April Fools Day French Style

I was intrigued when I read about how the French celebrate April Fools Day. The 1st of April in the UK is, to my mind, a bit of a non-event. I would expect some cleverness and trickery in the national media and I'm not disappointed this year. I am, in fact, rather impressed by The Telegraph's contribution of a leaked internal Labour Party memo detailing the party requirement to celebrate the marriage of their leader, Ed Miliband, to Justine Thornton by ordering trifle and having a street party. Tee hee, wedding fever is clearly in the British air at the moment. April Fools Day also produced one of the finest TV hoaxes in 1957 when Panorama showed the Swiss harvesting a bumper crop of spaghetti from trees and declared that the “spaghetti weevil” had been eradicated. The programme was apparently filmed in St. Albans and a large number of rather gullible people contacted the BBC wanting to know how to cultivate their own spaghetti trees. So do the French indulge in similar foolishness? Well, yes, but the day primarily involves paper fish or Poisson d'Avril.

A common joke in France, especially among school-aged children, is to place a paper fish on the back of an unsuspecting person. When the paper fish is discovered, the victim is declared a “Poisson d’Avril”, an April Fish. It is not really clear how this prank evolved and I imagined that the practice of sticking a paper fish to people was probably not that widespread. How wrong I was!

I was sitting on our balcony when Pat walked past and paused to chat. I leaned over the railings to get a better view of the bag she was holding up to show me. Did my eyes deceive me or was there really a green paper fish attached? Evidently it is not just French children who uphold the tradition of Poisson d'Avril … Pat had been at a French class for adults when she was blagued. Her teacher had leant over her and patted the paper poisson on to her back. You certainly need to keep your wits about you when you live here!

Pat and her Poisson d'Avril