Friday, February 28, 2014

The Bread and Butter Letter of Downton

During the finale of Downton Abbey last week, Lord Grantham mentioned he had received a "Bread and Butter Letter" from a guest from a past house party. Sounds charming, doesn't it? In his tone, Lord Grantham intimated this letter, an expected social formality, was boringly obligatory, like bread with dinner, but would have been missed if it had not been on the table. What is a "Bread and Butter Letter" and where did this expression come from?

To begin, the "Bread and Butter Letter" is simply a simple, and commonly written, thank you note for hospitality. It is written to the Host and Hostess to thank them for a special dinner, evening or weekend at their home. Maybe you attended one of those those famous Edwardian country "Weekend Shooting Parties" we've seen on Downton Abbey!

The humble "Bread and Butter Letter" like any other Thank-You note, is always hand written within 24 hours, or as my Grand Mother would say: "Before you go to bed." The note is immediately put in the mail. Snail mail, not E-mail. E-mail is not acceptable. Not even an E-mail saying a proper paper B&B note is on the way.

Don't forget to spread on your buttery bread letter, how delicious the food tasted, how lovely the view from the back lawn looked, and any other special details you participated in, such as a card game, a service or a celebration. Be sure to include how you were honored to be included, and how much you value the friendship and kind generosity of your hosts.  

This basic social formality is also referenced in the 1926 British book: "Lady Troubridge's Book of Etiquette."

In closing, remember to break your bread over your Bread and Butter Plate in order to avoid crumbs all over the table, then butter your bread one piece at a time. Eat and enjoy!