Trading Places

folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther types 85 and 1408
in which family members exchange jobs
with disastrous results
translated and/or edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2000-2020


  1. The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage (Germany, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm).

  2. The Husband Who Was to Mind the House (Norway, Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe).

  3. Nature's Order (Germany, Karl Simrock).

  4. There Was an Old Man, Who Lived in a Wood (England, James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps).

  5. The Old Man Who Lived in a Wood (England, Sarah Hewett).

  6. Bibliography of related tales.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage

Germany, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Once upon a time a mouse, a bird, and a sausage formed a partnership. They kept house together, and for a long time they lived in peace and prosperity, acquiring many possessions. The bird's task was to fly into the forest every day to fetch wood. The mouse carried water, made the fire, and set the table. The sausage did the cooking.

Whoever is too well off always wants to try something different! Thus one day the bird chanced to meet another bird, who boasted to him of his own situation. This bird criticized him for working so hard while the other two enjoyed themselves at home. For after the mouse had made the fire and carried the water, she could sit in the parlor and rest until it was time for her to set the table. The sausage had only to stay by the pot watching the food cook. When mealtime approached, she would slither through the porridge or the vegetables, and thus everything was greased and salted and ready to eat. The bird would bring his load of wood home. They would eat their meal, and then sleep soundly until the next morning. It was a great life.

The next day, because of his friend's advice, the bird refused to go to the forest, saying that he had been their servant long enough. He was no longer going to be a fool for them. Everyone should try a different task for a change. The mouse and the sausage argued against this, but the bird was the master, and he insisted that they give it a try. The sausage was to fetch wood, the mouse became the cook, and the bird was to carry water.

And what was the result? The sausage trudged off toward the forest; the bird made the fire; and the mouse put on the pot and waited for the sausage to return with wood for the next day. However, the sausage stayed out so long that the other two feared that something bad had happened. The bird flew off to see if he could find her. A short distance away he came upon a dog that had seized the sausage as free booty and was making off with her. The bird complained bitterly to the dog about this brazen abduction, but he claimed that he had discovered forged letters on the sausage, and that she would thus have to forfeit her life to him.

Filled with sorrow, the bird carried the wood home himself and told the mouse what he had seen and heard. They were very sad, but were determined to stay together and make the best of it. The bird set the table while the mouse prepared the food. She jumped into the pot, as the sausage had always done, in order to slither and weave in and about the vegetables and grease them, but before she reached the middle, her hair and skin were scalded off, and she perished.

When the bird wanted to eat, no cook was there. Beside himself, he threw the wood this way and that, called out, looked everywhere, but no cook was to be found. Because of his carelessness, the scattered wood caught fire, and the entire house was soon aflame. The bird rushed to fetch water, but the bucket fell into the well, carrying him with it, and he drowned.

The Husband Who Was to Mind the House

Norway, Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe

Once upon a time there was a man who was so bad tempered and cross that he never thought his wife did anything right in the house. One evening, in hay-making time, he came home, scolding and swearing, and showing his teeth and making a commotion.

"Dear love, don't be so angry; that's a good man," said his wife; "tomorrow let's change jobs. I'll go out with the mowers and mow, and you can mind the house at home."

Yes, the husband thought that would do very well. He was quite willing, he said.

So early the next morning, his wife took a scythe over her neck, and went out into the hay field with the mowers and began to mow; but the man was to mind the house, and do the work at home.

First of all he wanted to churn the butter; but when he had churned awhile, he got thirsty, and went down to the cellar to tap a barrel of ale. He had just knocked in the bung, and was putting in the tap, when he heard the pig come into the kitchen above. As as fast as he could, he ran up the cellar steps, with the tap in his hand, to keep the pig from upsetting the churn; but when he got there, he saw that the pig had already knocked the churn over, and was standing there, routing and grunting in the cream which was running all over the floor. He got so angry that he quite forgot the ale barrel, and ran at the pig as hard as he could. He caught it, too, just as it ran out of doors, and gave it such a powerful kick that he killed it on the spot. Then he remembered he had the tap in his hand; but when he got down to the cellar, all the ale had run out of the barrel.

Then he went into the milk shed and found enough cream left to fill the churn again, and so he began to churn, for they had to have butter at dinner. When he had churned a bit, he remembered that their milk cow was still shut up in the barn, and hadn't had a bit to eat or a drop to drink all morning, although the sun was high. It occurred to him that it was too far to take her down to the meadow, so he'd just get her up on the roof, for it was a sod roof, and a fine crop of grass was growing there. The house was close against a steep hill, and he thought if he laid a plank across to the back of the roof he'd easily get the cow up.

But he couldn't leave the churn, for his little baby was crawling about on the floor. "If I leave it," he thought, "the child will tip it over." So he took the churn on his back, and went out with it; but then he thought he'd better first water the cow before he put her on the roof; so he picked up a bucket to draw water out of the well; but, as he stooped over the edge of the well, all the cream ran out of the churn over his shoulder, and down into the well.

Now it was near dinner time, and he hadn't even got the butter yet; so he thought he'd best boil the porridge, and filled the pot with water, and hung it over the fire. When he had done that, it occurred to him that the cow might fall off the roof and break her legs or her neck. So he climbed up on the house to tie her up. He tied one end of the rope to the cow's neck. He slipped the other end down the chimney and tied it around his own leg. Then he had to hurry, for the water was now boiling in the pot, and he had still to grind the oatmeal.

He began to grind away; but while he was hard at it, the cow fell off the roof, dragging the man up the chimney by the rope. There he stuck fast; and as for the cow, she hung halfway down the wall, swinging between heaven and earth, for she could neither get down nor up.

