Today is the 1st of April and just like in many countries around the world, it’s the day of jokes, hoaxes and pranks. Newspapers and other media publish fake stories but the real speciality in France is the poisson d’avril. This consists of sticking a paper fish on someone’s back and seeing how long they go without realising it.
Once the fish is discovered you shout “poisson d’avril”! Children adore trying to catch out their teachers if it falls on a school day or their parents when it’s a day at home. My elder son has been sporting a fine specimen for a couple of hours as I write this, stuck on his back by his little brother completely unbeknownst to him.
Accounts vary as to the origins of the jokes and the fish connection. The theory with the most credence is that it arose out of a change in the calendar in the 1560s when King Charles IX ruled that the year would, from then onwards, begin on the 1st of January not the end of March as had been the case.
The traditional gift-giving period at the start of the new year therefore changed from the beginning of April to the beginning of January, but there were those who found it hard to adapt to the new system and they were mocked by being given fake or joke presents on the 1st of April.
These presents were usually food related and as the date nearly always fell during lent when meat was forbidden, they often consisted of fish or pretend fish.
As for the jokes and hoaxes in the media, today I read a good one announcing a new law that texting in foreign languages would only be allowed up to 12% of any message. Any text that went over the quota would be blocked.
With the Academie Française’s obsession with the purity of the French language and dislike of English words creeping into everyday usage such as “le week-end”, “le parking” and “email” it’s the sort of thing that could, just about, be believable and I was taken in for just a split second!
Is April 1st a day of pranks and jokes where you live? I’d love to hear from you.
It’s the end of another school year
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Yes I thought that was a great one, very clever and original.
Well now you know Carolyn, maybe next year you’ll stick a fish on someone’s back!!!
Oh no, that’s awful about the gym instructor, what bad taste to do it on that date. My son got exam results as to whether or not he’d got into an international school on the 1st and we joked that we wouldn’t be able to trust the results…but it was OK, he passed and it wasn’t a joke!
Oh if only…..
Thanks for adding that bit of historical interest Harriet.
well done! love to see it being done by adults.
I heard about it and loved it, very clever indeed. I especially love Pomme de Terre! (and apéro!!)
It’s good harmless fun isn’t it?
There’s no age limit to silliness! My oldest is 16 and he and his mates still do it!
That’s interesting to hear, thanks for letting me know that Tanja.
It usually is Christy, it usually is…and not just on April 1st either!
Next year Katherine!
Couldn’t it just!
Tee hee Emily!
I love the poisson d’avril tradition. I wish we did that in the US. Did you see the joke by the RATP in Paris? They changed out the metro signs. It was very clever!
I absolutely love the newspaper story about foreign language texts. I think I would have been totally taken in… !
Love poisson d’avril! That definitely could be true about the foreign content in text messages haha!
Darn it! Had I known I could have had so much fun sticking a fish to my husband’s back before he went out the work! Thanks for explaining all about the tradition here in France
This is hilarious! I bet every year is going to be silly with your boys!
The city of Nice always does something for 1st of April. The past 3 years it has been in the jets of water at Place Massena. This year it was dotted with boats as if the drunken fishermen accidentally rowed into the fountain. I always look forward to seeing it.
I learned from another blogger that they do the same thing in Italy:) fun!:)
I had no idea ! Thank goodness my husband and my brother aren’t there on April 1 or else they would be joining in with the little kids! Such nice harmless, real fun. Love it.
I had no idea about this tradition – hilarious! Very interesting Phoebe…will know what to do the next time we’re in France on April Fool’s day. Thanks for hosting #allaboutfrance
In Paris they changed some of the metro stops…. Opera became Apero, Parmentier became Pomme de Terre. The signs at Anvers were turned upside down. Quatre Setembre became 1er Avil. It was quite clever. #AllAboutFrance
I love this tradition. I managed to stick a paper fish on my boss’ back on the 1st of April. Check out these vintage postcards I bought about the Poisson d’Avril. I think they’re hilarious!
Ah, the fishy French! Many a time I’ve pretended to feel nothing when a child’s hand ‘surreptitiously’ sticks a fish on my back.
