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No Elbows on the Table: Corn and a Lesson About Table Manners

We’re visiting the grandparents, and we arrived Sunday night to a beautiful home-cooked meal prepared, as usual, by Santa Maria’s father. He served roast chicken, stuffing, asparagus, and corn on the cob.

The corn might have been out of season, but it was very popular. Nina and Pinta gobbled it up. Nina sat across from me, and as she struggled to get the buttered kernels off the cob, she had her elbows on the table.

We’ve been teaching the kids manners, and this caught the attention of Pinta, who called out, “No elbows on the table.” I saw Nina struggling and said “Elbows are allowed on the table when eating corn on the cob. It’s a little known rule of etiquette, that when you eat something with your hands, no rules apply.”

I made that up, of course, but it sounded good. Later, I second guessed myself, so I did a bit of research into elbows and table manners.

  • According to a post on The Sydney Morning Herald’s site: “The great houses and castles of England during the middle ages did not have dining tables in the great halls, so tables were made from trestles and covered with a cloth. The diners sat along one side only; if they put their elbows on the table and leant too heavily, the table could collapse.”
  • Something called AllSands (“Over 7000 Grains of Knowledge & Counting…”) concurs that the rule dates back to the Middle Ages, but it suggests that it came about for different reasons: in those days everyone ate cafeteria style, at long tables, side by side, and if you had your elbows on the table it meant that one less person could fit there.
  • And an entry on Amazon’s Askville adds this: “In France, the general rule is, and not just at meal tables, keep your hands in view. I suspect the reason for this so that there can be no suspicion of any type of hankypanky under the table!"

After I looked around a bit, I felt that making something up was the right approach. What do you tell your children about table manners?



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