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Perfect Behavior

PERFECT BEHAVIOR by Donald Ogden Stewart

From the title, you would think the book is about etiquette and how to act appropriately. In a way, it is. However, once you dive into the book, you realize very quickly, it’s actually a parody on social protocols!

The following subjects are covered:

  • Courtship
  • Engagements and weddings
  • Travel
  • Concerts and the opera
  • Dry Agents
  • Chapter for schoolgirls
  • Games and sports
  • Correspondence and invitations
  • Dinners and balls

Sprinkled throughout the book are illustrations by Ralph Barton.

Nowhere is the etiquette of travel more abused than our subways. The gentleman shown above is en route to his fiancee's flat in the Bronx. He has neglected to purchase the customary bouquet for his intended and has offered his seat to the lady, who is standing, in exchange for her corsage bouquet. Should she accept the proposition without further ado, or should she request the guard to introduce the gentleman first?

Nowhere is the etiquette of travel more abused than our subways. The gentleman shown above is en route to his fiancee’s flat in the Bronx. He has neglected to purchase the customary bouquet for his intended and has offered his seat to the lady, who is standing, in exchange for her corsage bouquet. Should she accept the proposition without further ado, or should she request the guard to introduce the gentleman first?

A quote from the chapter on Courtship.

FLOWERS AND THEIR MESSAGE IN COURTSHIP

Great care should be taken, however, that it is a plant of the correct species, for in the etiquette of courtship all flowers have different meanings and many a promising affair has been ruined because a suitor sent his lady a buttercup, meaning “That’s the last dance I’ll ever take you to, you big cow,” instead of a plant with a more tender significance. Some of the commoner flowers and their meaning in courtship are as follows:
Fringed Gentian—”I am going out to get a shave. Back at 3:30.”
Poppy—”I would be proud to be the father of your children.”
Golden-rod—”I hear that you have hay-fever.”
Tuberose—”Meet me Saturday at the Fourteenth Street subway station.”
Blood-root—”Aunt Kitty murdered Uncle Fred Thursday.”
Dutchman’s Breeches—”That case of Holland gin and Old Tailor has arrived. Come on over.”
Iris—”Could you learn to love an optician?”
Aster—”Who was that stout Jewish-looking party I saw you with in the hotel lobby Friday?”
Deadly Nightshade—”Pull down those blinds, quick!”
Passion Flower—”Phone Main 1249—ask for Eddie.”
Raspberry—”I am announcing my engagement to Charlie O’Keefe Tuesday.”
Wild Thyme—”I have seats for the Hippodrome Saturday afternoon.”
The above flowers can also be combined to make different meanings, as, for example, a bouquet composed of three tuberoses and some Virginia creeper generally signifies the following, “The reason I didn’t call for you yesterday was that I had three inner tube punctures, besides a lot of engine trouble in that old car I bought in Virginia last year. Gosh, I’m sorry!”

The book gives great insight of etiquette habits through humor. That’s why I love Gutenberg books. I can see what my ancestors may have been reading plus it gives me a glimpse into their world.

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