Things to do in the Languedoc: Pétanque
is a form of boules where the goal is to throw metal balls
as close as possible to a small wooden ball called a cochonnet
(jack, litterally "piglet").
game, based on the traditional jeu provençalis,
is normally played on hard dirt or gravel, but can also be
played on grass or other surfaces. Similar games are bocce
and bowls, but a distinctive feeature of petanque is that
the ball is thrown standing with the feet together in a small
circle. The name petanque comes from Les Ped Tanco
meaning "feet together" in the Provençal
dialect of Occitan.
current form of the game originated in 1907 in the Provenceçal
town of La Ciotat. Pétanque is played by some 17 million
people in France, especially during their summer vacations.
An important part of the game is its leisurly pace. Games
are not rushed and a bottle of Ricard is generally not far
game is generally played one of three different configurations:
- triplets, with two teams of three players each (two boules
- doublets, with two teams of two players each (three boules
- singles, played between two players (three boules per
are made of metal and weigh between 650 g and 800 g, with
a diameter of between 70.5 mm and 80 mm. The jack is made
of wood or synthetic material and has a diameter of between
25 mm and 35 mm.
The playing area is at least 15 meters (49 ft) long, by 4
meters (13 ft) wide.
A player from the side that wins the toss starts the game
by drawing a circle on the playing field (35 to 50 cm in diameter).
Both feet must be inside this circle, touching the ground,
when throwing. The player then throws the jack to a distance
of between six and 10 metres from the starting circle. The
cochonnet must be visible and at least one metre from any
obstacle or boundary, otherwise it must be thrown again.
player from the side that wins the toss then plays the first
boule, generally trying to place it as close to the jack as
possible. The opposing team must then get one of their balls
closer to the cochonette, and keeps playing until they succeed.
When they do, it is back to the first team to do better, and
A player may choose to 'point' a boule (get it as near as
possible to the jack) or 'shoot' it (attempt to strike and
displace another boule). When one team runs out of boules
the other team plays their remaining boules. When all boules
have been played, that is the end of a 'round', and the winning
team scores a point for each boule that is nearer to the jack
than the opposing team's nearest boule.
the cochonette with a boule is also allowed.
The team that wins a round starts the next one, and a new
circle is drawn where the jack ended up in the previous round.
If a boule completely crosses any of the predetermined boundaries,
it is dead and cannot be scored. Likewise, if the jack is
moved and subsequently crosses a boundary, the round is scratched
and the jack is thrown again. If only one team has boules
remaining to throw when this occurs, they receive points for
every unplayed ball. (Accordingly, deliberately shooting out
the jack is a winning gambit in some circumstances.
A complete game is usually played up to 13 points.
successful pétanque team has players who are skilled
at shooting as well as players who only point. The pointer
or pointers play first - the shooter or shooters are held
in reserve in case the opponents place their boules well.
In placing, a boule in front of the jack has much higher value
than one at the same distance behind the jack, because pushing
of a front boule generally improves its position. At every
play after the very first boule has been placed, the team
whose turn it is must decide whether to point or shoot. Factors
that count in that decision include:
- How close to the jack the opponents' best boule is,
- The state of the terrain (an expert pointer can practically
guarantee to place within about 15 centimeters if the terrain
is well tended, not so if it's rocky or uneven), and
- How many boules each team has yet to play.
A team captain normally requires his pointer to place a
boule reasonably close in approach to the jack Although
in competition, the first pointer sometimes aims not to
get so close to the jack that the opponents will inevitably
shoot their boule immediately. They then visualize an imaginary
circle with the jack as its centre and the jack-boule distance
as radius and defend that circle.
are recorded to have played a a game of tossing coins, then
flat stones, the stone balls, called spheristics, as early
as the 6th century B.C. In the Greek game players tossed
spheristics as far as possible but the Romans
modified the game by adding a target that had to be
approached as closely as possible. A Roman sepulchre in
Florence shows people playing this game, stooping down to
measure the points. This Roman variation was brought to
Provence by Roman soldiers and sailors.
After Roman times stone balls were replaced by wooden ones,
with nails knocked into them to give them greater weight.
Erasmus knew the game and referred to it as globurum.
It was played throughout Europe and became commonly known
as balls, boules, or bowls.
