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Elbows on the Table?

Posted by Peter Post  March 11, 2014 07:00 AM

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It’s not often I come across etiquette that I’ve never heard of, but yesterday I did. What was even more interesting is how one piece of that advice reminded me exactly of the advice Emily gave in the first edition of Etiquette in 1922.

So what is the new-to-me etiquette advice I came across? 10 Rules for Naked Dining: The Etiquette of Nude Resorts. It was an article on the Fox News web site. When I saw it, I couldn’t resist so I clicked.

Most of the advice was pretty obvious: Don’t get too near the grill; ladies, understandably, don’t lean across the table; carry a towel—not to wrap around yourself but to sit on; no staring; and others. But one piece of advice caught my eye:

“Sit up straight,” says Masini (the person interviewed). “Good posture at the dinner table is always a way to show good breeding and good manners, but when you’re nude, slouching and elbows akimbo are not only more noticeable—they create a silhouette that is less attractive than if you have clothes on. Sit up straight!”
One of the big misconceptions about dining etiquette that I’ve heard attributed to Emily Post is the “No elbows on the table” rule. While Emily counseled that elbows should not be on the table while you eat, in between courses, especially in restaurants where conversation could be difficult, sitting up straight while leaning forward with your elbows on the edge of the table was okay.
Elbows are universally seen on tables in restaurants, especially when people are lunching or dining at a small table of two or four, and it is impossible to make oneself heard above the music by one’s table companions, and at the same time not be heard at other tables nearby, without leaning far forward. And in leaning forward, a woman’s figure makes a more graceful outline supported on her elbows than doubled forward over her hands in her lap as though in pain!
Etiquette by Emily Post, 1922, pages 585-586
Posture, sitting up and forward, no slouching—it works at the dinner table whether you have clothes on or not.
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About the author

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News."

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