“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 funny and entertaining to notice that all Europeans use a different onomatopeia to transcribe into words the act of sneezing. This shows the creativity of our languages. And all Europeans do not tend to answer the same way after someone sneezes. For religious reasons, some will reply “Jesus”, “God Bless You” or even “may God put a blanket over you” after sneezing ; 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 the body… United in diversity we told you!
Portuguese people sneeze with a short but effective “atchim!” and they will 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 into words the act of sneezing in Spain, even though you technically always sneeze the same way! In Spain, when someone sneezes, people answer with the exclamation “Jesús” or “Salud”. “Jesus” because the first Christians just change the greek habits of saying “Jupiter” after sneezing to be protected from disease or sickness.
French people will answer to someone sneezing by 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 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 then!
In Gaelic, Irish people will say “Dia linn” or “Dia leat” (“God be with us”) after “Achoo!”. Another possible answer may be the deprecating term “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 could answer with “gabh mo leithscéal” meaning “excuse me.”
English people will 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 benign condition characterized 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 toast word Vikings also used when they drank Valhalla Beer from their enemies’ skull?
Let’s sneeze with “Atjoo” in Sweden. Such as in Norway, the most common response to someone sneezing is “prosit” to which the sneezer responds “tack” (thank you). An old quote from the 19th century attributed to Longfellow stated : “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. In Finland, people say: “Terveydeksi“, after someone sneezes which means “for health”. A Finnish blog explains one of the reason why we say “for health” after sneezing : Every time we sneeze our hearts stop for a fraction of a second. Sneeze is a little death. Coming back to life after sneezing means you’re healthy.
Atju! – Hatju!
Just as its Scandinavian neighbors, Danes tend to say “Prosit” (“to [your] health”) after a sneeze. The polite response is “tak” (“thank you”). There’s another interesting explanation for blessing with “to your health”. That one relates with yawns. Yawning was before considered very dangerous because Devil or Evil Spirit could enter you while your mouth was wide open. That’s why it was essential that you kept your hand over your mouth when you yawned. Yawning was dangerous but sneezing was healthful. With sneezes you tried to get rid of Evil Spirit hiding inside of you. Because of that effort you were blessed.
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 thrice, an informal comment would be “(Drie keer) morgen mooi weer!” (which means “(Three times) the weather [will be] nice tomorrow”). This response can be made by both sneezer and non-sneezer.
Hatsjoe! – Hatsjie! – Atchoum!
In Belgium, you will sneeze differently according to where you are. No kidding! If you are in Wallonia, just sneeze with “Atchoum” and people will reply to you with “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 is appropriate !
Germany – Austria
Hatschi! – Hatschu!
We say “Hatschi” in Germany and “Gesundheit“(“health”) is said after a sneeze. The sneezer normally responds “Danke” (“thank you”). Sometimes other wishes are uttered at following sneezes, e.g. “Zufriedenheit” (“contentment”), “Reichtum” (“wealthiness”) or (humorously) “Schönheit” (“beauty”). The German word “Gesundheit” passed into local English usage in areas with substantial German-speaking populations. The expression is first widely attested in American English as of 1910, about the time when large numbers of Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews immigrated to the United States.
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 wherever you are !
Etciú! – Etcì! – Etciùm! – Etchòum!
Italian don’t sneeze with a word starting with “a” but with “e” : “Etciú“, “Etcì“, “Etciùm“, or “Etchòum” is the common term 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 popular belief widely spread, the simple act of sneezing is caused by demons that tickle the nose of someone and can bring out its soul from the body.
“Hepčí” is the czech word for sneezing. Czech people will reply to you with “Na zdraví“, which means “To your health” just as when you share a toast. “Na zdraví” can be followed by the response “Ať slouží” (“May it last”). It is also less common to say “Pozdrav Pánbůh” (“Bless God” or “Greet God”) or “Je to pravda” (“It is true”). In Czech Republic, kids even had a board game entitled “Hepčí” where they have to play with a sick polar bear…
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 as “Thank you”.
Latvians sneeze the same way as their Lithuanian neighbors. One says “Uz veselību” after sneezing, which means “to your health”. In Latvian cold winter, we may hear a lot “Apčī“…
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 sometimes interpreted as a confirmation from God that what is said was true! This is nowadays still a common folkloric superstition. After someone sneeze, Hungarians say “Egészségedre“, which means “[to your] health”. 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 “Hvala” meaning “Thank You.” Nowadays old-fashioned response to a sneeze would be “Bog pomagaj“, meaning “God helps you”.
Croatia – Serbia – Bosnia and Herzegovina
In Croatie, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, people sneeze with the word “Apciha“. People there will reply “Na zdravlje” (with variations from one country to another) meaning “to your health”. For the sneezer, it is polite to reply “Hvala” meaning “Thank you.” Less frequent, but also a common response is “Istina”, meaning “it is true”, as it is also there thought that sneezing reveal the truth.
We say “Apchix” in Bulgaria when we 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 has sneezed can then say “Благодаря” (Blagodarya), which means “Thank you”.
In Macedonia after sneezing, one says “На здравје” (na zdravje), meaning “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”.
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 by “στην υγεία σου” (steen eyia sue) meaning “to your health” or “γείτσες” (“healths”).
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”).