A few weeks ago I came across an interesting book title in an old bibliography: No Nice Girl Swears, by Alice-Leone Moats. I figured with a title like that, it had to be good—and I wasn’t disappointed!
It turns out that this little book is a 1933 etiquette guide for debutantes that was positively shocking at the time it was written. Full of simple common-sense advice written in a sarcastic, wry tone, No Nice Girl Swears tells it like it is to young women—while still maintaining a touch of class. It’s been a very interesting read so far, not just for its tone and the funny bits of advice, but for all the wonderfully offhand period details sprinkled throughout. Though written in 1933, many sections address the cultural fruits of the Roaring Twenties, particularly speakeasies, the new co-ed drinking culture, and the nitty-gritty of how to run a debutante’s “coming out” ball in New York City (a practice I thought had died out shortly after the 1929 stock market crash, but it seems it was still going strong in 1933). If you can get your hands on a reprinted copy of No Nice Girl Swears (mine’s from 1983), it’s totally worth reading if you need any insights into the life of young women during this time. I’d highly recommend it to other historical fiction writers dealing with this time period, and to anyone who gets a kick out of reading advice books.
And, since this book is so awesome—and so short (185 pages!)—I thought I’d include the final chapter here for your perusal. It’s considered the most “shocking” chapter and the one that made it’s author, Alice-Leone Moats, famous. The book went on to haunt her for the rest of her life, which is actually quite funny considering she didn’t write most of it. According to her 1983 preface, large chunks of the book were ghostwritten by a handful of women (and even a man or two) while she was busy doing other things, like touring Europe on her parent’s dime or visiting New York. When she came back, there was the book with her name on it—and it took off like a rocket. The book became an overnight sensation. Even when Moats went on to become a recognized journalist and wrote political correspondence pieces for major newspapers and magazines, she’d continue to get responses like this to her work: “I enjoyed your article on Japan,” they’d say, but “I liked No Nice Girl Swears” better.
Anyway, here is the text of “Chapter 30: Our Plastered Friends” from No Nice Girl Swears. It’s about dealing with drunken friends in public, particularly those of the male variety, and it’s a fair representation of the rest of the book. It’s occasionally funny, it’s got a lot of no-nonsense style, and it has a lot of good advice on dealing with drunks. While some of it is clearly related to 1933 (sorry, but you can’t get a taxi for pennies anymore), some of it is questionable even given when it was written (when is it ever a good idea to take your date’s money and valuables if he passes out at a restaurant and only leave him taxi fare? it’s like you’re mugging him!), a surprising amount of it is still useful even today.
Her descriptions of the ten types of drunks one tends to meet are also pretty timeless. Personally, I’ve dealt with the magisterial, the sentimental, the loquacious, the hilarious, the argumentative and the lachrymose more often than not.
What about you, dear readers? How many of them have you come across in your lifetime? What do you think of Moats’ advice—is any of it still relevant today, do you think? Or is it more of an historical curiosity? Let me know in the comments section below! 🙂
C h a p t e r 3 0 :
O U R P L A S T E R E D F R I E N D S
When our mothers came out, learning to handle a drunk was not an essential part of a debutante’s education. Now every girl had to be capable not only of shifting for herself, but, more often than not, of looking out for her escort as well. However, it must be confessed that the bad manners and drunkenness of men are largely due to the fact that girls are much too tolerant. They are willing to put up with anything rather than run the risk of losing a beau. Of course if they themselves drink, they are only too delighted to have their companions reach the point where they don’t know what goes on. A great many people have come to believe in the single moral standard, but few have been converted to a single drinking standard. A drunken woman is still looked upon with disgust and she is certainly more objectionable than a drunken man. Liquor generally hits her in one of three ways—she gets boisterous and wants to play games, or she gets maudlin, or, more often, she grows desperately amorous. Whatever the effect, she is dangerous. Her games are apt to be rough, her tears collar-wilting, and her love-making too public and too earnest for fun.
One damsel who heard about our advice for handling a drunk grew hoity-toity. “My escorts never get tight,” she told us, implying that she moved in a circle in which such things didn’t happen. Strange. The only way we can figure it out is that she is just too dumb to know when a man is slightly the worse for wear. Or she just goes out with sissies.
If you’re going out very often, you might as well be prepared to think quickly and be ready to exercise your ingenuity at any time. You may be called upon to do anything from catching the bottles that your escort, in his exuberance, may chance to throw, to burrowing in the sawdust for him. It all demands presence of mind, poise, and resourcefulness. Useful qualities, but, alas, only acquired with experience. A drunken man’s imagination is so fantastic that it is a bit difficult to anticipate his actions. Drunks can be divided into about ten standard types. There are more, of course, but actually there are only variations of these ten:
The hilarious is the pleasantest by far. He may embarrass you a bit by getting very noisy, or by being overwhelmed with a desire to sing; but the laughter of the people around you is good-humored, and the queer things he will think up to do will often be irresistibly funny. If you want to enjoy yourself, it is up to you to get into the spirit of the thing.
