Elbows on the table: Why is it considered rude?

It's not just your mum's arbitrary rule; across cultures and throughout history, elbows on the table have long been considered taboo. Indeed, the Book of Ecclesiasticus, part of the Old Testament in the Bible, warns of the pitfall of putting your elbows on the table, and in 1530, Dutch philosopher Erasmus reiterated the same rule in A Handbook on Good Manners for Children, for guttersnipes and grown-ups alike, barring the elderly and infirm. Even the etiquette experts at the Emily Post Institute don't advise it—though they do advise these good manners everyone should commit to memory.

So, why have elbows on the table always been considered rude? The reason is much more intuitive than you'd think.

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9 bizarre eating habits of the royal family
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9 bizarre eating habits of the royal family

Harry and William love fast food, especially McDonald's

The diet of a prince doesn't just revolve around lobster platters and foie gras (as most of us are inclined to believe). While Prince Harry and William are royal princes by stature, they are known to have more common palates. Former royal family personal chef Darren McGrady told Marie Claire, "I remember Princess [Diana] came into the kitchen one day and said, 'Cancel lunch for the boys I'm taking them out, we're going to McDonald's. And I said, 'Oh my God your royal highness, I can do that, I can do burgers.' And she said, 'No, it's the toy they want.' Yeah, the boys loved McDonald's, and going out to pizza, and having potato skins—sort of the American foods." We don't blame them. McDonald's fries are addictive. Here's the secret ingredient.

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Philip once made the staff swap dinners with him

Although it may be a rule of thumb that fancier dinners call for smaller portions, Prince Philip certainly abides by a different rule book. McGrady shares, "[Prince Philip] came into the kitchen and said, 'What's for dinner tonight?' And I said, 'I have these little one-inch eyes of lamb meat for you, your Royal Highness.' He looked and said, 'What's that—what are they?' And I said, 'Oh, those are chops, Your Highness.' He wanted to know who they were for, and I said, 'staff.' And he said, 'Oh, can't we have those?' I ended up giving him these big meatier pieces, and the staff had the other pieces." (Also, did you know the royal family is banned from eating shellfish in public?)

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Princess Diana was on a very strict diet, but nobody suspected her bulimia

While most of us now know about Princess Diana's bulimia, you'd be surprised to hear about the extent to her strictly enforced diet. McGrady reports that he used to make her fat-free versions of dishes, and she would "trick" fellow guests at the table into thinking she was eating the same thing. In addition, red meat was completely off limits, and every meal was curbed into healthy eating: "One day she said to me, 'Darren, I want you to take care of all the fats, and I'll take care of the carbs at the gym.' We changed everything, I threw out my Buckingham Palace recipe book and got into healthy eating," says McGrady. "When she was at Buckingham Palace, her bulimia was definitely a hidden thing. We didn't know about it. It wasn't until she confronted it, and everyone put two and two together, that she started really healthy eating...she liked dishes like stuffed bell peppers and stuffed eggplant—she loved fish." (In Princes Diana's self-told story about Prince Charles, it is revealed that her husband had a huge impact on her eating disorder).

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Prince Philip was not into Charles' organic food

Apparently, green eating just isn't for everyone. According to McGrady, Prince Philip wasn't as keen on organic fare as Charles was. "We always used to get a hamper [full of food and treats] from Harrods—a thank you gift for shopping with them. Prince Philip came into the kitchen and there were two hampers. He said, 'Oh, is this a Harrods hamper?" I said, 'No, your highness, this is a hamper the Prince of Wales brought with him.' He looked puzzled so I opened it up and I said, 'It's all organic.' And he said, 'Oh, bloody organic!' And just shook his head and walked out."

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The family would lie to the Queen Mother about dinner time

You know that trick you use to get your constantly late friend to be on time? It's used in the royal palaces, too. McGrady reveals that because of Queen Elizabeth's tendency to arrive late to every family dinner, the rest of the family would lie about the dinner schedule so that she would actually show up at a reasonable time. "Dinner was at 8:30 in Balmoral when Her Majesty the Queen Mother was in attendance. They used to tell her that dinner was at 8:15, and she'd be the last one down. They told everyone else 8:30 because they knew she'd be late," he notes.

