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China adopts Downton Abbey-style table manners

A school in China is training butlers to fill a growing demand for western-style service
China adopts Western-style table manners 02:41

CHENGDU, China -- They're learning the finer points of life at this boot camp for butlers in Chengdu, China.

It's a long way from Cleveland, Ohio where Christopher Noble grew up. Now, he's teaching at the "International Butler Academy of China."

"Because of the influence of the West that is coming here to China, they want the Western service," Noble told me.

He says because of cultural differences, things like etiquette and table service are challenging to teach.

"It's easier to train a Chinese the trait of a butler than to train a butler in Mandarin or Cantonese," said Thomas Kauffman, the Swiss native in charge of the six-week, often 14-hour-a-day program.

This day culminates in a formal dinner. Tonight's host is real estate mogul Cai Lingyu who is bankrolling the school. She popped by early to check on the preparations.

"This doesn't seem like Mao's communist China?" I asked her.

Real estate mogul Cai Lingyu CBS News

"China has developed rapidly and the demand for service is getting stronger," she said. "We're not negating Chairman Mao but we need to keep the good part and remove the bad parts of his views."

"Simon," a 25-year-old butler-to-be, says western dining may be elegant but he'd feel uncomfortable at a table like this.

"For us (Chinese), all it takes is a pair of chopsticks," he said. "For westerners you've got the knife, the fork, it just doesn't feel casual."

The dinner went "okay," said Nobel, except for a few hiccups on the guests' part.

We saw the carefully measured mise-en-place cast aside to make room for cell phones. And more than a few texts were sent from the table. It seems lessons in etiquette may be needed by more than just the butlers.

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