How is France similar to the UK or US on April 1?
April Fools’ Day in France is called Poisson d’avril (see why below) and in many ways is similar to what you would see in the US or UK.
Family members often try to trick each other around the breakfast table, hoping no-one has noticed the date, and it can also happen at work.
French media, too, attempts to fool readers and viewers with made-up stories.
For example, Le Parisien’s edition of 1st April 1986 told readers that the Eiffel Tower had been sold to Walt Disney Productions.It was to be dismantled and re-erected on the site of the future Disneyland Paris at Marne-la-Vallée. The move was to make way for a new sports stadium.
Today’s press has stories of a new wine-smelling perfume and ski lessons for dogs in the Alps.
La Plagne lance la 1ère École de Ski Canine au monde !— La Plagne (@LaPlagne) April 1, 2023
Depuis cet hiver, la station au Bonnet Rouge apporte la preuve de son ouverture d'esprit en accueillant un nouveau public ... à 4 pattes
Découvrez cette exclusivité mondiale sur : https://t.co/w3RL6sSdvg#LaPlagne pic.twitter.com/NBtUtcHqyp
You can read about other French April 1 stories over the years here.
However, some observe a decrease in the number of April Fools’ stories in recent years, which has been put down to the difficulties of controlling the spread of fake information on social media.
What are the French peculiarities on April 1?
French primary school pupils have had a longstanding tradition of trying to stick a cutout paper fish on someone else’s back without them seeing on April 1.
It is usually a prank played between pupils, although the teacher is the ultimate target.
The most intelligent will target someone they know will go up and speak in front of the class. That way, the fish gets maximum exposure.
Likewise, targeting someone in the front row of the class means the rest of the pupils get to see the prank without the teacher.
Tactics vary in terms of how the paper fish is stuck on someone’s back. You can pretend to pat someone on the back and pass it on then. Alternatively, put a hook on the fish and attach it to a coat.
The origins of this wacky custom date back to when France’s ruler King Charles IX decided that the country’s annual calendar, hitherto varied according to region (Lyon’s year began at Christmas, for example), should be unified and begin each year on January 1.
And thus the Edict of Roussillon, implemented on January 1, 1567, decreed that “The year begins on the 1st day of January.”
In regions where the year formerly began on March 25, in line with the feast of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, celebrations often continued until early April.
Despite the change of calendar year, some people continued to offer gifts at the ‘old’ New Year. But as the tradition weakened, the gifts became less and less extravagant, more jokey and morphed into little practical jokes.
But what is the significance of the fish?
During the pre-Easter austerity period of Carême (Lent), Christians could still eat fish and so real poissons were often offered as gifts – so it seems that pranking a friend with a ‘fake fish’ was the logical alternative once April 1 began to lose its significance.
Five famous April Fools' pranks played on the French public
Poissons d’Avril spotted in French press…have you been fooled?