and now for something totally out of character…

October 27, 2010

Over the last two years, I’ve never posted something that happened to me just to tell an odd or funny story. I’m trying to run a science blog here, not a personal diary. But a very bizarre and awkward moment that happened during the daily ritual of almost every IT cubicle dweller, the morning coffee run, just begs for a mention and a post that’ll let you practice your witty comebacks in the comments. Imagine a perfectly normal coffee shop that you visit day in, day out with little more than a friendly chat with the baristas. Then, one day, as you’re putting a little sugar in your coffee, you innocently sneeze and mutter an “excuse me” as proper social decorum asks of you, even if you’re not really talking to anyone. And in reply, an anonymous voice from nearby barks “God bless you! And America!” Thinking you’ve been included in some inside joke, you turn around expecting to find some giggling political science students, or something to that extent, and instead, you’re met with a steely gaze of a small woman in hear early to mid-60s. The kind of look that says she wasn’t trying to be funny.

Now, it takes me a little while to get warmed up in the morning so the best I could muster was a “um… yeah…, sure, let’s go with that.” Really, when confronted with such a display of overzealous religious nationalism in a world outside of foaming-at-the-mouth temper tantrums of the media and political blogs, it takes a second for you to fire up a proper witty retort. As a lifelong night owl who’s barely functional before 9:00 am, I clearly was not up to the task. But maybe you are, so take your best shot at a comeback in the comments. Oh and when I say comeback, I’m talking about a short, sarcastic, one sentence retort. Keep in mind that for the purposes of this exercise, you don’t have time to launch into a long-winded debate about history and policy…

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  • Stephan Spiegel

    I’ve always liked “May the devil curse you” as a rejoinder to “God bless you.” Logically, the two statements are equivalent, but unlikely to be perceived as such.

    As for “God bless America” – how about “…because America needs his blessing more than any other country”? Logic is to patriotism what matter is to antimatter.

  • beriukay

    A few ideas:

    “Kill the infidels!”
    “Allahu Akbar!”
    “No thanks, I prefer to earn my good fortune”
    “What’s that got to do with germ theory?”
    “I bet you say that to all the girls”

  • TomC

    Too late! I sold my soul for caffeine as did America

  • Matt P

    “…and no place else!”

  • Just about anything in Russian, with the thickest accent you can manage, would probably have been fine.

    Or perhaps, “Are you asking him or telling him?”

    “And Anton LaVey!”

    Or just something in Tongues…

  • Greg Fish

    “I bet you say that to all the girls”

    Ok, I think this one’s emerging as my current favorite, though “What’s that got to do with germ theory?” is a very close second. Beriukay sounds like a seasoned snark-lete!

    “Just about anything in Russian, with the thickest accent you can manage…”

    I don’t know how well she could tell Russian apart from any other foreign language. Maybe just a really over-exaggerated accent to sound like a throwback to Russian spy stereotypes?

  • Angela

    “I’m Canadian.”
    “No thank you.”

  • RocketCy

    I’ve always like “and all our enemies.”

    Anything too snarky and she gets to walk away feeling superior, because she was just trying to be nice and you were rude and ill-mannered and thus unworthy of further contemplation, but “and all our enemies” reminds her of what her Jesus would tell her to do and will hopefully nag at her all day.

  • Joe Jones

    God was left out of the US Constitution for a reason–the Thirty Years War.

    Then just leave her to go look it up. If she doesn’t, she doesn’t care about America anyway. If she does, maybe she will learn something.

  • Paul

    There’s not much you can say to the smug, self-satisfied Believer that doesn’t make you look shouty and stupid. If you need to say something to make yourself feel “big”, go for it; but you’re just doing what they are doing, coarsely forcing your beliefs onto others.

    Otherwise, the best thing you can do is frown slightly and ignore it. (Unless someone is standing next to the Believer, looking vaguely embarrassed, then you can share a wry knowing smile. Reassuring them that they aren’t alone. A little metaphorical “I Don’t Believe” badge.)

  • LW

    How about “Thank you.”

  • Greg Fish

    Well, the “thank you” takes care of the “bless you” portion, but what about the America part? I can’t exactly stand in for Uncle Sam, I look nothing like him.

  • whtrabi

    Why do you feel the need for “a proper witty retort” a simple thank you and amen and you can still feel superior and better than others while allowing the other person to make what seems to them to be a caring comment. I guess the notion of tolerance is only for the other side not for you. O btw God bless you all and God bless America.

  • @whtrabi: Amen to that.

    At a son’s fourth or fifth grade get together, I paused between …one nation and …under God… in the Pledge of Allegiance. A cute little thing of about twenty three with appropriate teacher badges on her blouse notified me, and not without scorn, that there is no comma between nation and under God. Don’t ask me how a normal English speaker is supposed to not pause at the beginning of a clearly prepositional phrase, but that’s what her ilk demanded. Maybe it’s no more difficult than some of the symantic hurdles the Marine Corps expects, but at least you get to practice there. I considered wringing her neck. I’m glad she was so pretty, it helped me keep from making a really bad choice. I opted instead for a benign smile and “I’m sorry, we didn’t have that part when I graduated from high school.”

    Moral, Greg, when someone says something really snide to you in a public place: Picture your assailant as a really cute 23 year old woman and then consider what to say. You may be able to see the wisdom of sugar and spice as opposed to really witty venom and spleen.

  • Greg Fish

    Ragg, what I think you and Whtrabi missed is that it wasn’t a caring comment and it didn’t even seem like it. It was just awkward and bizarre. Now, if I was a reddit atheist, heard “God bless you” in rsponse to a sneeze, and immediatey posted something about “fundies harassing me at coffee shops” while asking how to best make fun of her, you’d have a point. But that’s not what happened.

    I don’t care if whoever creates an awkward situation with an unsolicited display of nationalist zeal is 23 and an ex-beauty queen, or a wrinkled, old man. It’s still totally inappropriate and outside normal social decorum.

  • Viveka-Lynn Davis

    “How kind”
    “Where does it hurt?”
    “…and all the little children, and all the ships at sea”
    “Do that in private, please!”
    “Take it down an octave and tacet it”
    “Thanks for clearing that up”
    “There, there…try to breathe”
    “Too much information! Too much information!”
    “Bless my momma”
    “Attracting attention to yourself”
    “Making lists? Can anybody add things?”
    “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?”
    “If you can’t be groovy, ya gotta split”
    “Got any more?”
    “Not in front of the kiddies!”
    “Ow ow ow ow ow ow”
    “How droll”
    “Got a brother? Got any tape?”
    “What else can you do?”

    –Some are oldies, some mine