April… Fish Day?

April 1, 2014

Fish-shaped goodies start popping up in French boulangerie windows as April 1st approaches

rigoler – laugh, have a laugh
pour rigoler 
– for fun
pitreries – clowning around, tomfoolery
Poisson d’avril !
– April Fools’ Day! (literally, “April Fish!”)

un poisson – fish
une boulangerie – bakery
une poissonnerie – fish shop
la bise – the traditional way the French greet each other, with air kisses on each cheek
faire le pitre – to clown around
râler – grumble

*********

Much like it is in many countries around the world, April 1st in France is a day pour rigoler. However, instead of following up the customary pitreries and practical jokes with cries of “April Fool!”, the French, instead, will shout, “Poisson d’avril!” (“April Fish!”).

In the lead up to “April Fish Day”, poisson-shaped goodies start showing up in boulangerie windows and other unexpected corners outside of their usual place of honour at the local poissonerie… Fish, ahem, out of water, you might say.

It seems that to the French, one of the funniest things you can do on this day is to stick a paper fish onto somebody’s back and mark them as an April fish (fool). French children will spend March 31st carefully cutting out, and even decorating, paper fish, which they will then go to elaborate lengths to stick onto unsuspecting (or perhaps indulgent) adults the next day.

I’m not quite sure where the whole fish thing comes from, or why it’s so funny, although I’ve heard some theories that it’s related to the zodiac sign Pisces, whose dates end a bit before April. But while the humour in paper fish may be destined to remain another mystifying aspect of French culture to me, much like la bise and keeping off the grass, I do find it interesting is that, according to WhyGo France, April Fool’s Day may have actually originated in France:

The theory goes like this: In 1564 King Charles XIV of France reformed the calendar, moving the start of the year from the end of March to January 1. However, in a time without trains, a reliable post system or the internet, news often traveled slow and the uneducated, lower class people in rural France were the last to hear of and accept the new calendar. Those who failed to keep up with the change or who stubbornly clung to the old calendar system and continued to celebrate the New Year during the week that fell between March 25th and April 1st, had jokes played on them. Pranksters would surreptitiously stick paper fish to their backs. The victims of this prank were thus called Poisson d’Avril, or April Fish—which, to this day, remains the French term for April Fools—and so the tradition was born.

Historical proof that, despite popular opinion, the French do like to faire le pitre once in a while and not just râler?

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3 Responses to “April… Fish Day?”

  1. Kyoko Says:

    interesting article :)

    Like

  2. aem2 Says:

    I remember when I lived in Belgium, the European newspapers went all out on April 1. Every single one had a story with pictures. But I also like fish-shaped sweets. Anyway, I nominated you for a Liebster award: http://aem-physicsgirl.blogspot.ca/2014/07/in-which-physicsgirl-would-like-to.html

    Like


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