Monday, September 09, 2013

Another table etiquette


I was talking with my coworkers about the "no clinking of glasses in a crossover manner" rule, and there I discovered another table etiquette.

Coworker:"Often, during dinner,  I have to tell my son to keep his hands on the table."
Me: "What do you mean, why should your son put his hands on the table?"
Coworker:"Well, that's another table etiquette that we learn since we are a kid."

I have never heard of this, neither did hubby. I'm glad his family doesn't practice this. I was imagining how hard it could be for a little boy to have to sit still, hands on the table but elbows off the table. Especially, some lunches or dinners could last forever. Anyway, I'm not criticizing here, it is just hard for a foreigner to understand why these table etiquettes are being imposed.

Before checking out on google, let's have a little fun and guess why this rule exists:
1. In the medieval times, people died over dining table as weapons or poisons were hid under table. To prevent this, everyone should put their hands on the table.
2. To make sure everyone has cleaned their hands before eating.
3. To make sure that no one is flirting around with their neighbor under the table.
4. To make sure no one steals or hides food away.
5. It is a superstition, someone who doesn't respect it would be condemned to 10 years without sex.



  1. Oups I use this rule with my son. for me if because he clean his hand on his trousers.

  2. Anonymous5:09 AM

    I was also told to put my hands on the table as a kid, although my family didn't enforce strict table manners, it's still at the back of my mind when I got out to eat!

  3. hmmm i was taught to keep both hands on the table as a child, so i don't think this is a strictly french table etiquette rule. i've been told it's rude - not that i was given explanation why it's rude and as a child you don't question it much either - and i've largely keep this habit since.

  4. I also say this a lot to my daughters because they would often dirty their hands while eating and I don't want all of it to finish on the clothes.
    As they learn to eat more cleanly this is less of an issue.
    Another thing they would tend to do with hands under the table is play with their shoes or socks which would not be hygienic either.

    On the other hand I don't expect children to sit all along family dinners. Ideally they would be on a separate table with a lighter menu and they can go and play around as soon as they have finished their plates. We would later call them back to table for the dessert.
    This way the parents can enjoy the meal and discussion without having to constantly scold bored (and noisy) children.

    As for the "elbows on the table" rule, although I already heard about it, to me it is something that would only apply in very formal dinners.

    The "crossing toast" rule is only superstition just like not wishing "good luck" before someone goes on stage so that he will not be jinxed (instead we say to him "merde !" in french or "break a leg !" in english).

    Another superstition like this is the fact that the bread should not be placed upside-down on the table (the bread representing Jesus) as this be inviting the Devil. If that happens then someone needs to sign a cross on the bread and/or throw salt in order to make sure that the Devil remains at bay.

    All these are really customs that have less to do with good manners than with superstition.

  5. sylvain,

    Fabien has never heard of this rule so I think it really depends on families. As for my daughter I give a piece of kitchen towel to clean her hands.


    Will you pass this tradition to your son? Is your husband doing the same (seeing that he is from another culture).


    Do you know of other families in Malaysia having the same rule? I have read several articles saying that this is a French table etiquette, check this out:


    It seems that different families practice different set of rules in France. Fabien has never heard of the upside down bread story. Thanks for sharing anyway!

  6. my son's got a napkin but he prefere his clothes Oo

  7. I found a reference for the bread thing :) !
    "Présenter le pain à l'envers sur une table attire le diable. Cela vient du fait que le boulanger gardait le pain destiné au bourreau à l'envers sous l'Ancien Régime. Par ailleurs, une coutume populaire, encore très répandue dans l'Ouest, le Centre et le Sud de la France, veut que l'on fasse de la pointe du couteau un signe de croix sur l'envers du pain ; certaines personnes, même non-croyantes, le font systématiquement."

  8. It's not just Malaysia, it's elsewhere too. It's a common rule in Europe from what I've observed (e.g. according to this blog post and the comments - - it's the etiquette in the Netherlands and Italy too) and other Asian countries as well (e.g. in this other article ( - Vietnam, athough I cannot rule out French/European influence).

  9. Jem,

    Thanks for the information.


    Thanks for the links. I guess it is hard to generalize to say this or that is applied here on there. I'm not sure if most of the Vietnamese apply this rule though. On a side note, I like to eat with the fork on my right hand and my left hand rests on my lap. From one of your articles it seems that some Americans do it. I must have adapted it subconsciencely when I was in the USA. I don't eat with fork and knife in Malaysia so it is not a habit I brought from there.