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The Queen ate out of Tupperware

Turns out that even the Queen understands the value of practicality. While Her Majesty does eat food off of diamond-encrusted or solid gold plates (totally standard), McGrady informs that "at Balmoral she'd eat fruit from a plastic yellow Tupperware container." And that's not all–she would also dabble in some classic Kellogg's for breakfast from a plastic container which she would serve herself. (As a true Brit, it would come with a cup of Darjeeling tea).

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The Queen's favorite food is dark chocolate

If you're ever in need of a gift idea, take note from Queen Elizabeth: chocolate is always the way to go. "The Queen loves to eat any food from the estate—so game birds, pheasants, grouse, partridge—she loves those to be on the menu. But of course, she loves chocolate. That was her favorite, and it has to be dark chocolate. The darker the chocolate, the better."

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Everyone must dress up for dinner

Although Balmoral (their Scottish holiday home) is where the royal family really lets their hair down, the typical dinner would normally entails Downtown Abbey levels of formal. "They'd come down in dressy ball gowns, and sit at the table—like a Downton Abbey dinner. All the fine china was brought out. At the end of the meal, a bagpipe player would walk around the table," McGrady says. Even so, nobody is perfect; McGrady also notes that Prince Philip was known to dress so tattily that he once mistook him for the gardener. (No matter how they're dressed, these are the 14 etiquette rules everyone in the royal family must follow.)

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For earlier civilisations, this rule functioned to prevent possible violence at the table. "Table manners prevented us from leaving our space and starting a fight. It was important that people saw you as considerate or trying hard," says Margaret Visser, author of The Rituals of Dinner: The Origins, Evolution, Eccentricities, and Meaning of Table Manners. Our place setting's fork and knife already act as an imaginary boundary for our allotted space at the table, so neglecting or fracturing that border indicates that you have no regard for order and are therefore potentially unhinged—who knows what else you're capable of! As Visser notes, "People got scared when you started having bad manners. They realised the taboo was not functioning and you didn't know what this person was going to do next."

Today, though, we're less apt to lunge over the table during a business lunch gone awry than we may have been a few hundred years ago, but before you go tossing your elbows with abandon, there's still a degree to which the rule applies. While keeping your elbows off the table can't be traced back to a single culture or civilisation, it more so belongs to the universal language of principle, according to Henry Hitchings, author ofSorry! The English and Their Manners. "It embodies two ideas, that at mealtime one shouldn't do anything that inconveniences other diners, and that a meal is a formal occasion where one shouldn't behave in an over-familiar fashion," Hitchings says. So, no elbows on the table boils down to our innate, human instinct to avoid transgression, especially over another's comfort and space.

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12 etiquette rules Disney employees must follow
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12 etiquette rules Disney employees must follow

1. All the park's a stage

Disney employees aren't technically "employees"—they're "Cast Members." And no, not just the ones who play actual Disney characters. Every employee in the park, whether they operate rides, serve food, or actually put on a show, is a "Cast Member." The idea is that the entire Disney park itself is a "stage." Even Disney's career website talks about the "unique opportunities available to Cast Members."

2. Everything is Disney

And what's the most important thing a Cast Member has to do? Stay in character, of course. If you're playing a Disney character, that character's world becomes your world. You're not allowed to make references to any pop culture that exists outside of the Disney universe. From the moment you don the costume to the moment you take it off, you can't talk about anything that Snow White, Peter Pan, or whomever you're playing wouldn't know about—whether that's the latest iPhone or the Harry Potter park just across Orlando. Learn more about what it's like to work as a Disney character, straight from a woman who played Alice from Alice in Wonderland.

3. Looking the part

From hair to fingernails, Disney has lots of requirements for the physical appearances of their employees. Women's hair needs to be in a "classic" style and a natural-looking color. Women actually can have highlights, but they must be "subtle, well-blended, and be over the entire head," according to Disney's career site. As for men, their hair can't cover their ears or be long enough to reach their collars. Men are allowed to have facial hair, but it must be neat, and it can't be longer than a quarter of an inch.