In Occitania it evolved into jeu provençal,
similar to today's pétanque, except that the
field was larger and players ran three steps before
throwing the ball. The game was played in villages
all over Provence, generally on squares of land in
the shade of plane trees. In France, the sport was
- and still is - known as boules, and was played throughout
the country. In England the sport evolved into "bowls"
or "lawn bowling" - with different balls
and terrain, but essentially similar rules and strategy.
Pétanque in its present form was invented
in 1907 in the town of La Ciotat near Marseilles by
a French player named Jules Lenoir, who rheumatism
prevented him from running before he threw the ball.
The length of the pitch or field was reduced by roughly
half, and the moving delivery was replaced with a
The first pétanque tournament with the
new rules was organized in 1910 by Ernest Pitiot
at La Ciotat. After that the sport grew with
great speed, and soon became the most popular
form of boules. The international Pétanque
federation Fédération Internationale
de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal was
founded in 1958 in Marseille and has about 600,000
members in 52 countries (2002).
There are about 375,000 players licensed with
the Fédération Française
de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal (FFPJP).
The FFPJP is the 4th-largest sporting federation
in France. Licensed players play a more competitive
form of Pétanque known as Pétanque
The first World Championships were organized
in 1959. Recent championships were held in Faro
(2000), Monaco (2001), Grenoble (2002, 2004
and 2006), Geneva (2003), Brussels (2005), and
Pattaya / Thailand (2007). Fifty-two teams from
50 countries participated in 2007.
The game is now played throughout the world.
Boules, made of steel with diameters ranging from
70.5 to 80 mm, and weights ranging from 650 to 800 grams.
Competition boules must meet the following specifications
(according to the International Federation of Petanque and
- be forged of metal.
- have a diameter between 70.5 and 80 mm.
- have a weight between 650 and 800 g.
- bear engravings indicating the manufacturer's name and
the weight of the boule.
In addition, a boule may bear an engraving of the player's
first name or initials.
Leisure boules do not meet competition standards but are
often used for "backyard" games. These boules
are designed to suit all ages and sexes. They can be made
of metal, plastic or wood (for play on a beach, for instance).
The diameter of the boule is chosen based on the size of
the player's hand. The weight and hardness of the boule
depends on the player's preference and playing style. "Pointers"
tend to choose heavier and harder boules, while "shooters"
often select lighter and softer boules.
Jacks, made of wood or of synthetic material, having
a diameter ranging from 25 to 35 mm. Competition jacks must
meet the following specifications (according to the International
Federation of Pétanque and Provençal Games):
- forged of wood or of synthetic material which carry the
maker's mark and have secured confirmation by the F.I.P.J.P.
that they comply exactly with the relevant specification.
- have a diameter between 25 and 35 mm.
To have the point
Avoir le point
To have one or more boules placed closer to the jack
than those of the opponent(s).
To throw one's boule with the intent of stopping
near the jack (also known as placing).
To throw one's boule at one of the opponent's boules
to knock it out of play. This is often done when the
opponent has pointed his/her boule very close to the
To throw one's boule in a high arc so that when it
lands it only rolls minimally.
A special feat in which the shooter knocks the opponent's
boule out while leaving his boule at or very near
the point of impact (pronounced car-o).
beat one's opponents 13 to 0. The figure of a bare-bottomed
lass named Fanny is ubiquitous in the Languedoc and
Provence wherever pétanque is played.
It is traditional that when a player loses 13 - nil
it is said that il est fanny (he's fanny)
or il a fait fanny (he made fanny), and
that he has to kiss the bottom of a girl called Fanny.
Since there is not always an obliging Fanny available,
there is usually a substitute picture, woodcarving
or pottery so that Fannys bottom is available.
The team which made "fanny" has to offer
a beverage to the winning team (see the French popular
expression "Fanny paye à boire !").
kiss Fanny, do a Fanny, be Fanny, or lose a Fanny
Embrasser Fanny, Faire fanny, Être fanny or
(Se) Prendre une fanny
To lose 13-0
To do a bec
Faire un bec
Targeting one of your boule already in play and knocking
it toward the jack.
Game on the Ground
Meaning one team is lying in a match-winning position
while an end is still in progress
Bouchon; petit ; têt
the 14th Century, King Charles IV and Charles V of France
forbade the sport to commoners, a prhibition lifted only
in the 17th century.
Henry III of England banned the playing of the game by
The French artist Meissonnier made two paintings showing
people playing the game.
Honoré de Balzac described a match in La Comedie
Matches of jeu provençale at the turn of the century
are described in the memoirs of novelist Marcel Pagnol.