word Vikings also used to say when they drank Valhalla Beer from their enemies’ skull?
Let’s sneeze with “Atjoo” in Sweden. Same as in Norway: the most common answer to someone sneezing is “prosit” to which the sneezer answers “tack” (thank you). According to a 19th century quote attributed to Longfellow: “In Sweden, … you sneeze, and they cry God bless you!”
Atshii! – Atshiu! – Atsiuh! – Ätshii! – Ätshiu! – Ätsiuh!
There are not less than six different ways to sneeze in Finnish. The Finns either say: “Terveydeksi“, after someone sneezes which means “for health”. A Finnish blog explains one of the reason why they say “for health” after sneezing: every time we sneeze our hearts stop for a fraction of a second. Sneeze is regarded as a kind of little death. Coming back to life after sneezing means you’re actually healthy…
Hatsjoe! – Hatsjie!
In Dutch, one usually says “Gezondheid!” (literally translated as “health”), to which the person who sneezed will respond with “dank u (wel)” (thank you, formal) or “dank je (wel)” (thank you, informal). If the same person sneezes three times, he can say: “(Drie keer) morgen mooi weer!” (which means “(Three times) the weather [will be] nice tomorrow”). This superstition can be raised by both the sneezer and his or her interlocutor.
Hatsjoe! – Hatsjie! – Atchoum!
In Belgium, you will sneeze differently depending on where you are. No kidding! If you are in Wallonia, just sneeze with “Atchoum” and people will reply “A vos souhaits“. If you are in Flanders, just sneeze with “Hatsjoe” or “Hatsjie” and you will hear “Gezondheid” in response. But if you are in Brussels, feel free to sneeze in Dutch, French, German, English or whichever language you feel the most appropriate!
Germany – Austria
Hatschi! – Hatschu! – Atchoum! – Etciú!
In Switzerland, we speak at least three different languages, depending on the region. In the German speaking part of Switzerland, you will be more likely to say “Hatschi” or “Hatschu“, whereas in the French speaking region, you will hear “Atchoum“. And in the Southern Italian region, “Etciú” is more common. Try to sneeze the best way you can when surrounded by the Helvetes!
Etciú! – Etcì! – Etciùm! – Etchòum!
Italian don’t sneeze with a word starting with an “a” but with an “e”: “Etciú“, “Etcì“, “Etciùm“, or “Etchòum” are the common terms used to sneeze in the Italian peninsula. One replies with “Salute!” meaning “[to your] health”. The person who sneezed usually responds with “Grazie“, meaning “Thank you”. According to a widely spread popular belief, the simple act of sneezing is caused by demons that tickle the nose of someone and can bring out its soul from the body.
In Slovak, “Na zdravie” ([to your] “Health”) is said after a sneeze. For the sneezer, it is polite to reply “Ďakujem” meaning “Thank You.” In Slovak, you can feel sick as a dog (“cítim sa pod psa“, “I feel under the dog”), which means you are really with a bad cold.
“Apsik” is the expression used to translate the act of sneezing in polish language. Polish people will normally reply to someone sneezing by “Na zdrowie” ([to your] “Health” – meaning “may you get healthier”) or “Sto lat” ([live] “Hundred years” – meaning “may you live a hundred years”).
Apčiū! – Apči!
The Lithuanian way of sneezing contains more vowels and is perfect to transcript the long act of sneezing. After sneezing, the person may say “Atsiprašau” (“Excuse me”). In Lithuania, people will reply with “Į sveikatą” after sneezing, which means “to your health”. The person who sneezes answers “Ačiū“, which translates to “Thank you”.
Latvians sneeze the same way as their Lithuanian neighbors. One says “Uz veselību” after sneezing, which means “to your health”. You may hear a lot “Apčī“ during Latvian cold winters…
Atsihh! – Atsih! – Aptsihh! – Aptsih!
You have many possibilities to write down the Estonian expression transcribing the act of sneezing, but the variations are rather slight. It can be either “Atsihh“, “Atsih“, “Aptsihh” or “Aptsih“. In Estonian, the usual response is “Terviseks” (meaning “For your health”).
