The sneeze

I am not easily startled out of my commuting reverie: the laughing school kids, squeaking shoes, mobile phones melodies and dozing salarymen on my shoulder do nothing but instill in me a sense of the familiar and safe.
That was until recently, hay fever season! I have become haunted by an unsettling sound: The Sneezing Salaryman.
The Sneeze of the Salaryman is a deafening phenomenon that barely resembles a sneeze. It’s more like a sudden verbal explosion or shout, as if a man had been threatened by an axe murderer. Every time I hear the sound I immediately turn around to offer help to the victim but to my horror and surprise find that it is just a salaryman who has sneezed. He clearly shows no signs of remorse or embarrassment and quietly resumes his daydreaming. Sneezes aren’t meant to be this loud, are they?
In Europe if a sneeze approaches you try to hide it as best you can, whereas the salaryman embellishes it and turns it into the most ecstatic event of the day-for him that is. For me it is a frightening episode in my otherwise peaceful commute. It’s impolite to blow your nose in public but OK if you want to sneeze like an elephant!
By contrast, the average female Japanese sneeze is a tiny implosive whimper, like a mouse sneezing. Why such a big difference? And why is it only me who seems to be perturbed by the sound? Nobody else on the train bats an eyelash and I think to myself, “am I finally going crazy, hearing sneezing in my head?”
I suppose sneezing is a harmless and enjoyable way of releasing stress and nervous energy. The salaryman spends an inordinate amount of time in his office, and the strain can take its toll, so I think it’s only fair to grant him a moment of explosive freedom and intensified stress relief. So the next time you hear the sound of the Sneezing Salaryman, stand a few paces back to avoid the spray and say, “Sneeze on and bless you.”

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