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The Elbows Rule

There are different explanations for the origin of the elbows rule (avoiding tipping over unstable tables, preventing slouching, maintaining a less crowded table, keeping the table cloth clean, and so on), but let’s focus on how best to comply with the mutable elbows rule.

By
Adam Lowe
June 16, 2008

I remember having dinner at my grandparents’ house as a child. If any of the children’s elbows (or adults’ elbows for that matter) made their way near the table, my grandmother would be watching like a hawk and insist on immediate removal of the offending joint. At my parents’ house, the rules were a little different: elbows were to be kept off the table, but there were certain cutlery maneuvers where elbows were tolerated.

I have heard different explanations for the origin of the elbows rule (avoiding tipping over unstable tables, preventing slouching, maintaining a less crowded table, keeping the table cloth clean, and so on), but let’s focus on how best to comply with the mutable elbows rule.

One thing to keep in mind, is that there are strong cultural differences in terms of elbows.

One thing to keep in mind, is that there are strong cultural differences in terms of elbows. For British and American manners, it is generally considered rude to put your elbows on the table. For French manners, elbows are acceptable for many acts of cutting and eating food.

So do pay attention to where you are, but remember that your best bet is to keep your elbows off the table. Of course, if the food has been cleared away, and you want to lean on your elbows to look a loved one in the eye, it is probably OK.

So keep a hawk’s eye on those elbows, and thank you for listening to Modern Manners Guy's Quick and Dirty Tips for a More Polite Life.

Transcripts of this show can be found online at manners.quickanddirtytips.com.

Send your question and comments to manners@quickanddirtytips.com. The Modern Manners Guy is part of the quick and dirty tips network. Check out the other great shows at QuickAndDirtyTips.com.

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