French figures: The fish that pops up each spring

No matter how much you like fish, you don't want an April one.

French figures: The fish that pops up each spring
Photo: AFP

While a poisson d'avril might sound like a tasty fish dish it's actually something to avoid, because if someone yells this at you, you are the victim of a joke.

An 'April fish' is what is known in English as an April Fool – the practice of playing jokes on April 1st.

There are lots of different theories as to how fish came to be linked with jokes in France.

One says it comes from April being a bad month for fishing, so claiming to eat one that month had to be a joke. Another ties it to the Dunkerque Carnival tradition, which starts with dried herrings wrapped in plastic being thrown from the City Call to a crowd gathered below.  

But it's firmly embedded in the culture now and French schoolkids spend April 1st creating fish out of paper and sticking them to their classmates' backs, while French media usually indulge in a terrible joke story on April 1st (and yes, The Local does this too).

Also at this time of year, and later around Easter, you will see little chocolate fish in the shops, in tribute to the poisson d'avril.

This article is part of The Local France's 2020 virtual advent calendar – every day until Christmas we will be presenting you with a person or object that has a particular significance to life in France. 


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French figures: The true spirit of France

This is the incredible story about the teenage girl who became a symbol of France for the ages.

French figures: The true spirit of France
Illustration photo: AFP

The story of Joan of Arc – Jeanne d'Arc in French – begun like many fairytales do: an unlikely hero is chosen to accomplish a dangerous task.

Born around 1412, Joan of Arc was an illiterate peasant girl convinced that divine powers had decided she would fight the English army in France. 

She then did exactly that. 

This was during the so-called Hundred Years’ War, when English troops battled for territory across the country that is now France.

Joan of Arc liberated Orléans city from English forces in a legendary and decisive battle that paved the way for the later French victory in 1453.

Joan of Arc paid for her heroism with her life. She was captured and sold her to the English army, who burned her at the stake in Rouen, northeast France, around 1431. She was approximately 19 years old at the time.

But her short life left a lasting mark on France and in 1920 she was made a Saint. Almost 600 years after her death she is still commemorated and celebrated in France and her spirit is invoked during difficult times for the country.

Known today as “the Maid of Orléans”, Joan of Arc's silhouette is all over the city, ingrained on medallions on the street, cast into sculptures and painted on the boxes of Cotignac, an Orléans culinary speciality.

READ ALSO: Ten reasons why you should visit the French city Orléans

This article is the final instalment of The Local France's 2020 virtual advent calendar – featuring every day a person or thing that has a special place in French culture. To see the whole calendar, click here.