So, I'm at at the Queen's Garden Party (as a medic, not a guest, though it's a rather lovely opener to any story) when Jax sneezes.
“Oooh. Bless me.”
“You can't solicit blessings…” begins Sarge “Either people will bless you or not, but you can't go round demanding it.”
Jax looks at Sarge like he's mental.
She's got a point.
But it gets me thinking.
We all know the drill. Someone sneezes and it's considered polite to say “Bless you” or, if you're terribly posh, “God bless you.”
We all know the probably apocryphal origins of the custom, that during the Black Death, a sneeze was one of the earlier symptoms, and to be caught sneezing in public was to alert others to the fact that you were probably about to die in a fireworks cascade of pustules and boils and rats piss (I haven't studied bubonic plague very much…that'll have to do). So people started blessing each other, in the hopes that the Big Yin would drop a urinal block or two in the Thames to negate the nastier effects of old Rattus Norvegus tinkling in the Evian.
I can't help thinking a bottle of Dettol and a green scrubby might have been more effective.
Still, we're left with this ridiculous legacy of invoking a deity whenever someone's nasal airways are irritated and they expel mucus and air at high speed to remove said irritation. Not only is it a custom, it's practically etiquette – people like Jax get upset if you don't offer them the blessings of the almighty just because they haven't taken an anti-histamine this morning.
The thing is, when you fart, or burp, or cough, it's up to YOU to say “Excuse me”, because we recognise that those involuntary actions your body makes have no place in polite company. Largely because they're the sounds associated with expelling something that it doesn't need anymore and have no place lolloping around in polite company.
For some reason sneezing is exempt, like a flatmate who's offended because you pointed out their pubes on your soap, sneezes demand that everyone else makes it all better in the interests of keeping the offending party sweet.
So in the interests of removing this daft anachronisism and avoiding any risk of offence by the summoning of a Judeo-Christian god with a box of Kleenex, I'm advocating a new system which still acknowledges the sneeze and yet is up to date and unlikely to offend.
It simply requires you to point at the sneezer and shout “You sneezed!”
Before you dismiss it, it's marginally less ludicrous than requiring the gods to attend to your sinus drip. I hope they have more important matters to attend to than your snottery beak.
Failing that, if you're still up for pulling celestial beings into your bodily expulsions, I've devised a whole new range of sayings.
For instance, when you've excused yourself from the dinner table to use the bathroom, from now on I think it should be only gracious, on your return, to tell your fellow diners – “Peace be upon you, I shat.”
Also, please feel free to use the following lines in polite company.
“By the grace of Shiva, your tummy is rumbling.”
“May the Buddha smile upon your productive cough.”
“Apollo's flight, true and straight, guide your wee to the porcelain.”
“Pray the angels sing in the key of your queef.”
Obviously, being a etiquette trail blazer can be a lonely business, so I'm going to need you guys to all start using these with immediate effect. Report back, readers.
Today is the first day of a wonderful new era of partnership between farting and heaven.