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English Muse: If You Please

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

If You Please

Awhile back, while browsing at Anthropologie, I noticed a flood of new etiquette books. They seemed to be on every shelf and table: How to write a letter; how to spiff up your boyfriend; how to throw a party; how to slip away from a one-night stand (leave quickly).  And perhaps the ultimate:  What would Jackie do?...

I wondered: What did the etiquette books look like when our grandmothers were debutantes?  With the help of eBay, I found a number of interesting vintage tomes. 

Here's a sampling of the advice:

✒On smoking (from New American Etiquette, 1941):
"Smokers far out number non-smokers in every type of community, in every class of society...Non-smokers have a right to refrain but they must learn to put up gracefully with those who do -- otherwise they must retire from social activities." (Hah!)
✒On diet (from Personality Unlimited, 1943):
"Cut down on the intake of fatty foods! Use less fatty meats and no fried foods at all. But do eat an abundance of fresh fruits and at least one salad a day." (A book ahead of its time.)
And finally...
✒On dating (from New American Etiquette, 1941):
"If a girl is a nice girl, with a sense of true proportions and a desire for things in good taste, she will remain a nice girl despite her new freedom. She will probably safely end up with a good husband, nice home, and clever children...If she is a cheap girl , she will have future hours of deep regret." (But a lot more fun.)

PS: The wonderful folk artist CJ Metzger created the illustration (above) for a story I did on this subject! Check out her website
Oh, and thank you!



Anonymous Miranda said...

Fabulous excerpts. I think that we're seeing this flood of books because nobody's mother takes he time to teach them to behave. . .or maybe because when our mom's try, we don't listen. As far as the distinction between nice and cheap goes (and did you ever notice that nobody divides men into mannered and randy?), I think a girl or woman who is honest with herself and follows her heart transcends silly categories like those.

January 15, 2009 at 8:02 AM  
Anonymous Zoe said...

Miranda is absolutely right. Girls who worry about polishing the "nice" badge mom pinned to their blouses on the first day of school, end up missing more than half life's fun. Besides, I always like good better than nice, as in "good woman" or "good time." Every notice how people say "nice girl", but never "nice woman." There's a reason, girls.

January 15, 2009 at 9:26 AM  
Anonymous Constance said...

The best manners aren't rules, but graceful and considerate responses to the 1001 situations and the daily life and the people in it through in our paths. When it comes to nice versus good, I'm on the side of good, which is another way of saying generous and, most of all,kind. A lot of the time nice is, "have another martini, my dear, but don't stay too long, because the rest of us want to talk about you."

January 15, 2009 at 12:17 PM  

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