Chocolate proms

Maureen Johnson is being funny again—this time about her prom.

I did not have a prom. In Sydney1 they’re called school dances (or at least they were in my day) and they are nothing like the big deal they seem to be here in the US of A. And, no, I didn’t have a school dance either on account of going to a tiny hippy school with only about two hundred students. (We didn’t “date” either. Not in the American sense of the word. I don’t think I’ve ever gone on a bona fide “date”.)

Anyways my knowledge of proms is gleaned from Hollywood movies, YA novels, and my American friends. I find prom (and “date”) stories deeply fascinating in an anthropological way. And Maureen’s is a beaut. If you’ve got any fun stories of your own—spit ’em out! Bonus points if you can explain the whole cottilion/debutante ball thing.

In other news it turns out that chocolate is evil. Thus I’m a very very good person because I don’t like it. Don’t believe me? Then read this. Via Elizabeth Bear.

  1. I can’t speak for the whole of Australia—for all I know there may be some small town somewhere that does have proms. Or where school dances are a huge deal. I’ve already discovered that not everyone says “grouse”. Poor blighters. []


  1. Darice Moore on #

    I grew up here in the good ol’ USA, and we had school dances all the time — shuffling around in the cafeteria or the gym while 80s music blared from the speakers. We had those after every football game, and they were great. The prom was the big deal dance, held only once a year. You could only go if you were a junior or senior in high school, or invited by one.

    I didn’t go to my senior prom. All of my friends were going with boyfriends they had grown to dislike but kept on because they wanted dates for the prom, and I thought that sounded dismal (plus, I didn’t even have a tack-on boyfriend for the purpose) so I skipped it.

    I understand now that in many US high schools, the Homecoming Dance has become promlike and bloated, but for us it was just a dance, except you wore a somewhat nicer set of clothes.

    (Also, I was amused to note that the shift in prom fashion happened between my senior year and my sister’s. My senior year was still firmly in the Gunne Sax/Jessica McClintock froufrou-buttbow-hoopskirt phase of prom fashion; five years later, my sister and all her friends wore slinky evening gowns….)

  2. may on #

    buy free trade chocolate. green & black’s is pretty good, and i know there are other free trade brands available. maybe dagoba?

  3. David Moles on #

    Grouse as in whinge, or grouse as in pheasant?

  4. Lynn on #

    “I don’t think I’ve ever gone on a bona fide date.”

    you mean, Scott never took you on a date? Shame on him.

  5. Diana on #

    I think fictional proms are a trope of teen films and books that are not exactly an accurate reflection of the importance in the real world. Prom is big in a lot of US high schools. No denying that. But it’s not always that big (wasn’t in my school, and I’m speaking as a former member of my school’s prom committee) and I think it’s a convenient structural advice in fiction more than anything.

    That being said, I’ve never heard of Prom freakiness the way Maureen describes.

  6. Callie on #

    First (cuz i never posted u a comment b4), i love your books, and I pretty much ALWAYS read your blog … even though I, myself have not yet fallen into the obsession. However I’m halfway there condsidering I read other people’s all the time.

    Anyway. Ok so a little bit of history here.

    About the whole debutant/coming out party thing. Back in the 1600’s (don’t know if it stretches before that or not??), pretty much untill the 1800’s all of the girls that were getting up there, becoming ‘adult’, and no longer a kid had coming out parties. The father was pretty much offering up his daughter for marriage. It was just an open invitation for a young man (or old, seeing as some old geezers of like 70 who hadn’t married yet, would see fit to marry a 17 year old. It really happened then too, and it was deemed ok I guess. As long as the girl got married to someone who was rich, and well off the family didn’t really care if she loved the guy)to court the girl, and eventually propose if they hit it off. So all of this, which you may, or may have not know is the backing behind 16 year olds today have a 20,000 dollar birthay party, which I personally do not understand.

    And the cotillion thing basically prepared you for this, and to be a proper young lady in society.

    I think a debutant BALL, is a bunch of girls all coming out at once, like—ok men here’s 20 girls for the picking—or something like that.

    To end my insanely long rambling, I will end with agreeing with you about the prom thing. I actually just started college, and didn’t go to mine. I actually forced some of my friends to divulge in a hiking filled, pitch a tent, spend the night with the bugs event. Basically, we went camping. Not fun to some, but I actually got them to go kayaking, and stuff. They thanked me later, too … except for my best friend who got poison ivy, but what can you do?

  7. niki on #

    They’re call “high school formals” in aus justine – one in year 10 and one in year 12 – they can be very big deals depending on the school that is 🙂 – silly hippy school teach you nothin 😉

  8. Justine on #

    Callie: Thanks so much! You weren’t rambling at all. I like to get long and entertaining comments like yours. Thank you!

