Now, different people have different habitual things that they say when someone sneezes. Shannon tends to use the old Roman response of "Congratulations!", though he doesn't say it in the original Latin. My mom, the eternal irreverent smart-ass, tends to make the sign of the cross and say, "Bless you, my child!" Personally, I tend to say, "Gesundheit" -- when it comes to sneezing (as with most things), I prefer not to bring God into it.
Anyway, a few weeks ago, I was sitting next to a young black woman on the bus. She sneezed. I smiled and said, "Gesundheit," as is my wont. She looked at me oddly, then looked away. A minute later, she looked back at me again and asked, "What does that mean?"
I was stumped for a moment. I mean, I know basically what "Gesundheit" means in modern usage ... but I'd never said it to someone who'd never heard it before.
I blinked. I blinked again.
I explained that "Gesundheit" meant basically the same thing as saying, "Bless you," but that it was German for something like "Good health."
This young woman looked at me like I was insane. Why in the world would I say something to her in German on a bus in the middle of Oakland, and just assume that she would know what it meant? I'd never really thought about it before. I guess it is a little strange.
Ah well. She probably would have thought I was even more odd if I'd said, "Congratulations!" or something in Latin.