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A German businessman is on a train in London when he sneezes. An Englishman standing next to him says, "Bless you." But the German still doesn't understand. In England, saying "Bless you" after someone sneezes is considered normal and polite. But Germans say "Gesundheit", which means "To health". That's why the German businessman is confused.

Every culture has got expressions for common situations, such as meeting people or saying " hello", but they aren't always the same. Sometimes it's because beliefs have changed, which makes the expressions difficult to understand. "Bless you" is one example of this. Its origins go back to AD 77 when many people were dying from the bubonic plague, a terrible illness. Sneezing was an early symptom of this illness and blessing a person was believed to help. Today, most English speakers use this expression without thinking about their religious beliefs.

Sometimes an expression is difficult to understand because its meaning has changed. For example, English speakers often say "How do you do?" when meeting someone. People in the 16th century used the expression "How do you?" when asking about someone's  health. Its meaning was the same as today's "How are you?" In the 18th century, people began using "How do you do?" as a general greeting.

Some expressions, such as "Good luck", "See you then" and "Well done" are clear. But others just aren't logical. It's not surprising that people who speak English as a foreign language often get confused!

WHAT DOES
IT MEAN?

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Choose the correct answer.

Question

a) The Englishman said "Bless you" because ...

Answers

... he was confused.

... he sneezed.

... the German businessman sneezed.

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Question

b) The meaning of everyday expressions ...

Answers

... is the same in every country.

... doesn't always stay the same.

... is always difficult to understand.

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Question

c) The expressions "Bless you" was used ...

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... to help people with the bubonic plague.

... by people with the bubonic plague.

... to give people the bubonic plague.

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Question

d) In the 16th century, the expression "How do you?" ...

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... meant "How are you?"

... was a greeting.

... was used when meeting someone for the first time.

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Question

e) People who aren't native English speakers get confused ...

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... by expressions like "Well done".

... because some expressions aren't logical.

... because of their religious beliefs.

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Complete the sentences with information from the text.

a) Today, the British use the expression "Bless you" when someone .

b) The expression that Germans use when someone sneezes means .

c) Sneezing was a symptom of .

d) Today, the expression "How do you do?" is used when you .

e) The writer mentions the expression "Good luck" as an example of expressions.

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Answer these questions about the text. Use short answers.

a) How was the German businessman travelling?

.

b) What do Germans say when someone sneezes?

.

c) What was the big problem in AD 77?

.

d) When did people use the expression "How do you?" to ask about someone's health?

.

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