To add to your historical info, I read that the French were the first ones to officially declare the New Year on Jan 1st, and that jokes were played on those who resisted the change or who weren’t aware of it.
The first thing I read on April 1st was that Donald Trump had withdrawn from the elections…
I didn’t see a single poisson this April 1 and I was sure I would, being that I live by a bunch of schools and see kids walking home all the time. The only semi-weird thing was that an instructor at my gym was fired on April 1 and people thought it was an April Fools’ joke, but nope, he really was let go. I was looking forward to a few pranks! #allaboutfrance
Well, I certainly learned something from your post. I had no idea about the origins of April Fools or the French tradition surrounding “poisson d’avril.”
And I have 3, it’s a popular date!
funnily enough I know 3 people too! I bet they had some jokes played on them when they were kids.
I have a couple of friends with April 1st birthdays! x
I have four friends with birthdays on the 1st!
This is a new tradition on me, but an interesting one. I managed to avoid all pranks and hoaxes this year which was rather pleasant. Stephen :o)
I have never heard of this, fun though it sounds, I would probably be the one completely oblivious x
We used to do this at school with our French teacher – brilliant fun!
I much prefer this tradition to practical jokes
The fish tradition sounds like great fun. Don’t think anything much happens over here.
Haven’t heard of this tradition before – sounds like a lot of good fun!
I try to ignore all the april fool jokes , they have become rather upsetting or silly and some are nasty , not even nice funny jokes but scary and hurtful, i try to stay clear of them now , its not what it used to be
i think i missed all the april fools this year .. thankfully .. your sons drawing is fab though! … although sticking the picture on the back is probably a good job doesn’t happen here .. i am so dozy i would never realise! … although i love traditional things like this 🙂
This is a lovely tradition. Some jokes can be a little cruel but this is funny 🙂
That is an elaborate drawing and i love hearing the origins. I’ve heard a few people moaning about April Fool’s Day today even a Radio 1 DJ who is tired of falling for them.
No poissons here … I don’t think.
Haha love this what a lovely post!x
Hahhrrr love it. Did not get anything played on us a work thank god lol .
Love this! I just showed my kids and they said they wished we did that in the US!
Welcome to France Becky and thanks for popping over to my blog. You’ll find plenty of other stuff here on French culture if you’re interested, so do take a look around. I’ll head over to your blog and have a look around later. 🙂
Being quite new to France (we moved here last year) we’re quite new to this so we’ll have to get into it next year. Looks fun for kids! I always manage to fall for some April Fools Joke. One year the BBC reported on a story that penguins could fly and yes…I believed it!
Thanks for popping by and commenting, I really appreciate it. I love the hoaxes in the media and I agree it’s fascinating that so many countries share this farcical day. Come back again soon 🙂
Good excuse for a day off! Thanks for commenting and sorry I took so long to reply 🙁
Haha! This is lovely. I didn’t see any article hoaxes this year but a few years ago I was completely taken in by one in Metro about the mouse community in the Underground in London. I love April Fools Day, it’s funny that so many countries have similar traditions.
Thanks for commenting Emily, please keep coming back for more. I’ll pop over to your blog too.
That isn’t actually son N°1’s back with the enormous fish picture; it’s actually his dad. It was obvious to me of course but I guess the way I labelled the picture and talked about N°1 being had by N°2 made it look that way. 🙂
Oh, how I hated Poisson d’Avril in school 🙂 I was always worried somebody would make fun of me and could not stand it! This year we were lucky it was on a weekend day so no major pranks for the kids to talk about or complain about!
I have to say I was momentarily caught off guard with the text hoax – like you say, knowing France it *could* so nearly be true!
This is a great post! I would prefer a fish taped to my back over the mean ones my best friend gets me with every year!! It also relates to a blog post I did about April fools…please check it out if you like.
Glad I found you through the blog formatting Facebook page.
I love son number 2’s drawing and it is hard to believe that son number 1 doesn’t know it is there – it’s almost the size of his back!
My husband’s surname (and consequently mine) is Avril and he never goes to work on 1st April because of all the jokes he would have to put up with!