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Downton Etiquette Explained - Series 3, Episode 7

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The end of Downton series 3 is in sight. Quite frankly I don't know how I will cope when its gone. But let's not dwell, and focus on the issues of etiquette that were featured in the penultimate episode of this stellar series.


Toast of the town

Mrs. Hughes may be a servant but she should know better as to how to eat her toast! In an early scene she was observed eating a triangle of toast having buttered the whole piece. Incorrect, Mrs Hughes! Toast is just like a bread roll. You break a bit off, spread butter on said piece, then jam or marmalade if you are having that, and then eat. Slathering the whole piece and then chomping away at it is not elegant and a senior member of staff should know better. (Incidentally, the toast issue is not just a matter of grave concern for below stairs; in series two Cora, Lady Grantham, also opted to eat her toast in such a barbaric fashion. (Although she is American.)

Teaspoon
Brace yourselves for this one, folks... the Dowager Countess made a slight boo-boo in one scene when taking tea with her granddaughter, Lady Edith. She drank her tea WITH THE TEASPOON STILL IN THE CUP! I reached for the smelling salts immediately. Maggie Smith's character has gone unscathed in my columns so far and let's just hope she doesn't appear again as I don't think I could cope.

Butler service
A great deal was made from the footmen as to who is first footman and who is second. Quite frankly, Carson should have officially said in the first place, rather than keep the pair of them at loggerheads. Clearly these are the days before job descriptions and 'Human Resources' (abbreviated to HR, and invariably stupidly pronounced 'HAITCH R'). In my first column for this series I detailed what the difference is between butler service and silver service.

Table props
One keen-eyed Tweeter asked me what all the extra props on the dining table where. They are salt, pepper & mustard pots, and menu cards. Each diner would have his or her own menu card, which would display what was on the menu that evening (unlike restaurants they don't get a choice). Unlike in restaurants today, the names of the courses would not be printed (i.e. 'main course', 'pudding'). There would be one set of solid silver salt, pepper & mustard pots between two diners, or - if just a few people were eating - they would have their own. The pepper pot would be at the back, with the salt cellar next and the mustard pot (which has a lid) at the front.

Ladies with hats
Gentlemen, as we all know, remove their hats when indoors out of respect. Ladies may keep their hats on indoors, however. This is due to the fact that a lady's hat would be held in place by hatpins and perhaps other contraptions and it became too much faff to remove them when indoors and then tidy one's hair! A lady's hat is part of her 'get up' and as such differs from that of a gentleman, where a hat in as accessory.

Ladies at breakfast
A question I am asked almost every day by email, Twitter or in person is 'why do unmarried ladies come down to breakfast and married ladies remain in bed'. As I have said before, breakfast was the only meal of the day that was 'self service'. Married ladies had very little to get up for in the mornings and it would take them much longer to get ready and so there was no need to rush down (remember - the women of the aristocracy had very little to do!) Unmarried ladies would want to get ready quicker in order to receive potential suitors. (Remember Dowager Lady Grantham's suggestion to Lady Edith to take up watercolouring.)

Gloves
During after dinner drinks in the drawing room, Lady Mary was seen drinking some form of digestif (with ice) out of a snifter glass. However she was holding it from the bowl and not the stem. Again, this is something I have pointed out before as a mistake. But this time she was wearing her evening gloves and (incorrectly) holding it from the bowl. Due to the ice in the snifter this would have caused condensation on the glass and would have ruined the fine gloves. Shame.