Q: My five year old daughter wants to know WHY we don’t put our elbows on the table. Could you tell us? Thank you very much!
A: Ideal posture is an important component of exemplary table manners. Given that, ideal posture at the table is to sit straight, leaning slightly against the back of the chair. Your hands, when you are not actually eating, may lie in your lap, which will automatically prevent you from fussing with implements, playing with bread crumbs, drawing on the tablecloth, and so forth. However, if you can’t resist the temptation to fidget, you may rest your hands and wrists, but NEVER your entire forearm,on the edge of the table, which may seem more comfortable.
For all we hear about “elbows off the table,” there are some situations when elbows are not only permitted on the table but are actually necessary. This is true in restaurants where to make oneself heard above music or conversation, one must lean far forward. At home though, when there is no reason for leaning across the table, there is no reason for elbows. At a formal dinner, elbows may be on the table because again one has to lean forward in order to talk to a companion across the table. But even in these special situations, elbows are NEVER on the table when one is eating!