The Rules Regarding Posture at the Table; Hands on the Table; and Elbows on the Table

Posture at the Table

Once seated at the dinner table, a gentleman must assume proper posture. He should sit in a straight, upright (though not unnaturally stiff) position, with his lower back resting slightly against the back of the chair. Both feet should be on the floor as it is improper to cross one’s legs under the table—whether by placing an ankle atop the opposing knee or surmounting one knee with the other. When not eating, both hands should be placed onto the lap, except, of course, if one is engaged in conversation and gestures are necessary. While elbows are never allowed on the table while eating, they may be placed onto the table between courses if leaning forward or sideways in order to facilitate conversation—since leaning with one’s hands on one’s lap oftentimes looks and feels unnatural. A gentleman may also place his hands and wrists—but not his forearms—onto the table between courses. And, of course, tilting one’s chair backwards—a pastime of many a schoolboy—is simply unacceptable at the dinner table (and should be avoided elsewhere as well since it oftentimes results in accidents).

Elbows on the Table

If there is a cardinal rule of table manners, it is the one proscribing the placing of elbows on the table. But even that rule is not absolute: Elbows are permitted on the table when drinking between courses and when leaning forward or sideways in order to facilitate conversation. (See “Posture at the Table” above). Otherwise, it is impolite to place elbows onto the table.

Hands on the Table

In American-style dining, when hands are not engaged with eating or drinking, they are placed upon the lap—unless they are engaged to aid in conversation. In European-style dining, when hands are not engaged with eating, drinking, or conversation, they are placed onto the lap or onto the table, wrists at table’s edge directly in front of the diner, hands resting elegantly clasped or folded with fingers interwoven—if there is no dish before the diner—or on either side of (clasped or folded), or one on each side, flanking, a dish situated before the diner.




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