“Apchkhi” is the usual sneezing word in Belarus. In Belarusian the response to sneezing is “будзь здаровы / будзь здароў” (Budz zdarovy / budz zdarou) directed to a male person and “будзь здаровая” (Budz zdarovaja) for a female. For the sneezer it is polite to reply “дзякуй” (dziakuj, thank you).
In Ukrainian, the appropriate response when someone sneezes is “будь здоровий” (BООD’ zdoh-RO-vyy – to a male sneezer, familiar) or its variations: “будь здорова” (BООD’ zdoh-RO-va – to a female sneezer, familiar), “будьте здорові” (BООD’-te zdoh-RO-vee – to a male or a female sneezer, formal), which means “be healthy”. The answer is “дякую” (DIA-koo-you) meaning “thank you”.
Romania – Moldova
In Romania, as well as in Moldova, the word transcribing the act of sneezing is “Hapciu“. People in Romania will say “Sănătate“ (“[To your] Health”) or “Noroc” (“[To your] Luck”). In Romania, indeed, sneezing can bring luck…
In Russia, Hungary and Slovenia, if someone sneezes after having stated something is often interpreted as a confirmation from God that what has been said is true! This is nowadays still a wide spread folkloric superstition. After someone sneeze, Hungarians say “Egészségedre“, which means “[to your] health”. It’s the same expression used for a toast! The polite response is “Köszönöm“, meaning “Thank you”.
Ačih! – Ačiha!
In Slovenia, you sneeze with the word “Ačih” and answer with the expression “Na zdravje” (almost always pronounced nazdravje). It means “to your health”. For the sneezer, it is polite to reply with “Hvala” meaning “Thank You”. Another old-fashioned response to a sneeze is “Bog pomagaj“, which means “God helps you”.
Croatia – Serbia – Bosnia and Herzegovina
In Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, people sneeze with the word “Apciha“. People there will reply “Na zdravlje” (with some variations from one country to another) meaning “to your health”. For the sneezer, it is polite to reply “Hvala” which translates to “Thank you.” Less frequent, some people may say “Istina”, which means “it is true”.
Bulgarians say “Apchix” when they sneeze. As in many East-European countries, Bulgarians will say “Наздраве” (Nazdrave) after sneezing, which means “to your health” or “cheers”. And again, the person who just sneezed can say “Благодаря” (Blagodarya), which means “Thank you”.
In North Macedonia, people say “На здравје” (na zdravje) after sneezing. It means “to your health”. The person who sneezes usually says “Здравје да имаш” (zdravje da imash) which means “be healthy”, or just says “Благодарам” (blagodaram) “Thank You” or “Фала” (fala) “Thanks”.
Greece – Cyprus
Apsiu! (αψιου!) – Apsu! (αψου!)
On 3 September 401. B.C., the Athenian soldier Xenophon gave a dramatic speech urging his colleagues to accompany him to liberty or death in a battle against the Persians. After an hour of speech, a soldier sneezed, what their peers considered it as a favorable sign from the gods. In the Odyssey (17541-550), when Penelope heard that her husband Ulysses could be alive, her son sneezed loudly. Penelope was full of happiness, because she interpreted it as a a sign from the gods that Ulysses was indeed alive. That’s why in Greece, people answer to someone who sneezes with “στην υγεία σου” (steen eyia sue). It translates to “to your health” or “γείτσες” (“healths”).
Turkey – Cyprus
Last, but not least, Turkish people sneeze with the word “Hapşu“. In Turkish, a sneezer is always told to “Çok Yaşa“, i.e. “Live Long”, which in turn receives a response of either “Sen De Gör” (“[and I hope that] you see it”) or “Hep Beraber” (“all together”). This is to indicate the sneezer’s wish that the person wishing them a long life also has a long life so they can “live long” “all together”. In more polite circles, one might say “Güzel Yaşayın“, i.e. “[May You] Live Beautifully”, which may be countered with a “Siz de Görün” (“[And may You] witness it”).
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