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French April Fool's Day Hoaxes
Eloy d’Amerval. (1508)
In 1508 Eloy d'Amerval, a French choirmaster and composer, published a poem titled Le livre de la deablerie. It consisted of "a dialogue between Satan and Lucifer, in which their nefarious plotting of future evil deeds is interrupted periodically by the author, who among other accounts of earthly and divine virtue, records useful information on contemporary musical practice." The poem would principally be of interest to historians of music, except that it includes the line, "maquereau infâme de maint homme et de mainte femme, poisson d'avril." The phrase "poisson d'avril" (April Fish) is the French term for an April Fool, but it is unclear whether d'Amerval's use of the term referred to April 1st specifically. He might have intended the phrase simply to mean a foolish person. More…
French Calendar Reform. (1563)
In 1563 King Charles IX reformed the French calendar by moving the start of the year from Easter Day to January 1. His edict was passed into law by the French Parliament on Dec. 22, 1564. This aligned legal convention with what had long been the popular custom of celebrating the start of the year on January 1. Later, in 1582, Pope Gregory issued a papal bull decreeing sweeping calendar reform, which included moving the start of the year to January 1, as well as creating a leap-year system and eliminating ten days from the month of October 1582 in order to correct the drift of the calendar. The Pope had no formal power to make governments accept this reform, but he urged Christian nations to do so. France immediately accepted the reform, since it had already instituted part of the reform (changing the start of the year) in 1564. This sixteenth-century calendar reform is frequently cited as the origin of the custom of April Foolery. Supposedly the people who failed to realize the start of the year had been changed had pranks played on them on April 1st. There are a number of problems with this theory. First, the start of the year was changed from Easter day, not April 1st. Second, More…
Escape of the Duke of Lorraine. (1634)
At the beginning of the 17th century, Lorraine was a duchy within the Holy Roman Empire, but during the conflict of the Thirty Years' War, the Kingdom of France decided to annex it and mounted a successful invasion. The Duke of Lorraine, Nicholas Francis, and his wife were ordered to be held as prisoners within the walls of Nancy, the capital city of Lorraine. However, immediately the Duke began to plot his escape. He laid the groundwork by repeatedly circulating false rumors of his getaway. The Count de Brassac, French governor of Nancy, upon hearing these rumors would send a soldier to see if they were true or not and always found the Duke and Duchess under the watchful eye of their More…
Bombs Away!. (1915)
The Geneva Tribune reported that on April 1 a French aviator flying over a German camp dropped what appeared to be a huge bomb. The German soldiers immediately scattered in all directions, but no explosion followed. After some time, the soldiers crept back and gingerly approached the bomb. They discovered that it was actually a large football with a note tied to it that read, "April Fool!" [The Atlanta Constitution, Aug 2, 1915.] More…
Peace Treaty Signed. (1919)
A prankster started a rumor alleging that a peace treaty ending World War I had been signed. According to the Associated Press: "The report rapidly spread over all Paris and the telephone wires to the American headquarters in the hotel de Crillon became hot with inquiries as to the truth of the rumor. It did not take long however, for inquiries to realize the character of the report when they were reminded that today was April 1st." The Treaty of Versailles, which marked the formal end of the war, was signed on June 28, 1919. [Daily Northwestern, Apr 1, 1919.] More…
Mme. Pompadour’s Metric Measure. (1925)
Merle Blanc, a humorous Parisian newspaper, laid a trap for André Perate, curator of the Versailles Palace. They sent him a letter, using the aristocratic signature "Madame de Mesnil-Heurteloup," offering to donate a "double decimeter measure in rosewood" once used by Mme. de Pompadour. They suggested it could be placed in the recently reopened Pompadour apartments in Versailles. The newspaper later reproduced a facsimile of the curator's reply, noting that he had failed to realize that Mme. Pompadour died thirty years before the metric system was invented. They suggested that they might seek space in French museums "for Napoleon's automobile, a bracelet worn by the Venus de Milo, and More…

Critics of Catholicism receive Catholic medal. (1925)
The French government received a message from Athens, Greece, sent via official channels, announcing that three prominent Parisian critics of Catholicism had been awarded the Order of the Redeemer, the highest decoration awarded by the Greek government. The decoration is considered a high honor among Catholics, since it symbolizes the rebirth of the Greek nation through divine assistance. The three men who supposedly had been awarded the medal were M. Ferdinand Buisson and M. Aulard of the Sorbonne, and M. Victor Basch of the University of Paris. In reality, the decorations had been conferred on less controversial figures. It was not known who had found a way to use the Greek government to More…
Parisian Poisson d’Avril. (1937)
A Parisian boy pins a paper fish onto the back of a police officer at Porte Saint Denis. Pinning a paper fish (un poisson d'Avril) onto a victim's back was, for centuries, considered to be the traditional April Fool's prank in France, perpetrated primarily by young boys. More…
Rue Maurice Thorez. (1941)
The Vichy government in France arrested 13 people on the charge of participating in a "Communist April Fool day plot" to rename streets in Marseille after the exiled Communist leader Maurice Thorez. The police made the arrests after finding a large quantity of signs reading "Maurice Thorez Street" (or "Rue Maurice Thorez") designed to be placed over the regular street signs in the city. More…
Flying Bus. (1950)
International Soundphoto distributed a photo of a flying bus swooping over the Place de la Concorde in Paris, France. The photo ran in many papers, accompanied by the caption: "Well, Well, look how all those Parisians are being missed by the bus at Place de la Concorde. Anything can happen in the French capital on April Fool's day, they say, but it is suspected that some zany darkroom jokester had something to do with this." [Newsweek - Apr 10, 1950.]
