No Elbows on the Table, Please | Meredith Sweetpea | Manners & Etiquette


No Elbows on the Table, Please

Miss Meredith Sweetpea has noticed a rise in “casual” dining manners, including the particularly offensive “elbows on the table.” Are we just too tired to sit up and eat anymore? Are we used to hunching over our meals because they’re not exciting enough? Have we forgotten how to have good table conversations?

No Elbows on the Table While Eating

According to the rules of dining etiquette, as offered by Emily Post, “Avoid slouching and don’t place your elbows on the table while eating.” (She does say it’s OK to prop your elbows on the table while conversing between courses though.) In polite society you are not supposed to make a big deal over your food, and heaven forbid, act like you are starving. Therefore, leaning forward, putting your elbows on the table, eating quickly, and perhaps even putting one arm around your plate are considered gauche behaviors. It causes the diner to look disrespectful, bored, tired, or disinterested in the both the company and the food.

The No Elbows Rule Began Long Ago

The No Elbows rule most likely began in the medieval times during communal feasts given by rulers or lords and including the local population. People did not want to be considered peasants, and therefore looked upon the manners of the upper classes. In addition, there were many people attending these feasts, packed elbow to elbow along long tables. To bump a neighbor while he or she is eating, or to take up more space than acceptable, could indeed cause a quarrel, or even a fight. Also during the Middle Ages, people were becoming aware of themselves, and did not want to bring shame or embarrassment upon themselves or their families. They strove to elevate themselves, and began to invent societal rules that demonstrated self control and restraint, a welcome change from the more impulsive culture that preceded the Middle Ages. As disease became rampant during this time period, it was important to demonstrate health. Holding oneself erect while eating demonstrated good health. In addition, the rule limited the exposure to perhaps-unclean parts of the body on the table.

There’s a Loophole

While the rule for No Elbows exists, one does not have to sit perfectly erect while dining at the table. It is perfectly acceptable to rest your forearms lightly on the edge of the table, especially when engaged in conversation with someone across the table. It demonstrates interest in what that party is saying. Do keep in mind, however, that the table is not there to support your weight. If the table were removed, you should not be leaning so much as to topple onto the floor.

Eating at Home is No Excuse

Some may argue that they can do what they like while eating at home. When in the privacy of one’s home, one can indeed do what they like. But wouldn’t the world be a little bit nicer place for those dining around you if you practiced basic manners at home as well as in public. After all, who are the most important people to impress? That’s right…those in your own family who look up to, admire and respect you. Earn some brownie points with your spouse today by minding your elbows.


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