It seems that even the most ill-behaved and uncultured still know that you don’t put your elbows on the table during a meal (even if they don’t follow that rule). But have you ever wondered why? It’s clear why you wouldn’t prop up your feet (they’re smelly and make it difficult to reach the food for all by the most flexible, etc.) but why are elbows a no-go? The truth is there are several truths and we’ll examine a few them.
Reason #1: Poor Furniture
Research into early dining etiquette suggests that the way we used to eat influenced, well, the way we used to eat. During the middle ages, for all their amenities such as bedpans, lack of electricity, and hard stone floors, castles and great houses in England (where all manners come from) did not have dining tables like we know today.
Instead, when the king, queen and all their court sat down for a meal, they were seated at long, communal tables that weren’t particularly sturdy. Add to this the practice of seating all the diners on one side of the table, and then weight distribution becomes a truly weighty issue. If everyone from Lord Farley Knightington of Burbleshire to Lady Beulah Goatsgizzard of Gargleford rested their elbows at the same time, the table would become a trebuchet, catapulting the evening’s menu across the great hall. Or, more likely (but still pretty funny) the table would simply collapse. And, since dry cleaning hadn’t been invented yet, royals and nobles agreed to keep tables a no elbow zone.
Reason #2: Poor Posture
If weight distribution on the table isn’t the rationale for keeping elbows clear, then weight distribution of your body just might be. Consider the shape you’re in—literally—when you eat with your elbows on the table:
Your upper spine bends forward, but your ribs are pushed inwards. This, in turn, compresses your stomach between the two. This misalignment is horrible for digestion. For this reason, keeping your elbows off the table isn’t about appearances or tradition or something that some fancypants back in the day thought we all should do, but is actually based on what’s good for your health.
Now, in our careful consideration of the reasons we keep elbows off the table, entry #2 had our vote for the best argument. Until we came across reason #3, the strongest justification of all…
Reason #3: ‘Cause Momma Said So
Whatever your motivation is for following this most widely known of all the etiquette rules, nothing is quite as persuasive as the time honored “slap-upside-the-head” from your dear materfamilias.
But what do you think? Is keeping elbows off the table a rule you follow? Why or why not? We’d love to hear your thoughts as well as any other reasons you’ve heard for following this rule. Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until then, bon appetit!