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Postcards from France - is petanque the most beautiful game created?

Marcel Pagnol, the famous writer and film director once called pétanque the most beautiful game ever created by (hu)man (my parentheses). What do you think? Is pétanque a beautiful game? I know many football (soccer) fans who would be shaking their heads right now. I'm inclined to agree with Pagnol and whether I catch a glimpse of a casual game played in a village square, or by players in Paris, Marseille or Rennes, it's always such a delight.

It may not yet be summer in France but there is always pétanque to remind us of those hot, bright sunny days. The clink and clunk of the metal boules, the animated chatter and gamesmanship is just an unmistakeable sound of summer. The boulodromes exist all over the world, but the history of the game is deeply provençal.

Today's postcard is a little love letter to this sport I love. I recently picked up my pétanque balls and played a game on a gravel boulodrome for the first time in years and you know what? It was such fun! I'm very much still learning though and still have lots to figure out. Let's find out more about this fun game...

Did you know that it was created out of frustration? In the early twentieth century, many people loved playing la longue in Provence, which was a little like boules or bowls where you stride or run up to pitch the ball along the ground, trying to get it close to the jack.

But Jules "Le Noir" Hugues was no longer able to play so well due to his rheumatism and health issues. Frustrated that he couldn't play along with his friends as usual, it is said that he and the Pitiot brothers at the local cafe decided to play differently, with their feet planted firmly on the ground and that is how pétanque began. The name comes from the words pieds tanqués (standing with feet together) and so in 1907 a new game was born.

By 1910 the first official pétanque competition was played and became a widespread success. You can play on almost any surface and most people are able to play, which naturally helped to make the game the popular past time it still is today.

Played competitively by over 6,000 clubs in France and with thousands of keen players worldwide, pétanque is hugely popular. It's probably the game most associated with France - after all, it's a game most people can play or have seen when on holiday in France. Campsite matches with apéro, town and village squares or a patch of garden at home, it doesn't matter where you play but you'll not be far away from a (usually) friendly match!

The rules in a nutshell

Two teams compete to place all their pétanque balls nearest to the cochonnet (jack, in English; also know as a bouchon, a cric), which is thrown six to ten metres away along the pitch (terrain or boulodrome) from the circle where each player stands to throw from. The distance of the balls to the cochonnet is often measured and the points awarded. The first team to reach 13 points is the winner.

If your team scores nothing and loses 0-13, you may have to "faire le Fanny" and kiss the bottom of a Fanny sculpture or statuette (from a tradition to kiss the sculpture or wall tile depicting provençal legend Fanny's bottom in the local bar.) In defeat, you could always have a pastis and just seethe in disappointment instead. 😁

Renowned ball maker Obut has a handy summary of the rules and goals of the game here. Obut still makes their pétanque balls in France and have done so since 1955. As they say,

"Sunshine, nature, family, good friends, a good-humoured spirit and healthy competition: these are the values of petanque on which Obut has built... to last."

You can find out more about their history and what they produce at their site as well as which ball would most suit you.

This reminds me very much of the story of moving to Provence by Canadian IT worker and writer Paul Shore who became slightly obsessed with pétanque while living in France. Living in gorgeous Saint Paul de Vence and wanting to get involved in this sport that takes place every day in the square, how could you not want to learn to play pétanque? His book is a wonderfully enjoyable journey through small town life in Provence and exploring the traditions, culture and life in the south of France. A really enjoyable read which has plenty to interest every Francophile wondering what life would be like at a slower pace. Find the book here.

For more on official rules and rule changes, competitions and more (in English) check out this thorough website.

French Your Way also has a handy guide with pictures so you can play like a pro!

For more about pétanque (in French and English) watch this video summary with an insight into some real clubs in the home of pétanque, Marseille.

Is pétanque a sound of summer for you too? Do you play or have you played the game? Being such a popular game worldwide its possible you have club nearby. Let me know if you give it a try!

These postcards from France remind me of the happy times I've travelled through France and yet there's still more to discover. There's always another region, another town or beautiful village (officially a Plus Beaux Villages or not). There are customs and regional food and wine to discover as well as accents and words you might have never heard before.

Tell me, what book are you reading about France or French culture/language at the moment? Let me know by contacting me or on Instagram. I'd love to hear from you. 🥰


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