From the Embarrassing Moments while in Foreign Countries files - for the Everything Travel Guide:

While in Lyon, France for business, I caught a taxi my first night to get back to my hotel from a restaurant. The driver and I spoke in French during the drive. (Admittedly my French limited; I can speak for about 10 minutes before I run out of words.) At one point the driver sneezed, and I said "bless you" in English.

The driver said "Excuse me?" (Or was it "pardon?") and I said "bless you". At this point the driver stiffened up and stopped speaking to me. I wasn't sure why, and it seemed odd to me that our friendly conversation ended so abruptly. However, I did not know enough French to explore the situation.

The next morning my Project Manager was driving me to a client meeting. We wound through the streets of Lyon and became lost. We spoke English (a relief to me!) Michel told me that the French admired President Clinton because in France most married people have affairs and do not believe it is wrong. I replied that that was horrible, married people should not have affairs! Then Michel sneezed, and I said "bless you". Michel said "What??!!". I said "bless you". Michel asked what this means, and I said that it's my hope that G-d will watch over you and keep you healthy.

Michel laughed. He explained that in French "bless you" means "hurt you". Bless from the verb "blesser". Well, that explained why the taxi driver didn't like me!!

We had a good laugh, and I asked Michel what one should say in France when someone sneezes. He said it's "a vos souhait". Literally, this translates as "to your wishes". I guess that when a French person sneezes they are supposed to make a wish!

So, when you're in France, never say "bless you" (unless you really don't like the person). Say "a vos souhaits!" or "a tes souhaits!"

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