The lachrymose decides that life is a sad, sad business, that he hasn’t a friend in the world, and that nobody loves him. He is apt to burst into tears at the slightest provocation, and any argument which attempts to persuade him that he is loved by the entire world is hopeless and only leads to endless discussion.
The loquacious is about the most boring of all. He gets you at his mercy and either tells endless, rambling stories or repeats the same one over and over again. Once he gets started, it is hopeless to divert him. Don’t try to stop him. Just sit and think of something else, but keep a look as though he expected a reply, merely nod, and that will satisfy him.
The taciturn, on the other hand, may not provide a very amusing evening, but he is certainly less annoying than the talkative kind. Don’t feel called upon to fill in the long silences. Relax and make this your evening of rest.
The argumentative disagrees with you every time you enter into the conversation. No matter what you say, he flatly contradicts you. But it is in restaurants that he gets particularly obnoxious. He complains loudly about the food. “I ordered whitebait, and these look like whales,” he will repeat over and over until everybody at the table, not to say in the restaurant, feels like choking him. Don’t attempt to placate him or make any reply. Pay no attention to him and go on with your dinner. When, as a last crowning touch, he decides he has been gypped on the check, grab your powder-puff and flee to the ladies’ room, where you can stay until the row has been settled and it is time to go home.
The magisterial is irritating because he is so overbearing. Of course if you can preserve your sense of humor, his sweeping gestures, lofty manners, and five-syllable words, spoken with such authority, cannot help amusing you.
The belligerent who wants to fight every man in sight is very difficult to handle, since, sooner or later, he is bound to find somebody who is just as tight as he is and who will be willing to take up the challenge. If you can’t prevail on him to go home, and if flight is impossible, try to make him forget his grievances, or keep out of the way. When the fur does begin to fly, never interfere.
The vomitous, who reacts to liquor as he would to a rough sea, requires a firm touch. Send him home at the first indication of that uncertain feeling or have him led to the nearest bathroom and leave him there. Then take your mad money and go home.
The sentimental goes into reveries about sweet Mabel, the love of his adolescent years, or grows misty-eyed at the mention of his college pal, Ben Hicks, a prince among men, with a voice that is clear and true as he is, which is diamond-true. It is unwise, to say the least, to remind him that his noble Ben beats his wife, for you will never be able to survive the torrent of vindication you will have called forth. Keep silent and look sympathetic.
The amorous is by far the hardest to control and certainly the most prevalent. If you suspect that you are out with the erotic type, keep him in a crowd. And if this is impossible, ply him with liquor until he gets beyond the dangerous stage.
When out with a plastered friend, control your feelings and on no account lose your temper. Let go the next day; the angrier you get, the better; but at the time fight down any desire you may have to give him a piece of your mind. It only leads to a scene and makes no impression. Remain calm and try to get him to go home, but under no circumstances let him suspect you think he is tight. There is nothing that will infuriate him like a just suspicion of his condition. Agree with everything he says, as nine times out of ten he will forget it five seconds later. If you argue with him, you fix the idea in his mind. If he wants to take the orchestra away with him, be thrilled. If he develops a craving to play the saxophone, love the saxophone and don’t mention the merits of the tuba. If he takes a dislike to a stranger across the room and decides he wants to punch him, agree that the man has an ugly face, but try to shift the conversation to another subject, and if the fight seems unavoidable, leave by the nearest exit.
A cold shower is undoubtedly one of the most effective means of sobering a person, but in a restaurant or speakeasy you can’t very well resort to this time-honored remedy. The only hope of sobering your companion a bit is to persuade him that what he most wants is a cup of black coffee. Coffee with milk or cream in it is of no use for this purpose, and to let him drink water is fatal.
When your escort passes out in a public place, waste no time worrying over him. Get up and leave quickly; take a taxi and go home. He will find his way home somehow when he comes to or has been thrown out by the management. If you are fond of the young man and don’t wish him to get into too much trouble, you might take his money and other valuables before departing, leaving him with only taxi fare. If you do this, he won’t be able to get into any further mischief when he recovers.
When your companion passes out in a taxi, get out at your own house, give the driver the young man’s address, and think no more about him. Of course, if you should be very annoyed, you might tell the driver to take the lad to Yonkers or some other obscure spot in Brooklyn. The trouble and expense that this will cause him should amply satisfy your desire for revenge.
Never, never go out at night without a few pennies in your purse; call it “mad money” or what you like, it will pay for your taxi home if the need should arise.
Learn to drive a car whether you own one or not. The day will surely come when you will have to take the wheel or run the risk of crashing against a tree with a youth whose drinks have affected his vision. In fact, if you take our advice, you will carry caution to the extent of never getting into a car with a man you know is drunk. Even if you are at a friend’s house in the country and you suddenly realize that your young man has reached this stage, don’t go home with him. Spend the night where you are, no matter how embarrassing it may be. After all, plastic surgery is pretty expensive.
Going home in a taxi with an inebriate also has its perils. Not only is your virtue at stake, but you are sure to get your newest Chanel torn to ribbons. However unromantic our view-point, you must admit it is certainly practical.
Moats, Alice-Leone. 1933. No Nice Girl Swears. New York: A.A. Knopf.