If you have interacted with a man in public at any point in your life, you have likely borne witness to a burp-and-blow. A burp-and-blow is when you are talking to a man, and they burp mid-conversation, then blow the burp out the side of their mouth and keep talking as if nothing happened.
The burp-and-blow is not well-documented in popular culture: As far as I can tell, it has made nary an appearance in film or TV. Yet I have personally witnessed it on at least a dozen separate occasions. It is an ongoing habit of my husband’s, and I have seen a number of my male friends doing it as well. Most recently, a former co-worker did it while we were at after-work drinks; when I called him out on it, he was shocked that I’d even noticed in the first place. Do men really believe this move is discreet? Invisible?
I knew I had to get to the bottom of the burp-and-blow phenomenon, especially when my friend Jordyn told me that she too had noticed it. “It’s fucking disgusting, because they think they can conceal it in a suave way,” she told me. “It’s almost the act of thinking they can smoothly disguise it that is so disturbing.”
At first, I thought the burp-and-blow was the burper’s attempt to convince me they hadn’t burped. But to hear self-avowed burp-and-blowers tell it, the burp-and-blow is a simple matter of etiquette. The idea is that blowing out the side of your mouth sends the burp on a path that is parallel to your conversation partner, rather than perpendicular.
Andy Crump, a 34-year-old film critic, admits to burping and blowing regularly. He considers it a show of respect to your conversation partner. “If you’re talking with a friend and you’re gripped by a powerful need to let loose a belch, burping and blowing out the side of your mouth lets you keep the conversation going while dispersing the burp, all without wafting it straight ahead into their face,” he said. “It’s common dude courtesy.”
More than a few men told me they developed the burp-and-blow as a result of their own traumatic childhood experiences with other young boys’ bodily functions. Chris O’Connell, an Austin-based writer, editor, and burp-and-blower, believes it is the most gentlemanly way to handle bodily functions. “When you’re a young boy, it’s A THING to burp and blow it in your friends’ face,” he told me. “I don’t know why, but I think this is like … mentally the opposite of that.”
The basic premise of the burp-and-blow is that it alleviates the stench of the burp, and spares your partner the indignity of having to get a whiff. But as it turns out, the theory that the burp-and-blow can fundamentally alter odor trajectory stems from a misunderstanding of basic physics. Put another way, the blow does nothing to mitigate the odor of the burp. (For the purposes of this story, I asked my friend Alex to blow his burps both head-on and to the side, and I can confirm that the olfactory effect is basically the same.)
In fact, with the burp-and-blow, you run an additional risk of amassing collateral damage, as there’s always the chance that the burp will inadvertently strike an unsuspecting bystander. “I typically blow it out on my right, even if no one is around,” said Tyler Dokis, a self-professed burp-and-blower and an 18-year-old college student. “I’ve definitely accidentally blown into people’s faces before.” On one occasion, he was driving with his cousin and they had just finished making a run to their local A&W for some fried chicken when “I burped and instinctively blew it out to the right, which is right where he was sitting. Cons: he almost threw up in my car. Pros: eh, it was pretty funny.”
Fortunately for the burp-and-blowers (and those in their immediate vicinity), there are much more simple and effective ways to burp in public. “When it is necessary, and sometimes it is, cover your mouth with your left hand (you shake hands with your right hand) and say, ‘Please excuse me,’” said Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert, author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life, and founder of The Protocol School of Texas. Doing so “shows you are aware of the other person and respectful of the uncomfortable position you have put them in by witnessing your gesture.”
Gottsman is staunchly opposed to the burp-and-blow. “A burp, much like passing gas, puts others in an uncomfortable situation. It’s simply not appropriate,” she said. The “‘blow’ action afterwards is a gesture that adds insult to injury.” And yet, there’s a widespread belief that the burp-and-blow is somehow both subtle and effective. “Before you pointed it out, I never realized people had noticed,” my husband told me recently. “I remember being shocked.”
This, I think, is why the burp-and-blow is a predominantly male phenomenon: Yes, our culture is more tolerant of men being open about their bodily functions, but we’re also more tolerant of discourteous male behavior in general. “I do think that men are less considerate about (a) personal space and (b) general hygiene,” said O’Connell. “Like, if I’ve ever done it — and I know I have — it’s because we’re too lazy to take ourselves out of a situation, and we rarely stop talking if we can help it.”
So if you are guilty of the burp-and-blow, and you believe that it is preferable to any alternative, you would be wise to rid yourself of such a foolhardy notion. As Gottsman put it: “While the effort to blow the offensive smell away may be an admirable attempt, the fact is, it’s an unacceptable alternative to discreetly covering your mouth. Bottom line: There is nothing ‘polite’ about blowing a burp in any direction!”