Elbows on the table!

Garth Brooks said “I’m not big on social graces” in his song “Friends in Low Places”. This is one of my favorite quotes. I too, am not big on social graces.

Don’t get me wrong, I like to think I’m well mannered when the situation calls for it. I believe in saying please and thank you. I believe in giving before taking. I am a huge fan of these things, and I’ll be the first to agree that there’s far too little of it in the world.

I find it interesting how things have changed over the years. There are some things that are considered bad manners, primarily by people over 50, that just make me wonder why?

For instance:

Elbows on the table.

I never understood why elbows on the table was such taboo.

I never had to observe this rule as a child, and hadn’t heard of it until I ate dinner at a friend’s house sometime around the age of ten. For the sake of this post, we’ll call my friend “Paul”.

The family was a well to do, young (early 30s) married couple with three kids. Very catholic. They would be made to hang their head in shame when they used the world “god” in anything that wasn’t a prayer.

Paul and I had just been called in from an afternoon of goofing off in the back yard. I was invited to dinner and graciously accepted.

Paul’s father had just gotten home, set his briefcase at the foot of the stairs and loosened his tie. We sat down at the table and I reached for my fork.

Paul swiftly kicked me in the shin. I looked up and noticed that they were all folding their napkins to place on their laps. I didn’t even notice I had a napkin at all. I followed suit.

I was now a little gun shy, so I sat still and watched. They put their hands together and began to pray. At the time, I was an alter boy (hold the jokes please) so I followed suit again. Interestingly, I had never heard someone say “Grace” before either.

The meal went on as normal, or at least as far as I could tell. That is, until Paul was scolded for having elbows on the table. “But he’s doing it,” Paul ratted me out. It was explained that I was a guest. I was very puzzled by the interaction, but took my elbows off the table regardless. The dinner finished in silence.

We cleaned up and went to the living room to play. I heard talk from the other room, and listened although I knew I shouldn’t. Paul’s mother was explaining to him that I didn’t know any better than to have my elbows on the table, and that it was bad manners.

I was baffled. I knew there were things that were simply unacceptable at the dinner table. Certain things were not discussed at the table. Disections we were doing at school, for example. Certain items did not belong at the table, like turtles. But, why would my elbows offend someone at the dinner table? They weren’t bleeding or dirty.

I dismissed it as “one of those things”.

It came up again from time to time. Most commonly was at other tables, when out at a meal. One fellow even threw an arm out and knocked his date’s arms right off the table. Such a silly thing I thought, to strike out in righteous fury at someone who dared to put their elbows on the table during a meal.

I found a resource (which to my relief shows that I’m not the only one confused by this) suggests some possible reasons for this. Here are a couple of my favorites:

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 leaned too heavily, the table could collapse.

Tony Muir, Tamarama

Leave it to the English… 😛

It’s taken me the best part of 50 years to work out what the elbows on the table thing is all about and I now realize my parents didn’t understand it at all. If they had, they would have explained it to me.

When you eat with your elbows on the table, your upper spine is bent forward, your ribs are pushed in-wards and – most importantly – your stomach is squeezed between the two. It’s incredibly bad for your digestion. I wish my parents had understood that. If they’d explained it, I might have taken some notice – and my digestive system would work so much better than it does today.

Will Kemp, Lismore

…Well, OK. I’ll buy that it’s not very healthy, but bad manners? Only person I’m hurting is myself!

Hats off indoors (or at the table)
Wearing a baseball hat, or other such sport, was a very “in” thing to do growing up. While I wasn’t much of a sports fan, I enjoyed wearing a hat.
It was a rule though, that these hats could not be worn in the school, and would be confiscated on the spot if they were found on your head. It was explained that school was not a place of fashion, and wearing hats depicting sports teams encouraged the exclusion of those who were not. I could understand this, mostly because I never really fit in back then, and I agreed very much with limiting the amount of things the other kids could zero in on when looking to crush spirits.

However, my understanding of this was I’d not encounter this anywhere outside of school. I was wrong. In high school, where we were given many more freedoms, it was no longer against the rules to wear hats. I happily donned a new cap, and didn’t attract any negative attention.