Now the wife waited seven lengths and seven breadths for her husband to come and call her home to dinner; but he never came. At last she thought she'd waited long enough, and went home. But when she got home and saw the cow hanging there, she ran up and cut the rope with her scythe. When she did this, her husband fell down from within the chimney. When the old woman came inside, she found him with his head in the porridge pot.

Nature's Order


A man and a woman lived in a run-down cottage. Every day the man went out and worked in the field while the woman stayed at home and cooked.

One day after breakfast the man said to the woman: "You have it very easy with your little bit of cooking, while I have to work myself to the bone in the field."

"Do you want to trade?" asked the woman. "If so, I'll go out to the field and you can stay and home and cook."

"I'd be happy with that," said the man.

So they traded roles: The woman took the hoe over her shoulder and went out to the field while the man, wooden spoon in hand, stayed at home. His first question was, what should he cook? Then it occurred to him that whoever has the cross should bless himself with it: "I'll cook my favorite dish, rice porridge."

He brought in kindling and wood and made a fire, and then he heard the cow bellowing.

"Just bellow away," said the man. "First I have to fetch water or else the fire will burn away for nothing at all."

He took the bucket and went to the well to fetch water, which he poured into the pot and set on onto the fire. Then the cow bellowed again.

"Just bellow away," he said. "It's not your turn yet. First I must put the rice into the pot so it will soften.

He ran and fetched the rice, shook it into the pot and stirred it with the spoon. Then the cow bellowed a third time.

"Yes," said the man, "now it's your turn."

He went to the stall only to discover that there was no fodder there for her.

"Curses!" he thought. "If have to get fodder for her now the water will get hot, and the rice will boil over and spoil my favorite dish."

So he led the cow to the hill behind the cottage, and then onto his thatched roof that was covered with moss, saying: "You can graze here."

Back in the kitchen he poured off the boiling water and poured fresh water onto the rice.

Then he thought: "If the cow falls off the roof she could break her neck and a leg. That would not do."

So he ran out onto the roof and tied a rope around the cow's neck and dropped the rope's other end down the chimney into the kitchen. Back in the kitchen he tied the rope onto his leg, thinking: "Now I can tend to the rice porridge in peace."

Soon he poured the boiling water off the rice, replaced it with milk, then put it back onto the fire, stirring it vigorously with the wooden spoon so that it would not burn.

Meanwhile the cow was grazing on the roof's narrow peak, carefully setting one foot in front of another like a tight-rope walker, until she came to the edge of the house. She stretched he neck to one side to reach a few green bites, then lost her balance and fell. The short rope left her hanging there above the ground. She was heavy enough to pull up the man tied to the other end of the rope. And there he hung in the chimney, between heaven and earth just above the rice porridge.

When the woman returned home she saw the cow hanging there, its tongue sticking out of its throat. Fortunately she had her cheese knife in her pocket. She opened it, and holding the rope with her right hand she cut it in two with her left hand, then gently lowered the cow to the ground.

She ran into the kitchen to scold the man. She found him stuck upside down with his head the porridge pot. The woman had to get him back onto his feet. But she couldn't scold him yet, for his eyes and ears were full of porridge.

So she washed his head and was about to begin her scolding sermon, when he said: "Be quiet. You've already washed my head. In the future you'll stay at home and I'll work in the field."

It is not right to undo nature's order.

There Was an Old Man, Who Lived in a Wood


There was an old man, who lived in a wood,
As you may plainly see;
He said he could do as much work in a day,
As his wife could do in three.
With all my heart, the old woman said,
If that you will allow,
Tomorrow you'll stay at home in my stead,
And I'll go drive the plough.

But you must milk the Tidy cow,
For fear that she go dry;
And you must feed the little pigs
That are within the sty;
And you must mind the speckled hen,
For fear she lay away;
And you must reel the spool of yarn
That I spun yesterday.

The old woman took a staff in her hand,
And went to drive the plough;
The old man took a pail in his hand,
And went to milk the cow:
But Tidy hinched, and Tidy flinched,
And Tidy broke his nose,
And Tidy gave him such a blow,
That the blood ran down to his toes!

High! Tidy! Ho! Tidy! High!
Tidy! do stand still,
If ever I milk you, Tidy, again,
'Twill be sore against my will!
He went to feed the little pigs,
That were within the sty;
He hit his head against the beam,
And he made the blood to fly.

He went to mind the speckled hen,
For fear she'd lay astray;
And he forgot the spool of yarn
His wife spun yesterday.
So he swore by the sun, the moon, and the stars,
And the green leaves on the tree,
If his wife didn't do a day's work in her life,
She should ne'er be rul'd by he.

The Old Man Who Lived in a Wood


There was an old man who lived in a wood,
As you may plainly see,
He said he could work more in a day,
Than his wife could do in three.

"If that be the case," the old woman said,
"If that be the case," said she,
"The you shall stay at home today,
And I'll go and drive the plow.

But mind you, milk the cherry cow,
For fear that she'd go dry,
And mind you, tend the suckling pigs
That lie in yonder sty.

And mind you, watch the speckled hen,
For fear that she would stray,
And mind you, wind the worsted yarn,
That I spun yesterday."

The old woman took the whip in hand,
And went to drive the plow;
The old man took the milking pail,
And went to milk the cow.

But Cherry, she kicked, and Cherry, she flung,
And Cherry, she wouldn't be quiet,
She gave the old man a kick in the leg,
Which made him kick up a riot.

He went to watch the speckled hen,
For fear that she should stray,
But he forgot to wind the yarn
His wife spun yesterday.

Then he swore by the sun, the moon, and the stars,
And all that was in heaven,
That his wife could do more work in a day,
Than he could do in seven.

Bibliography of Related Tales

Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 85

Tales in English

Tales in German

Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 1408

Tales in English

Tales in German

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Revised January 7, 2020.