    Now my question is why are these things still around and popular?

    David Moles: Grouse as in whinge, or grouse as in pheasant?

    Neither. “Grouse” as in “beaut”, “excellent”, “awesome”.

    Aussie 1: “Didja have a good time last night, but?”

    Aussie 2: “Reckon. It was completely grouse. Ta, mate.”

  9. Emmaco on #

    Another Aussie here who hasn’t heard of grouse used in that way!

    We called it a formal, like Niki said. Our (hippie Catholic) school didn’t want it to be a big deal as we were supposed to be into simplicity, but that didn’t stop girls from secretly hiring limos that dropped them off around the corner, mothers from buying an enormously expensive dress for their darling sole daughter etc. I suspect the prom thing in US books and movies has increased the importance of the formal here.

  10. Diana on #

    They (debutante balls) are still popular because the social mores of the people who throw them are very focused on keeping up their traditions.

    the people in my southern town were both shocked and secretely relieved that the “jewish girl” wasn’t about to come home from connecticut at age 20 and interrupt theirs.

  11. Justine on #

    Enmaco: You’re making me very glad I went to a hippy formal-less school.

    Where are you from? I’m hearing theories that “grouse” is only a Victorian word. Of course that doesn’t explain me or the other folks I know who use it what mostly grew up in Sydney.

    If you look it up on the Australian Word Map. It seems to backup the idea that it’s predominantly a Victiorian word.

  12. Chris Barnes on #

    i agree that “grouse” is probably regional slang, but am not sure which regions. I grew up in sydney and it wasn’t in common usage in my circles, but i still knew what it meant. It’s a bottler of a word; a corker; a real pearler! 🙂

  13. Little Willow on #

    “And that there is no wookie.”

    I have also been told: There is no spoon.

  14. Rebecca on #

    at my all-girls catholic high school, we had to bring in our dates (obviously) for the junior/senior prom. my friends and i couldn’t be arsed, though, so we took ourselves in one big group. and one of my friends took a homemade cardboard cutout of a guy in a tux.

    debutant whatsits are, in my experience, an excuse to dress up insanely and spend shameful amounts of money on a long and dull ceremony that is really nothing but a bunch of crap and circumstance. hence why it never crossed my mind to have one. quinceañeras are much the same idea in hispanic circles, although those are religiously oriented and are more akin to a really really fancy sweet sixteen. prom was fun because it was relatively a do-what-you-want event and didn’t involve stupid ceremonies (other than the brief coronation of prom king and queen). You could come late or leave early, and at my school it wasn’t as big a deal if you didn’t have a date. i know it’s different and a much bigger thing at other schools.

  15. Emmaco on #

    I’m from Queensland so maybe it is a freaky Southerner thing.

    Thanks for the cool Australian word map link!

    And despite the fuss some people put on, I did have a good time at my formal. I thought my dress was lovely (ten years later I’m not so sure) and danced the night away with friends!

  16. Emmaco on #

    I just emailed my Victorian cousin and she said that of course she’s heard of grouse but prefers to use the term “dice”. Southerners!!!

  17. ben peek on #

    formals are big business now–i always thought they were, but maybe in those dim, dark, before present time days…


  18. Emmaco on #

    Sorry for another comment Justine, but I have rung/texted lots of Queenslander friends and family and I AM THE ONLY ONE who hasn’t heard of grouse being used in that way. Of course I have now said it so much today I feel like I do know it! I am obviously a social leper who didn’t watch enough TV as a child in the 80s.

  19. Justine on #

    Now that other Aussies have jogged my memory, I do vaguely remember friends from other schools crapping on about discussing dresses and something that might well have been a “formal”. I was too busy working on my genius novel and plotting how to plant a smoke bomb in the shed to annoy the cool kids . . .

    Emmaco: The word map is awesome. It’s just in its very very early days though. So if you’ve got any cool banana-bender regionalisms wack ’em in. Tell your cousin to add “dice”.

  20. jennifer, aka literaticat on #

    I’ll post my prom story – but I think it’ll have to be in a friends-locked post…

  21. Carbonelle on #

    I hired my lab partner (who owed me serious favors as I kept other kids from beating him up/bullying him when we were rug-rats together) to take me to the prom. He was a “junior” — a year younger than I.

    The senior class got free tickets: For taking me long enough to get a good look round and dance a few dances (so that, should i ever become Le Writer, I would no whereof I spoke, seminal-teen-experience-wise) he could drop me off back home and take his Real Date.

    It was interesting. And worth the cost to me (some time)

  22. Rachael on #

    I met an Aussie girl in New York last year who also said that Aussies don’t date. Her version of what happens instead was, “you shag him, and then you’re together.” 🙂

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