Why is it rude to rest your elbows on the table?

  • By: Sam Shaw
  • Date: August 27, 2021
  • Time to read: 7 min.

Why is it rude to rest your elbows on the table?

Resting your elbows on the table is a huge no-no in many cultures and for good reason!

Why is it rude to rest your elbows on the table? It is because it can lead to bad posture and force people sitting next to you closer together than they might like.

But why do so many cultures consider this an offense? Is there any other reason we should avoid resting our arms on tables? 

Resting your elbows on the table may seem harmless enough, but it can actually have negative consequences if done too often. From the origin of this rule to its applications, this blog post has everything you need to know about why it is considered rude to rest one’s elbows on the table.

Let’s begin!

The origin of the rule

The origins of this rule are perhaps the most important question to address here.

This rule dates back as early as when furniture was first used in homes because people didn’t know better and it made eating a bigger challenge than it needed to be.

In ancient Egypt, furniture was designed with the purpose of helping people sit upright and eat comfortably – this included dining tables that were much higher than modern ones.

These high-style dining tables may have been ideal for eating off of, but it also meant that it was hard to rest your elbows when you hunched over the table to eat.

This is where the origins of this rule come from – because people did not know better back then, they ended up putting their elbows on the table in a feeble attempt to make themselves more comfortable (silly them!). Gradually, it became a rule not to put your elbows on the table because of people’s bad posture and how it would affect other diners.

Why is it important to follow the rule?

Before we know why is it rude to break this rule, it is better to know why this rule is considered so important. There are many factors that make this rule an important one.

Following is the list of reasons why you should never forget this rule while sitting:

Making other people comfortable

Having your elbows on the table can force the people sitting next to you to be too close for comfort, especially if you do it habitually.

If they are scrunched up against you and one of them is a stranger or someone you find physically unattractive, how would you feel? You might not want that uncomfortable feeling, right? That is the reason why this rule is so important.

Uncomfortable for you

Another reason why it is important to follow the rule to avoid resting elbows on the table is that it is not very comfortable. As mentioned previously, the higher dining tables were designed to give people an ergonomic way of sitting while they ate- so why would you put your elbows on something that was not meant for resting elbows?


Having your arms crossed all the time is actually very unhealthy and it can lead to cervical spondylosis (inflammation of joints), tendinitis, bursitis (inflammation around the elbow), carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis – all of which can cause pain in a joint or limb! It also leads to general fatigue and muscle aches.

You look indecent

Most of the time, you slouch when you sit with your elbows resting on the table. Ultimately, you look indecent which doesn’t leave a good impression on people especially when you are in a formal meeting.

Moreover, this posture causes your stomach to protrude forward and your chest to cave in. This is not the way a well-to-do person or even an average human being should sit, but many people tend to do this especially if they are sitting at the table for a long time.

Makes eating difficult

Resting your elbows on the table makes it difficult to use cutlery and eat quickly. Therefore, you are essentially making it more challenging for yourself to enjoy your meal because of a small mistake that not many people would even notice.

9 reasons why it is considered rude to rest your elbows on the table

Now that we know why it is important to follow this rule, it makes sense to look at 10 reasons as to why resting elbows on the table are considered rude.

Not giving others equal opportunity

There are people who would easily give up the opportunity to eat because they cannot get their elbows on the table comfortably. The people sitting next to you need an equal amount of elbow room so that they can enjoy their meal too. You should not force them into a situation where they have no other choice but your preference

It gives an impression of laziness

This rule can be applied in any context and it will always hold true- even when you are crashing on your friend’s couch while watching TV or playing video games! It is just a sloppy and lazy habit that makes you look unkempt.

Reveals your ignorance

If you don’t follow this rule, it only shows that you do not care about the etiquette involved in eating politely. It also implies that you are quite ignorant of the things people should be doing around formal dining settings.

Others feel left-out

Believe it or not, if you sit with your elbows on the table while eating with other people- they will feel excluded from your circle. They might wonder what kind of relationship this is and why do they need to be left out.

Gives an impression of dismissal

Sitting like this implies that you are dismissing someone or something (work) which can cause problems in the future because no one will appreciate being ignored during work hours. In fact, there are higher chances that your entire team will face productivity issues too!

You are dominating others

When you sit with your elbows on the table, you inherently give yourself a more dominant body language. This means that you might be subconsciously pushing people away or dominating them during meal times which can lead to fights.

Makes it harder for others to see you

Resting your elbow on the table can make it very hard for anyone to see you during mealtime. It can also cause discomfort while talking because they might not know when your arm is going to lash out and hit their tooth! Remember- even if this does happen, it is still considered an extremely rude gesture so try not to do it ever!

Breaking religious norms

In many religions, it is considered appropriate to maintain a distance between you and a person of the opposite gender. You might be breaking the rules of your religion and causing problems for yourself if you do this.

Risk of contagious diseases

During meals, people tend to touch their mouths with their hands and bring them back on the table without washing. If you are resting your elbows on the table- it can be considered almost equivalent to touching that part of the table which has been touched by a stranger. There is much risk that you will catch a viral/contagious disease from the table.

Commonly asked questions about the rule of not resting elbows on the table

How should I position my elbows while sitting on the table?

Here’s how you should position your arms while sitting at the table:

Keep your arms close to your sides but make sure that your arms are not stiff and straight either. You should maintain a relaxed position where you can comfortably move around with ease.

Secondly, maintain a neutral posture where both of your elbows are at equal depth from the surface of the table, neither too close nor too far away from it so you can eat properly without any discomfort or accidents happening.

Put a napkin in your lap and rest your arm on it.

There is nothing wrong with resting your arm on a napkin because it can be considered like strengthening the barrier between you and the table. This prevents all kinds of accidents from occurring and also gives you an added measure of protection.

When can I break this rule?

You can break this rule only when you are eating with someone who is close to you- i.e. your family members, significant others, or really good friends.

Remember! You should not be breaking this rule in professional settings because it does not show that you understand how to dine politely which speaks volumes about your personality.

Who is exempt from this rule?

Injured people, children, and people too old to sit properly are exempt from this rule. Of course, if you are an old or injured person, nobody is going to lock you away for breaking this rule.

Final thoughts

In a nutshell, either you are at a dinner or formal meeting, it is not agreeable to rest our elbows on the table. Also, children should not be encouraged to be careless about this either because it is a bad habit that can follow them throughout life.

If you are injured or too old to sit properly- then, by all means, go ahead and rest your elbow on the table but only after asking around first!

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