God bless you… God damn you!

Tropical drinks aren’t a staple in the place where your friendly bartender tends, and in point of fact they’re not even on the radar. For one sweeping look at the classic decor with its rich dark wood and wall-to-wall sports and boxing memorabilia, a customer simply isn’t moved to go all “luau”. (Even on nights when I don that sleek sarong!) But if we did happen to feature those Mai Tai drinks, those Coco Loco’s, et al, and we had in stock an ample supply of those little paper umbrellas that go in those drinks, this past Tuesday night your friendly bartender would’ve passed out those paper umbrellas to everyone at the bar. And not to decorate their drinks, dear reader, as rightly you might surmise, but to protect them from the non-stop sneezer who was absolutely “mist”-ifying!

Are any of you familiar with this what some out there in Bar-land have called “the whiskey sneezes”? Yes? No? This thing where a guy who’s sitting at the bar (it’s almost always a guy) suddenly erupts into a series of explosions spraying the proceedings which he can’t stop for love or money. And I mean that phrase literally. For if you offered this guy a thousand bucks or a date with the woman to his left if she were willing… this goddess who’s a mere eleven on a scale of ten… much as he’d give his right arm to stop he couldn’t. And, alas, your friendly bartender couldn’t stop him either. And YFB stops stuff.

He stops the hiccups with a mix of bitters, sugar and lemon. He stops an upset stomach with a healthy shot of Fernet-Branca. And if he’s lucky and the over-served customer happens to be willing, he can even stop a staggering mumbler from staggering and mumbling with a pot of hot black coffee.  But with a whiskey sneezer there is no stopping and he just has to step away and hope that it ends. Like when the naked guy on the street approaches spouting his non-stop obscenities and parts of the New Testament… you give the fucker room and hope that he stops!

Personally I’ve never had “the sneezes”, (I irritate in other ways), and none of my very best friends have had them either. But some of my very best customers have and I have to say it’s really a pain in the ass! And quite frankly, bizarre!

It usually occurs… this thing which can turn an itty bitty man into mighty Mt. fucking Etna… oddly and always after a sip of fine whiskey.  Ergo the “whiskey sneezes”. But I’ve also seen this occur on a good red wine. (“Wine sneezes, anyone?”) And your friendly bartender doesn’t know why, (he’s a bartender for God sakes, Captain, not a scientist!!!) and would like to get a handle on this phenomenon. For why really does a civilized person ordering a civilized drink… and who’s not, as history has shown, allergic to alcohol… suddenly launch into 30 or 40 eruptions? It boggles and baffles.

But one I thing I do know and this you can take to the bank… shortly after that very first sneeze and the subsequent and heartfelt blessings from those around him, “God bless you!” becomes “God damn you!!!” after sneeze number six. For this man has not only ruined the bar as a line-up of people with their palms over their glasses will attest, but he’s scared the shit out of those who’ve just walked in. Possible and raging flu symptoms kinda scare people.

And on a personal note, with regards to your friendly bartender’s all important tip cup, he’s lost his share of customers due to these monsoons. Yes, on more than a few occasions, more than a few of his loyal bar diners have folded their menus and asked to be moved to dry land. Real dry land like a table on the second floor! And as much as that pisses him off as he watches this exodus, your friendly bartender certainly can’t blame these people.

And now to the point of this post which is more than just bitching…

See, thanks to a few of my very good blog friends who happen to be in the science community (and you know who you are), I’ve attracted quite a few scientists who come to this blog. (I know, imagine that, me being read by scientists! Me, the guy who in college would run past the science hall for fear his I.Q. was showing, now typing stuff being read by scientists. Talk about boggling and baffling!) But that being said and the accolade humbly placed here, your friendly bartender tenders this most obvious question. Short of him throwing this guy over his shoulder and carrying him out like a sack of  spasmic amoebae, do any of you aforementioned scientists have a solution to this? Or at least a logical reason why this sneezing occurs? If you do, please feel free to enlighten or in this case rescue. For if your friendly bartender lays his eyes one more rolled-up cocktail napkin desecrating his bar with what’s inside it, a non-scientific approach just might be implemented.

Ah-choo and God bless you!

Over and out from Bar-land… see ya’ next week-end!

23 Responses to “God bless you… God damn you!”

  1. 1 Anonymoustache May 31, 2009 at 6:27 am

    Can’t help you as to the cause of said spasms bro.
    The only solution I can think of is to carry complimentary hand towels (you know, nice plush cotton ones) that you could hand out— and instruct the person hold it right to his or her face at the first sign of nasal twitching so as to keep the blast radius within the perimeter of said towel. If properly used the towel provides significant noise abatement too, which is a nice courtesy to other patrons also. Maybe a helpful inscription on the towel, such as “Say it, don’t spray it”, could help. I’ll be here all week….try the veal….don’t forget to tip the bartender….

