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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Why do people in Spain say ‘Jesus’ when someone sneezes?

Something foreigners often pick up on while in Spain is that it's common for Spaniards to shout out ‘¡Jesús!’ when somebody sneezes. Why is this the case?

Why do people in Spain say 'Jesus' when someone sneezes?
Nowadays, you are perhaps more likely to hear a Spaniard say ‘salud’ (health) rather than 'Jesús' after a sneeze, especially as an increasing number of people in Spain are no longer religious.  Photo: Brandon Nickerson/Pexels

Jesus’s name comes up often in Spain, not least because it’s a perfectly acceptable name for a man (often for women as well: María Jesús), whereas in most other Christian countries the moniker is reserved solely to refer to Jesus Christ. 

But there’s another common use of Jesus’s name that comes up often in Spain. 

Someone sneezes, and the person closest to them – even if they’re a complete stranger – will shout ¡Jesús!, to which the sneezer will reply gracias (thank you). 

It’s similar to how English speakers will respond to a sneeze with ‘bless you’, or French speakers will say ‘santé’, but why do Spaniards choose instead to name Christ?

According to Spanish priest Jesús Luis Sacristán in an interview with Cadena Ser, “in ancient times, both Romans and Greeks thought that sneezing was a sign that the gods were warning you of something, a divine warning” as it was already understood that consistent sneezing could precede illness. 

Obviously, Greeks and Romans weren’t uttering Jesus’s name back then, but instead shouting ‘May Zeus save you’, or ‘Hail!’.

With the advent of Christianity and devout Catholicism in Spain, this old tradition of praising the gods took on a more alarmist approach in that sneezes were considered to represent the devil’s attempted entry into our bodies. 

Inquisition-wary Spaniards would reportedly shout Jesus’s name out loud several times, which eventually gave way to saying His name just once. 

The tradition of uttering Jesus’s name post-estornudo (sneeze) didn’t spread to other Catholic countries however, in a similar way to how Jesus isn’t a man’s name in France and Italy. 

Nowadays, you are perhaps more likely to hear a Spaniard say ‘salud’ (health) after a sneeze, especially as an increasing number of people in Spain are no longer religious. 

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SPANISH WORD OF THE DAY

Spanish Word of the Day: ‘Chiringuito’

Here’s one of the most summer-themed Spanish words out there, so you need to add it to your vocab. 

Spanish Word of the Day: 'Chiringuito'

When Spaniards think of summer, they often picture vacaciones (holidays), sol y playa (sun and beach) and tinto de verano (red wine mixed with soda/lemonade and ice – don’t diss it until you’ve tried it). 

And the place where they’re most likely to enjoy all these placeres del verano (summer pleasures) is at a chiringuito

Un chiringuito is essentially a beach bar. 

They’re usually small establishments that serve drinks and food to beachgoers during the sweltering summer months, meaning that many don’t open for the rest of the year. 

You’ll get the more rough and ready ones, wooden huts with dried out palm leaves providing shade as the radio blasts los éxitos del verano (the summer hits), to the more refined chiringuitos that are essentially like upmarket beachside gastrobars serving up plates of sardines as if they were haute cuisine. 

The word chiringuito (pronounced chee-reeng-gee-toh, the u in silent) was brought to Spain by los Indianos, the name given to Spaniards who emigrated to South and Central America in the 19th and 20th centuries and then returned to Spain, often with a lot more money under their belt. 

They would order a chiringuito when they wanted un café, a word used by Cubans who worked on sugar plantations to refer to how the coffee they made would filter through a stocking squirted out like a stream (chorro or chiringo).

The first beach kiosk to be dubbed a chiringuito was in 1949 in the coastal Catalan town of Sitges, where many wealthy Indianos settled. 

Then came the hippie movement in the sixties, the explosion of tourism in Spain and the hoards of beachgoers needing refreshing drinks to get some respite from the sun.

In 1983, chiringuito made it into the Spanish dictionary and in 1988 French pop singer Georgie Dann hit the charts with El Chiringuito.

These simple wooden beach huts were now officially part of Spanish culture.

But chiringuito has another meaning in Spain which pays heed to the informal nature of these establishments. 

Nowadays, chiringuito is often used to refer to a shady business, a government department born from cronyism, a bunch of cowboys basically.

Headline in Spanish right-wing news website OK Diario reads “Sánchez increased shady public enterprises (chiringuitos) by 10 percent as GDP plummeted due to the coronavirus”.

We certainly know what kind of chiringuito we prefer.

There’s also the expression “cerrar el chiringuito”, which means to finish a duty and leave.

Examples:

Vamos a tomar unas cañas y un pescaito al chiringuito.

Let’s go and have some beers and some fish at the beach bar. 

Si quieres mantener tus inversiones a salvo has de alejarte todo lo lejos que puedas de lo que se conoce como chiringuito financiero.

If you want to keep your investments safe you have to get away as far as you can from shady companies.

Ya es tarde, habrá que pensar en cerrar el chiringuito e irse a casa.

It’s late, time to finish work and go home.

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