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Have you ever been doing something completely mundane and automatic only to stop and think, "Why am I doing this?" I had this thought this morning as I made my bed for the bajillionth time of my life. Who am I trying to impress? My cat? And why would anybody be impressed by my made bed anyway? I'm only going to unmake it to crawl back into bed tonight. What is the point? I don't know, but I can't stop doing it, and I shudder to think of the mental repercussions if I start my day without making my bed. It has been the first thing I've done every day for as long as I can remember.

I guess some things we do just don't have much of a point. Most of these things don't particularly bother me. I've lived with them, I'll continue doing them, and then I'll die, and future generations may or may not (but probably will) continue doing them. There is one social custom, however, in which I flat-out refuse to participate. Maybe it makes me bad-mannered, but if you ever sneeze in front of me, don't expect a "bless you."

Now, my dislike of "bless you" has absolutely nothing to do with religion. I'm not offended by it. My agnosticism isn't threatened. In fact, I don't even associate "bless you" with religion in my mind. And even if I did, that still wouldn't bother me. I've heard many explanations for the origin of the phrase, from the bubonic plague to the idea that your heart stops when you sneeze to protecting the sneezer's soul. I don't think anybody really knows where it comes from. But it's here for the foreseeable future.

I know, "bless you" is a very well-intended social nicety. I don't read any kind of malice into it, and I don't get angry or anything when people say it. That would be silly. But sneezing in public is usually an embarrassing thing for me, and I'll often suppress it (I know, I shouldn't do that) so as not to draw attention to myself. So having four or five well-meaning people compete over who says the first "bless you" is a little uncomfortable. Maybe that's silly on my part. And I'm not so ill-mannered that I won't thank the blessers. But, knowing how awkward it makes me feel to go through this ritual each and every time I sneeze (and god forbid I have the dreaded multi-sneeze), I can't bring myself to breathe life into this tradition by saying "bless you" myself. Or gesundheit, or salud, either. If you actually seem sick, though, I'll ask you if you're okay. I'm not a monster.

Part of it is also that my parents didn't raise me to say "bless you" (perhaps a reason I don't associate it with religion--my parents were very religious), so this social custom has always seemed a bit bizarre to me. One time I asked my mom why she never said "bless you," and I believe her response was something along the lines of, "I just don't." I like that answer.

Yet I continue to make my bed, not knowing why I do it but fearing the consequences if I don't.

What about you? Any pointless customs that grind your gears?


Kitchen Table Kibitzing is a community series for those who wish to share part of the evening around a virtual kitchen table with kossacks who are caring and supportive of one another. So bring your stories, jokes, photos, funny pics, music, and interesting videos, as well as links—including quotations—to diaries, news stories, and books that you think this community would appreciate. Readers may notice that most who post diaries and comments in this series already know one another to some degree, but newcomers should not feel excluded. We welcome guests at our kitchen table, and hope to make some new friends as well.

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