There are also very specific fingernail rules for anyone working in food or merchandise. Your fingernails can't extend beyond your fingertips, and you can't wear nail polish or fake nails. Surprisingly, you can actually have a tattoo—but it has to be completely covered, whether by clothing or opaque makeup.

4. Height requirements

Just like you have to be 44 inches tall to ride Space Mountain, you have to be a certain height to portray certain Disney roles. Most notably, anyone aspiring to play a Disney princess—yes, any princess—must be between 5'4" and 5'8". If you're shorter, between 4'11" and 5'2", you can play other characters, including Alice from Alice in Wonderland and Wendy from Peter Pan.

5. Jewel rules

Women are allowed to wear one ring on each hand and only one earring in each ear. For men, the ring rule is the same, but earrings aren't allowed at all. You can have other piercings, but you have to remove them while at work. Gauges are prohibited altogether. Here are some things guests aren't allowed to bring into Disney parks.

6. First name basis

Cast Members are only known by their first names—no "Mr." or "Miss." Rumor has it that this tradition dates right back to Walt Disney himself. He always told everyone at the Disney parks to call him Walt, not Mr. Disney. Employees also wear nametags with only their first names on them. A weirder aspect of this rule? Cast Members aren't allowed to have duplicate names. Disney can still hire multiple people with the same first name, but there's no using last initials—one of the people has to choose a new name to go by while at Disney. Seems a little weird...but on the bright side, maybe they can view it as the same as being a character.

7. What's the point

Disney employees have a special way of pointing. If they're giving directions, they're not allowed to point with one finger, since it could potentially be considered rude. Instead, they employ a special Disney point, often with two fingers or sometimes even with the whole hand. Aside from being more friendly in general, it's also more kid-friendly, because it's easier for children to see. Can you guess the three things that aren't allowed in today's Disney movies?

8. Graceful garbage disposal

If a Cast Member sees a piece of trash on the ground, he or she must pick it up—litter has no place in the Happiest Place on Earth. But they can't just pick it up—Disney employees have to use a special maneuver to pick up trash. Rather than squatting down, they have to collect the trash with a graceful "swoop-and-scoop" motion. That sounds like lots of fun to practice during training.

9. Speaking in code

With lots of little kids (and animals) running around in the park, there's bound to be some unpleasant bodily-fluid-related incidents every now and then. Fortunately, Disney has a special way to identify them without grossing anyone out. Employees use "Code V" to signify a throw-up incident and "Code P" or "Code U" for urine. If a parade horse poops in the park, that's a "Code H."

10. They're all-knowing

If someone asks a Cast Member a question about the park, those three deadly words— "I don't know"— are absolutely forbidden. Even if it's true, the Cast Member must ask another employee or call a park operator until they find out the answer. Learn more about why Disney employees can't say "IDK."

11. No social media

Disney Cast Members don't have to give up social media altogether, but they're not allowed to post about their jobs. They can't even reveal what character(s) they are playing, and they can't take any pictures backstage. We wouldn't want to ruin the magic, now would we?

12. Accurate autographs

One of the most fun parts of any trip to Disney, especially for kids, is getting autographs from your favorite characters. Every character's signature is distinct and has a recognizable look—no matter who's playing that character. Regardless of what your own handwriting looks like, you're going to have to go through "autograph training" so that you know how to write like Mickey Mouse. Next, learn some surprising facts you never knew about your favorite Disney characters.

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However, that's not to say that in the here and now leaving your elbows on the table will bring dishonour upon your family. "Manners aren't set in stone; they're written in sand. They evolve with the times to meet our needs and sensibilities," explains Maralee McKee, founder of Manners Mentor Inc. In fact, some body language discourse now suggests that elbows on the table are a sign of appearing engaged and focused on the conversation at hand, and many etiquette experts these days don't even follow or recommend this rule anymore. Above all, heed the Emily Post Institute's golden rule: "Being considerate, respectful, and honest is more important than knowing which fork to use. Whether it's a handshake or a fist bump, it's the underlying sincerity and good intentions of the action that matter most." So, having your arms on display while wielding a butter knife may once have seemed menacing, but during conversation between courses, anything goes—just be sure you're not making any of these table etiquette mistakes instead.

- This article first appeared on Reader's Digest

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