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Achoo! What to Say in Chinese When Someone Sneezes

January 24, 2020

Photo of young Chinese girl sneezing

Sneezes are universal, but the ways in which people respond to them are not. Now that cold and flu season is in full swing, it’s important to know the proper etiquette expected of you.

So what should you say in Chinese when someone sneezes (打喷嚏 dǎ pēntì)? The simple answer is nothing!

In English-speaking countries, it is both common and polite to say “bless you” when someone else sneezes. Chinese speakers, on the other hand, don’t often acknowledge other people’s sneezes. Occasionally, you might hear someone say “保重 (bǎozhòng, take care of yourself).” “百岁 (bǎi suì),” which literally means “one hundred years old,” is another possible response. But more often than not, no one will comment at all.

When you sneeze, you can be polite by saying, “不好意思 (bù hǎoyìsi, excuse me).” If someone else is sneezing or coughing a lot, you can express concern for their well-being by asking if they’ve caught a cold (“你感冒了吗? [Nǐ gǎnmào le ma?]”), or offering them some advice such as “多喝点水 (duō hē diǎn shuǐ, drink some more water)” or “多穿点衣服 (duō chuān diǎn yīfú, put on another layer).”

As a side note, it’s fairly common in many Asian countries to see people wearing surgical masks in public during the winter months. This is not to prevent themselves from getting sick, but to avoid spreading germs to others. If you really want to go the extra mile to be polite, you could try wearing a mask when you catch a cold.

Best wishes for a healthy winter and a pollen-free spring!