07 June 2012

Language and Culture: Gesundheit!

Photo used under Creative Commons from William Brawley
My internship in Germany is in a hospital basement. The written directions I was given to find the Dräger office for the first time indicated the street address, building number, and then simply im Keller, or in the basement. If it seemed a little sketch then, it seems a little less sketch now, especially since they have finished construction of the front door area and I can enter the building where it actually looks like an entrance instead of through a side door with a big temporary Eingang sign over it.

I recently heard about a new etiquette rule that has been imposed in Germany by an unnamed etiquette czar. It's one of those things that everyone has heard about but couldn't tell you who they heard it from. I'm assuming that these types of rules are imposed by a secret etiquette czar and that they are regularly released to a select few very talkative individuals who help the rules to trickle down until they reach even the oblivious Americans.

The particular rule I'm referring to here is that it is no longer to polite to say Gesundheit after someone sneezes. The theory behind this is that the act of doing so would draw attention to the sneezer and further embarass them. I'm all for politeness and etiquette, but the one thing I'm missing here is why it is assumed that the sneezer would be embarassed. I guess if the czar wants sneezing to be embarrassing, then he or she has the power to make it so.

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