At least, not right away. Eventually, I was told by one of my teachers that it was a sign of disrespect. Again, I was baffled by social graces. A sign of disrespect to block the view of my hair? Was I suggesting to the on-lookers that they were unworthy of looking upon my head?

The best answer I found on Yahoo Answers was:

This goes back to Christian religious traditions of many years ago.

At one time, people wore hats to a much greater extent than they do now, and it was considered polite for men to always wear a head-covering (hat, beret or cap) outdoors.

However, when they entered a church, they were expected to ‘uncover’ their head, as a sign of respect for god.

Women, on the other hand, were required to keep their head covered in church, as a sign of respect. They were also expected to remove their head-covering in the presence of any ‘higher’ person, such as a king, or lord.

These traditions had their origins in passages in the bible and the widespread interpretation of those passages at the time.

Gradually, the habit of men removing their head-covering spread from being just when in the presence of god and higher persons, to a sign that the man considered the person to be worthy of esteem in removing their hat ~ for example, a man would take his hat of in the company of a woman to show respect.

Over time, it became generally acceptable and removing a head-covering has now spread from men to women.

It’s simply a changing fashion with its roots in very old traditions and beliefs.

OK, so that’s a believable origin, but I still don’t understand why it was ever considered polite to show someone your hair.

“Good day, pleasure to make your acquaintance! Here, have a look at my cow-lick”.

“Such a gentleman!”

Seems silly.

More on this custom here.

God Bless You!

I grew up allergic to dust mites and cats in a house that wasn’t dusted and was home to a long-haired calico. I always had red itchy eyes, a runny nose, and frequently sneezed. Which of course, was answered: “God bless you!”.

Only the back-and-forth went something like:

“hahCHOO!””God bless you.””Thank you.”
“hahCHOO!””God bless you.””Thank you.”
“hahCHOO!””God bless you.””Thank you.”
“hahCHOO!””SHUT UP!”

I grew to hate being told “God bless you” when I sneezed, because it meant that I was forced to say “Thank you” around a soggy tissue, over and over and over… Yeah, I know, I seem like a jerk now, right? Well if you think about it, there’s really no rational reason to ask God to bless someone when they sneeze.

It used to be that saying “God bless you” to someone who sneezed helped to make sure that person’s spirit wasn’t inadvertently thrust from their body.

Another common belief was that the sneeze was the body’s way of expelling an evil spirit that had taken up residence in the body. Saying “God bless you” helped to ensure that this spirit did not come back.

So I ask you: is this really necessary? I believe that no, it’s not. But still I’m blessed on the big guy’s behalf every time I sneeze, and if I don’t respond, I’m rude, and really it’s not the person saying it that bothers me, it’s the fact that the culture expects it for (what is in my opinion) no good reason.

More on this here.

I think it’s time to put these things to rest as beliefs of the past and make room for some things that are going on every day today that should, in my opinion, be regarded as bad manners.


Being loud in public areas
More often than not, I’m assaulted verbally, yet unintentionally. This is generally by the young, usually girls but not always. Seems to be very difficult for people to keep their voices down when on the cell phone as well.

I’ve had conversations with people in public places quietly enough for them to hear me, but the person beyond them to not. I know it’s possible to communicate without the entire room being made to listen.

Intentional misspellings
I’m certainly not the best speller in the world. I’m not even pretty good at it. Heck, I’m really not very good at it at all. If I didn’t have a spell check, I don’t know where I’d be.

However, I am well aware that “Ur” “sup” “wut” are not words.

I could understand writing like this if you’re paying by the character, but generally speaking this is not the case. True, this helps when there is a character limit, such as in Twitter or text messages, but when you’re chatting, or sending an email, it’s just lazy. (Again, in my opinion.)

I’ve got lots more, but I figure I’ll end it here. Some believe it’s rude to be too long winded. 🙂

Note: Sadly, my spell check did not suggest anything for “Sup” and it corrected me on “ur”. It asked me to change it to “Ur”.


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