One of my Facebook friends mentioned this morning that she was trying to enforce an "elbows off the table" rule with her daughter.
This got me to thinking: I hate this "rule."
I was maybe 12 or 13 when I first heard of it, from reading a magazine. We didn't eat at the dining-room table much in my family, but when we did, I don't remember ever having to worry about that. I know I stuck my elbows where they didn't belong every single time, and still do.
The rule baffled me, because most forms of stuffy etiquette have at least some root in civility. When someone insists you not scrape your teeth on your fork or not bury your face in your plate, you can understand why such things are uncouth. But elbows on the table never struck me as particularly offensive.
So I cracked a book and discovered that, in medieval times, dinner guests would often crowd long tables, where errant elbows could lead to all manner of disarray. Hence, elbows off the table.
OK, so it serves a practical purpose when you're at a trough, but at a reasonably spaced dinner table? Ah, the power of unquestioned tradition.
Later, Mom actually did request that I take my elbows off the table. I said something like, "That custom comes from the days when people were so jammed together at medieval dining tables that they had to do that. It serves no purpose today."
And she replied, "Really?"
Then I tried taking my elbows off the table and expended a lot of mental energy to not put them back there. It was tiring.
So if you ever eat with me, I'll likely be putting my elbows where they don't belong. But you'll probably be too busy balking at all of my other annoying mannerisms to notice.