Did Downton Abbey Get This Wrong? Find out here!

As a manners enthusiast, I love Downton Abbey.  It’s true; the story, the scenery, the intrigue, the language. I love it all. But most of all, I love the manners of Downton Abbey.

But last night? I saw it. Horror of horrors. Right there in the opening montage. See? The spoon is next to the plate!

Did Downton Abbey Get This Wrong

Is There Something Wrong with the Manners of Downton Abbey?

Now, before you write me off as an over-aware viewer, hear me out.   You see — for many years now, I’ve been teaching Polite Kids 101, a table etiquette and manners course for children. No, I’m not the Manners Police. I simply love helping kids learn simple dinnertime protocol so they will be successful in social situations!

  • Behaving at a family Christmas party now.
  • Meeting The Girlfriend’s family as a teenager.
  • Perhaps one day acing that college interview or landing that awesome job opportunity.

The Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey would likely agree: first impressions are often formed around a dinner table.

First Impressions Dinner Table

The Downton Abbey Manners Verdict

Turns out, it may be a cultural thing, not a blatant mistake on the part of the Downton Abbey production crew.

So how do set the table in America? Well, here’s an easy visual for you:

proper place setting

In North America the knives are on the right, next to the plate. And the spoons are to the right of the knives.

One trick to help you remember:

Which side of the plate version 2

PLUS, Fork, Knife, and Spoon are in alphabetical order when “read” from left to right!

Even after teaching it for so many years, I still get confused from time to time… so little tricks like this really help me.  And my former students agree!

When it all comes down to it, of course I understand. Fine dining calls for a different arrangement in England, and that’s fine with me.

So — as the old saying goes: when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

If you ever find yourself at dear old Downton Abbey, do what Mr. Carson tell you to do.  And when in Miss Julie’s manners and etiquette class, do it the Polite Kids 101 way!

READ NEXT: Common Table Manners Problems and their Solutions! 

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About Julie Hunt
I’ve lived a full life with many unimaginable joys and heartache like you wouldn’t believe. Our blog exists to encourage folks to slow down, chill out, and love more.

16 thoughts on “Did Downton Abbey Get This Wrong? Find out here!”

  1. those rebels!!! 🙂 thanks for explaining…

  2. HA! You’re welcome! I’ll never forget when I was trying to remember how to set the table so I could model it correctly for my 9 and 3.5 year old. I bought the cutest placemat at the toy store that had everything drawn out for me. I kept it in the buffet table drawer and would pull it out for reference when setting the table on those special occasions! (no google back then!) Those were the good ole days…

  3. Laura Crowley says:

    My grandmother always set the table like Downton Abby. And to this day I still have problems with the knife and spoon.

    1. Interesting Laura…Was she English?

  4. Kathryn R. says:

    LOL! Being married to an Englishman, I’ve run into this in our house. When my husband sets the table, knives are on the inside; when I set it, they’re on the outside. That is, assuming there are spoons on the table. I’ve noticed that Brits tend to use them far less often than Americans–my in-laws usually don’t put out spoons unless the meal actually includes soup.

    1. Aw, to be married to an Englishman and have the responsibility of teaching your daughter TWO SETS OF MANNERS!!! 😉 I think we’ve talked about this before, right Kathryn?

      1. Kathryn says:

        Yep! She’s learning from an early age to be “all things to all people,” I guess! 🙂

  5. Janet says:

    I was looking for a close up look at Downton Abbey’s china, and found it on your blog. I too was surprised to see the placement of the cutlery. I referenced a book titled “DINNER IS SERVED, An English Butler’s Guide To The Art Of The Table” by Arthur Inch and Arlene Hirst. Arthur Inch spent over 50 years in private service to many of the “great houses” in Great Britten and was the technical advisor for the Masterpiece series Upstairs, Downstairs and the movie, Gosford Park.
    In chapter I “Table Settings, Then and Now”, page 21, There is a drawing of a proper table setting:
    The forks are to the left of the plate and the knife and spoons are to the right. The knife is next to the plate (blade in, of course) with the large spoon and smaller spoon next to the knife.
    Therefore, who is right? Has Julian Fellows gotten it wrong? Good grief, what would Cousin Violet say?

    1. Wow Janet! That’s something else! I’m not sure who’s right…I’m not that well versed in the English Table, but I did find a picture on the Downton Abbey website that has the table set the American way. Go figure! Anyone else have a thought on this? I’m sticking with the American way…it’ll keep me out of trouble!! HA! Thanks for commenting, and let me know if you find out anything else, and I’ll do the same!

  6. trina leavers says:

    hi there that spoon is for soup to start the meal, they did not have the rounded soup spoon back then

  7. trina leavers says:

    if the spoon is for dessert it would look the american way ,it all depends on what food you are serving,

  8. Hi Trina- Thanks for the heads up. In America, our soup spoons would be on the outside of the knife because we work our way from the outside of the table toward the inside. I’m beginning to understand more and more the differences between the American table and the European table. 😉
    Thanks for reading!

  9. Cynthia says:

    In certain cultures (and I believe English is one) coffee is served to the close of meals, therefore following the rule of working outside in…the spoon would be last and closest to the plate. Yes, I am an Abbey fan as well.

    1. Aubrey Hunt says:

      Interesting, Cynthia. American style has a separate spoon for coffee, placed on the coffee saucer, next to the cup. It’s fascinating to see what different cultures use for the norm. Thanks for sharing! Enjoy this season of Downton Abbey! 🙂 Another reader shared this with us, which explains a lot: Downton’s etiquette errors give Countess the vapours: Stately home hostess reveals blunders in period drama dining scenes. And I’m halfway through the Manners special they aired recently, which I find fascinating! A LOT of thought goes into what they film.

    2. Jasmine says:

      A lot of place settings “teaching” include the teaspoon right of the soup spoon. Then when they go on to explain the first knife, the spoon disappears! Pet peeve urr lol

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