  2. 2 physiobabe May 31, 2009 at 7:26 am

    Apparently, sneezers never heard of excusing oneself and leaving the building or at least retreating to the washroom. Jeez!

  3. 4 Suzan May 31, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    Thanks for bringing this up. I’ve always been among the first to exit quickly after a few too close earth-shattering sneezes in my favorite bars. And I have to agree with physiobabe in that I always offer one of my tissues to any close offender who seems like a reasonable sort.

    Short of him throwing this guy over his shoulder and carrying him out like a sack of spasmic amoebae, do any of you aforementioned scientists have a solution to this? Or at least a logical reason why this sneezing occurs?


  4. 5 scribbler50 May 31, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    Suzan: YOU’RE a reasonable sort for the thoughtful gesture of offering a tissue. Thanks for checking in!

    Physiobabe: Believe it or not they don’t excuse themselves… they keep thinking that last sneeze is going to be THE LAST SNEEZE and of course it never is. Yeesh!

    Physioprof: God bless you!

    Anonymoustache: Love the towel idea, especially “try the veal”, very funny, Sir.

  5. 6 Suzan May 31, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    You’re welcome.

    I always like the idea of being “a reasonable sort.”

    I stick out like that sometimes.

    Love your site!


  6. 7 chezjake May 31, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    Is it possible that the victims of these sneezing attacks usually have the attacks *after* having enjoyed the fine cuisine at your establishment? If so, then they may be sufferers of “snatiation.”

    I sometimes have a brief sneezing fit (usually just two or three sneezes) during a meal, but I suspect they are directly linked to my love of the contents of the pepper grinder.

  7. 8 scribbler50 May 31, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    Chezjake: It’s real possible! Great job, man. At least it’s possible in some cases because I HAVE noticed that this has occurred when people have stopped by for an after dinner drink… a cognac, Sambucca, etc., or even another red wine. They’ve had their meal, they sip their drink and BAM, all hell breaks loose. Well done, Sir, that’s the kind of thing I was looking for. Now to figure out how to stop this shit once it starts!

    Back to the drawing board….

  8. 9 chezjake May 31, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    Hey, Scribbler, glad I was able to be helpful.

    I sort of doubt if there’s any way to stop an attack after it’s started, but lets look at some preventive options. Since this syndrome appears to be inherited, odds are that you have some repeat offenders, and since this is a fairly rare phenomenon your customers aren’t aware of it.

    So, first arm yourself with a printout of this page (better explained and a more authoritative source than the Wikipedia page):
    Maybe even laminate it for storage behind the bar.

    Then, next time someone starts the sneezes at the bar, try saying something like, “Hey, friend, I know you can’t help sneezing and I’m sorry about that. But if you’ll either step outside or into the restroom until they pass, I’ll explain *why* you’re doing it, and I’ll buy your next drink.”

    Now you’re providing them with positive motivation for temporarily leaving the bar, and presumably the cost of that drink will be more than covered by the tips from customers who aren’t chased away.

  9. 10 chezjake May 31, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    Oops. Didn’t quite finish that.

    Hopefully, once those customers who are regulars realize what’s going on, they may decide to eat a bit less so as not to trigger the reflex. But even if they still pig out, if you make that freebie a standing offer if they evacuate, you should get pretty healthy compliance.

  10. 11 scribbler50 May 31, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    chezjake: Thanks again for all of that, most helpful, except for the free drink part. If customers get wind of that they’ll be carrying their own pepper shakers.

  11. 12 jc May 31, 2009 at 11:27 pm

    Head of the Class chezjake! I was going to ask if whiskey had snozberries in it:)

    The sneezers need something like a lobster bib, hold the lobster, or masks that drop down from the ceiling (in case of emergency, YFB puts his mask on first of course, then helps those seated nearby).

  12. 13 Toaster May 31, 2009 at 11:40 pm

    Ethanol is a volatile molecule that’ll waft up your nose and trigger stuff. Whiskey contains other volatile aromatic hydrocarbons as well (or at least it sure smells like it). Therefore I conjecture that the sneezing is induced by the vapors coming off of the drinks.

    Lower temperature liquids generally transition to gas less rapidly than warmer ones. So try to see if the whiskey sneezes happen more often when it has been served neat as opposed to on the rocks. Use water as a negative control.

  13. 14 scribbler50 June 1, 2009 at 12:20 am

    Toaster: And I conjecture, knowing absolutely nothing about the science of it all (until now) that your ethanol theory is just as valid as chezjake’s. That’s because I’ve seen this with both the person who’s just had dinner and with the person who’s just plain drinking, and usually the just-plain-drinkers who sneeze are your cognac and red wine types who are famous for sniffing their drinks, ergo your “waft” theory.
    Thanks for weighing in, man, I appreciate it. In fact I “toast” you!

  14. 15 Donna B. June 1, 2009 at 12:54 am

    Because I’m a cranky sort, I’d like to throw a monkey wrench into said causes of sneezing…

    I’ve never sneezed after drinking fine whisky or wine, but I almost always do after eating the first meal of the day, whether it be bland oatmeal or a highly seasoned Mexican omelet.

