it grows and it grows

Hans Zinsser was a bacteriologist who wrote a memoir called As I Remember Him. In this excerpt he writes about a classic prank perpetrated by an American student upon an unsuspecting French housewife

french maid

French Housewife found here

“His rooms were on the third floor and under them the proprietress of  the first floor shop had on her windowsill a goldfish tank in which she kept several fish and a very small turtle. My friend, leaning out of his window, could look down directly into the tank and he often watched her as she broke breadcrumbs for her pets and muttered terms of endearment. One evening he suddenly conceived a brilliant idea.


The next day he went to the fish markets and bought a series of 6 turtles ranging in size from one like a 5 franc piece to one about 6 inches across. At the same time he bought wire, cheesecloth and a bamboo fishing pole which he smuggled into his rooms after dark and from which he fashioned himself a very small net. Each day after that, very early in the morning, he would lean out of the window, fish out the turtle and put in a bigger one.

two-headed turtle

The first she didn’t notice but when the second one went in she muttered “Tiens, tiens.” When the third one appeared she began to show signs of excitement, calling first her husband, then the neighbours. There were animated discussions. The fourth turtle turned the place into a public sensation. The fifth one started a riot – not without some tragedy, for this turtle started to chew the fish. A reporter came in and wrote a headlining story, Madame Perrier became famous.


image found here

The student never put in the 6th turtle as the tank wasn’t quite large enough but he had a still more brilliant idea. He began to make the turtles small again. He skipped the fourth one and put in the third, which diminished the animal to half size in a single night. Now the excitement really began and the shop did enormous business. The student skipped to the original beast and Madame Perrier became a national heroine by giving her “Magic Turtle” to the Jardin des Plantes so the biologists there could observe it should it ever start enlarging again…..


Turtle cartoon from here

Published in: on October 27, 2009 at 7:39 am  Comments (24)  

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24 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. 😆 PMSL

    • I had to google that Duncan

      • Why not save the rest of us from googling myra?

      • Apparently it means Pissed My Self Laughing

        (the pedant in me objects to my self being two separate words)

  2. I wish I had the follow through for a prank. I always chicken out.

    Sean the Vampire – Part Six – A Halloween Recap

  3. had to be an engineering student. any other student would have thought of a much better way to mess with a french housewife than dipping his net in her turtletank…

    • I was thinking exactly the same thing!

  4. I can’t help thinking there must be some kind of moral to this story – but perhaps I’m a little tortoiselike on the uptake.

  5. i’d like to have a french wife as a pet, if that’s legal of course.

  6. Huge laughter from here. The sort of practical joke which appeals to the pervert in me. Speaking of pets – – –

    • I’ll foster one for the weekend Archie. Don’t think I want the lifetime responsibility

  7. That was a really great prank wish I could think of something like that when the right arises.

  8. I wonder how long the biologists studied the turtle 🙂

  9. I was hoping he was going to slip some hallucinogenic plant extract into her tea, and put a 200lb (talking, of course) sea turtle into her room. I love a good practical joke, especially if it involves hallucinating!

  10. Great story! I can’t prank worth a damn so I’m always impressed when someone pulls off a good one.

  11. Do you own that French housewife outfit, nursemyra?

    • I have the apron….. guess I could cobble the rest together…..

  12. That was a great (and funny) anecdote!


    I love it!

    BTW, did she use her new found fame to parlay it into a bottled water empire?

    My favorite prank that is similar to that is of the man who was so proud of his new gas saving car that he became obnoxious about it. So, a neighbor would sneak over to his every night and fill up his tank. The man became orgasmic. After a while the neighbor started siphoning it.

  14. Ahh, gotta love the French!

  15. What a beautiful Golden Guide… I wish I had some nice, fresh peyote buttons right now. To look up in the book, of course. Then I would go up on the mountain to where the Aspen groves have turned. Into box turtles, maybe. But that would require the Golden Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians.

    Ed Jovtown

  16. Almost as good as Hans Zimmer‘s As I Remember Hymn.

  17. I noted with interest that it was an American who devised such a cunning plan of much merriment. I mean come on… whoever heard of a Frenchman coming up with anything other than a big ball of spit?

  18. Great story, Nursey! Reminds me of a prank my mom’s cousin Todd told me.

    A neighbor bought a new car, bragged about the great gas mileage it got.

    Todd and his friend Ralph would sneak out at night and started adding more gasoline to the neighbor’s car, until the neighbor was bragging about getting 30, 40, all the way up to 60 miles per gallon.

    Then Todd and Ralph reversed the process, one step at a time; eventually they were siphoning gas, recouping what they had put in… The neighbor was distraught when his mileage slowly dropped to under 5 mpg.

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