Recently at lunch, a friend describedÂ his Thankgiving dinner where a 22-year-old guest (his gardener!) put his elbows on the table during the meal.Â My friend, wishing to Socially Educate the young man, informed him that one may never put one’s elbows on the table until after the meal.Â I told my friend that I think it may be all right in these modern times to put elbows on the table between courses (i.e., while awaitingÂ service ofÂ dessert).Â I have searched your Wonderful Website, but I do not find an answer to my question.
Please enlighten us.
This is what comes from entertaining one’s servants at one’s own table. Once upon a time, everyone Knew Their Place.
The more important etiquette lesson here is how to make one’s guests feel at ease, and Etiquetteer cannot think the best way to do that is to correct their table manners before others. Sally Quinn, in her book “The Party,” tells an anecdote of her father being corrected by his host, something along the lines of “In my house, we don’t do that.” Her father’s response was “In my house, a guest can do no wrong.” The late Melville Bell Grosvenor (editor and Guiding Light of National Geographic for decades) took this above and beyond. As reported in a National Geographic piece after this death, at a party in his Florida home, he went upstairs to change into a pair of black shoes when he witnessed a young man who was visibly uncomfortable at not having worn white bucks, like all the other male guests.
Which brings us back to elbows. The best way to teach (especially in the presence of others) is by example. Your friend should be absolutely sure he keeps his own elbows off the table while carrying on a conversation. And if he is intent on tutoring this Young Person in Perfect Propriety, Etiquetteer would suggest saying a quiet word when they are unobserved — or even tutoring him privately over a meal as Aunt Alycia does for her great-niece Gigi, though without the ultimate intent of Gigi’s aunts to prepare her as a demimondaine . . .