Why You Should Throw Out Your Parents’ Table Etiquette


If you’re of Latin American and Caribbean descent, it’s probable that your parents have scolded you since childhood for putting your elbows on the table while eating. It’s either this or some other arbitrary violation of “etiquette.”

If you were a contestón like me, you would have asked them to explain why this was such a crime, to which they probably could not give you a proper explanation.
At least my viejos couldn’t.

The usual answer of “es de mala educación” has been passed down from generation to generation. It turns out that our parents’ odd indignation towards our elbows assaulting an innate object has its roots in colonial elitism.

In medieval Europe, when kings and rich aristocrats would hold public banquets for the more “unfortunate” members of their society, the table would become overcrowded, leading to pushing, shoving and even fights. In order to not be considered “brutes” who lacked manners and education, peasants and workers made a point of “behaving” themselves for their political and economic masters.

Spanish colonials who got lost and arrived in the “Americas” in 1492 not only brought diseases, genocide and backward political and economic models. They also brought backward traditions that have been passed off as “manners” and “civilized culture.”

All types of table etiquette — be it not laughing while eating, talking while eating, eating “too fast,” straightening your back, and so on — have no functionality, but rather are traditions that elites impose on us. Arbitrary traditions are not limited to the dining table either. From being a child and having to accept kisses on the cheek as a greeting to being teenagers and having to ask for permission to speak to adults, why must we go along with it?

Other remnants of colonial traditions continue to haunt the Latinx experience. In parts of Central and South America, the word “mande” is often used, especially by the working class, to express that they are ready to be ordered. It literally means “to send,” as in, “I’m ready to be sent to do a task.”

Another word with colonial and elitist roots used across Latin America is don and doña, which we have all been taught to use for those who are “superior” to us, be they our parents, our bosses, or people who are older than us in general. Ultimately, these terms help to internalize outdated forms of class and racial supremacy as opposed to conveying mutual respect for others.

Adhering to these imposed colonial elitist traditions only helps to keep our rebellious spirit dormant and neglect revolutionary ideals.

Free your elbows, and the masses.

  1. Touhoulicious 6 years ago

    now i’ll ruin my reputation and make everyone uncomfortable around me while i’m eating

    because everything about my native american descendency is GREAT

  2. Rodolfo Plancarte 5 years ago

    I will have to disagree with my comrade in this. Elbows on the table with kids is like dirt on the table, eating to fast prevents choking, and not holding the fork the right way causes a mess. Maybe since I raised a child I notice these small details help when the child develops, i don’t have to do the Heimlich maneuver, worry about germs, and cleaning is easier on me. To me this article is a bit condescending on personal choice. I eat with tortillas in certain dishes and even holding a tortilla has its own rules to prevent a mess and to enjoy eating the food. This is more of a personal choice than incorporating elitist behavior while eating. Elitist behavior to me is seats are assigned, napkins placement or type of napkin, types of drink or food allowed while eating etc.. For example one not allowed to eat tortillas because it’s seen as inferior and instead are told to eat bread. Like I said before it’s a personal choice and it doesn’t affect class relations.

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