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Fools Foolin' Who?

I'm not much of a practical joker, but I've always been fond of April Fools' Day. Growing up, Mom fooled us kids many years in a row, until one year, we kids (who were by this time adolescents) took over and started fooling Mom.

So, it was only natural, that during my first April Fools' Day in Paris, I would look for a way to fool Pascal.  April Fools' Day is also celebrated in France, but instead of creating elaborate practical jokes Candid-Camera-style, French children go around taping paper cutouts shaped like fish on the backs of unsuspecting individuals. I guess it's like a kinder, gentler (and stranger) version of the "Kick Me" sign. The French find this amusing. Then again, they also find Jerry Lewis amusing.

Although I love almost all things French, I'm not a fan of Poisson d'Avril (April Fish Day, being the direct translation for their April Fools' Day). I much prefer the custom "à l'américaine". So on that first of April back in 1994, I waited all day for the perfect moment to play a joke on Pascal. He suggested going to dinner at one of our favorite little restaurants, Le Bistro de Montmartre. As we walked over to the restaurant, I started formulating my plan...

Since we were regulars, the staff knew us by sight. They welcomed us, and once we were seated, I told Pascal that I need to excuse myself for a trip to the ladies' room. Instead of going to the "toilettes", however, I went to find my waiter and turn him into my accomplice. I explained that it was April Fools' Day, and that I wanted to play a joke on my boyfriend. I asked the waiter to bring "une facture importante" - a grossly inflated bill - instead of our real bill to the table at the end of the evening. I didn't have time to say much more; Pascal was looking around the restaurant and about to discover our clandestine conversation at any moment. I told the waiter: "I'll leave the rest up to you", and quickly made my way back to our favorite table.

The waiters and maitre d' executed the joke brilliantly! When Pascal asked for the bill, the waiter brought it over and quickly walked away. Instead of the usual $40 or $50 dollar dinner-for-two with a bottle of wine, the bill read $200! Pascal called the waiter over to point out the "mistake".  The waiter played dumb, insisting that the bill was correct. Pascal kept repeating that this couldn't be possible, so the waiter offered to bring his manager, the maitre d', over to the table. The maitre d' arrived to explain that there was a cover charge for the live musicians who were playing in the restaurant that evening, and that our bill was indeed correct.

As the maitre d' excused himself from our table, Pascal turned to me with an ashen face to ask if I'd brought a credit card along - he didn't have enough cash. Partly because of his embarrassment, and partly because of his critical French character, he started to quietly rant and rave about the injustice of the situation and the nerve of the restaurant to implement a cover charge with no notice. "Yes", I replied, "It's a terrible thing to do, especially considering that it's April Fools' Day!" But Pascal was so worked up, he just kept on ranting. I continued to respond with placating comments and the occasional reminder that it was April Fools' Day until my words finally sunk in.  Dinner: $200 fake dollars. The look on Pascal’s face: Priceless.

In the end, no credit cards were necessary. The wait staff had watched the entire scene, and when they saw Pascal's realization that he had been foiled, they delivered our real (and most reasonable) bill to the table with a round of applause.  I've played many more April Fools' jokes on Pascal over the years, but this one remains one of my favorites. Today, however, I'm short on ideas. Of course, the day is still young. Suggestions anyone?

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