Abduction from the Grand Guignol. (1950)
A few days before April 1st, an actress disappeared from Paris's Grand Guignol theater during a production of No Orchids for Miss Blandish. The police launched a massive manhunt. But on the morning of April 1st, the actress walked into a police station, unhurt, claiming she had been kidnapped and imprisoned by "Puritans" for the past two days. The police were skeptical, and under interrogation the actress eventually admitted that her disappearance was an April Fool's Day publicity stunt engineered by the Grand Guignol's manager. The play being performed when she disappeared was, not coincidentally, about a woman who is kidnapped. More…
Paris All Dressed Up. (1951)
French fashion designer Jean Dessès used photomontages to dress Parisian landmarks in his gowns. (Top) The column in the Place Vendome wore a strapless gown draped with roses. (Bottom) In sight of the Eiffel Tower, a street lamp sported a softly tailored beige and brown wool suit and a brown felt hat. More…
Bridge Removal. (1967)
The French newspaper L'Ardennais reported that two giant helicopters were going to remove the Meuse River bridge at Montey-Notre-Dame and replace it with a new one. A crowd of over 2000 people assembled to witness the event. Eventually a loudspeaker announced that the bridge-removal operation had been delayed until April 1, 1968. More…
Europeans To Drive On Left Side. (1971)
French state-run radio announced that European motorists would soon be required to drive on the left side of the road, in order to help British drivers when they joined the Common Market. Almost immediately the radio station began receiving hundreds of phone calls from enraged French motorists. As a result, the station quickly confessed that the story was a hoax.
Eiffel Tower Moves. (1986)
Le Parisien newspaper reported that an agreement had been signed to take down the Eiffel Tower and move it to the new Euro Disney theme park being constructed east of Paris. Where the tower used to be, a 35,000-seat stadium would be built for the 1992 Olympic Games. More…
No Speed Limit for Germans. (1992)
L'Humanite, the French Communist Party newspaper, reported that because Germans had no speed limit on their own motorways, the European Commission had therefore decided to allow German drivers to drive as fast as they wanted throughout other EC countries. More…
Metro Station Name Change. (1994)
The Parisian Transport Authority (RATP) renamed three Paris metro stations, but only for the 24 hours of April 1st. Parmentier station became "Pomme de Terre" (potato). Madeleine station became "Marcel Proust," and Reuilly Diderot station became "Les Religieuses." At the stations, metro employees handed out potato chips, madeleines, and religieuses (a type of eclair). Tickets were also stamped with the shape of a fish (a "poisson d'avril" or "April fish" — the French equivalent of "April fool"). Unfortunately, many passengers became confused by the name changes and chaos ensued. Therefore, the stunt was never repeated. More…
European Committee Bans Single-Shelled Eggs. (2003)
The European Committee issued a communique in which it declared that it was banning single-shelled eggs, in order to prevent cracked eggs being found in food stores. The ban was a play on the French word "coque" which means both egg shell and ship's hull. More…
Concorde Flies Again. (2009)
The French Museum of Air and Space announced on its website that Concorde was scheduled to return to the air for a special two-hour flight in June. The supersonic plane had not flown since 2003, but the museum explained that one of two Concordes given to it had been kept flight-ready. The announcement was picked up by the French news agency AFP, which later had to retract it when the museum admitted the news was a hoax. The museum explained that it perpetrated the hoax in order to publicize its hope that one day Concorde really would fly again. More…
Parrot Air Drone Postal. (2013)
The French postal service announced it was teaming with drone-manufacturer Parrot to experiment with the use of drones to deliver mail in Auvergne, in south central France. The new delivery service would be called Parrot Air Drone Postal. A team of 20 postal workers would control the drones via an app on their smart phones. A number of American news sources, including the San Francisco Chronicle and Business Insider, reported the announcement as fact. More…
Pandas in the Pyrenees. (2013)
Television channel France 3 revealed that the French government planned to release giant pandas in the Pyrenees, as part of the continuing reintroduction of bears to the region. Negotiations with the Chinese government were ongoing, but it was hoped that the first panda pair could be introduced in the spring of 2014. Of course, pandas eat mainly bamboo. This was seen as a positive, as it meant the pandas were unlikely to attack farm animals. However, bamboo is not found in the pyrenees. Therefore, the plan was to use a helicopter to fly several tons of bamboo to the pandas every week. More…
Trout-Pig Hybrid. (2013)
L'Indépendant reported that a fisherman, Jean Bonnet, caught a bizarre creature that appeared to be a trout-pig hybrid while fishing in the Tet River in southeastern France. It took him 51 minutes to reel it in, and as soon as it landed on the ground it attempted to burrow into the earth with its snout. Bonnet suspected the creature was the result of genetically modified corn being grown nearby. Health authorities soon arrived to investigate, but by that time Bonnet had already grilled and eaten the trout-pig, which he described as "a treat." More…
No fishy name jokes. (2013)
French MP Jean-Frédéric Poisson (shown) proposed a law that would protect politicians with "aquatic animal surnames" from being ridiculed. ("Poisson" in French means "fish" — "poisson d'avril" is the equivalent of "April fool"). Fellow MPs Franck Marlin and Philippe Goujon backed the proposal. (Marlin and Goujon, or gudgeon, both being types of fish.) They said, "We other aquatic MPs are very concerned about the respect of biodiversity and anything said against us could reduce biodiversity." However, Jean-Marie Tétart objected, even though his last name means 'tadpole' in spoken French.
Roselyne Bachelot Bond Girl. (2013)
French station RTL announced that Roselyne Bachelot, former French Minister for Health, would play a "Bond girl" in the next 007 movie alongside Daniel Craig, despite the fact that Bachelot was 66 years old. Apparently the production company in charge of casting was hoping, by choosing her, to appeal to a "more senior" audience in the next movie.
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All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.