    For me, it’s not a full stomach, but rather an empty one that brings on the sneezing.

    I suggest that for both full and empty stomachs it is some variation of GERD that causes the sneezing.

    But what do I know? Next to nothing… which is better than nothing!

  15. 16 scribbler50 June 1, 2009 at 9:10 am

    Donna B.: Though I appreciate (as always) your checking in with your insights, and am sympathetic to what you must go through in the morning, except for an isolated incident or two I don’t think GERD applies to this situation. This is unique to a bar and to alcohol intake. I’m convinced of it. And these people aren’t suffering from GERD they’re suffering from GARDS… Goddam Alcohol Really Drives Sneezing!

    But please accept this heartfelt “God Bless You” just in case you need it after breakfast.

  16. 17 cicely June 1, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    I’ve never met the alcohol-related sneeze-fests of which you speak, but sometimes, usually in the morning, I’ll have a chain of violent, unstoppable sneezes (no, wait, I really do have a point that’s relevant!). When these strike, it doesn’t matter how much I’d love to take it outside….the thing just ain’t possible. Vision and navigation modules are completely screwed up. It’s a question of which is worse; a stationary sneeze-machine, or a sneeze-machine staggering around blindly, going off in unpredictable directions?

    I’d go with keeping a cheap box of tissues somewhere on hand to toss at the victims.

  17. 18 d-a-p June 3, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    boy can i identify with your dilemma…
    i’m such a hypochondriac that one sneeze from 40 feet away and i’m in the rest room taking a small shower in purell…
    i guess if you donned one of those little white masks when this begins to happen… the offender would probably have no clue as to why….but if a lot of regulars were around it might make a point…
    my sneezes are allergic..happily not alcohol induced…but i sure have learned a lot this week from all of the scientific bloggers…
    keep up the great work…
    this sight is one of the best

  18. 19 scribbler50 June 3, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    d-a-p: Thanks for the advice but I already wear the mask… for a whole ‘nother reason and for a whole ‘nother bodily explosion. (Just kidding of course!)
    Hey, I’ve learned a lot as well this week, I’m blessed with some very smart readers.
    Thanks, as always, for your comment.

  19. 20 Arikia June 5, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    A very interesting topic, indeed! I have two personal anecdotes to share that might shed some light on this. I have suffered a massive sneezing attack once where I sneezed about 40 times in a row. I was camping at the time, and the attack came shortly after I had tended to the dying fire. I thought the cause could be solely attributed to smoke irritating my nose, as I have a lot of weird allergies, but I think there is more to it than that. According to Wikipedia, a sneeze occurs when histamines irritate nerve cells in the nose, which relay a signal to the brain and initiate the reflexive sneeze response through the trigeminal nerve network (which controls sensory information related to the face). It is known that alcohol consumption affects action potentials in certain cell signaling pathways — the way it was described to me in my psychotherapy class is that it makes neuron membranes “leaky”, altering the in/outflux of electrolytes and changing the probability that a neuron or neuron system will fire. So my hypothesis is that once a sneeze gets triggered via an allergen (in my case the smoke), irritant (which could be the alcohol fumes as toaster posited) or even a full tummy (as chezjake described), a single sneeze might initiate a sneeze feedback loop in which that sneeze reflex keeps getting tripped because the alcohol-induced brain’s might be oversensitive, firing neurons from sneeze stimuli that would not fire while sober. Kind of like a drunken sneezing seizure.

    Of course… this is just a hypothesis.

    The other thing it could be is that some people are allergic to corn, which certain whiskeys are made from. I am one of those people, except I can’t tell you if I sneezed a lot last time I drank Jack Daniels because, well… that allergy manifested in me getting about 5-X more intoxicated than I would have been if drinking something else. I doubt a corn allergy would manifest in sneezing fits, but it’s a thought.

    Also, if I had such a sneezing fit at a restaurant I would most certainly excuse myself. Although it is pretty adorable when I sneeze. Thanks for the comment, Scribbler! I’m glad you enjoyed my post.

  20. 21 scribbler50 June 6, 2009 at 1:27 am

    Holy mackerel, Arikia, this is kinda what I had in mind when I solicited in essence, “Attention all you scientists out there!” but this is through the roof. Thank you so much for the thought that went into your comment. You’ve incorporated Toaster and chezjake and taken it to the next level. I now know more about the sneeze than the makers of Allererst.
    Cheers, and your post was amazing.

  21. 22 terry July 19, 2014 at 9:19 am

    i suffer from this and all my friends know my remedy. you will be doubtful, but they know it works. saltine crackers. simply find one of those little packets of crackers, tear it open, chew a couple and the sneezing stops. I don’t know why, but it works.

  22. 23 scribbler50 July 19, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    Terry: Thanks for that, I’ll definitely recommend it.

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