There is a game in France that is popular throughout the country. I think it may even be the most popular game here. It is called Petanque.
Yes, I would argue it is even more popular than football or rugby. This is because those are spectator sports, with only a few athletes able to take part. Whilst petanque is a game that can be played by anyone. In fact, it first came into being due to limitations caused by rheumatism.
A simplified history
The game originated as Boules, which in itself has a very long history, all the way back to ancient Greece and Egypt. Simplified, Boules involves throwing or rolling a heavy ball as close to a smaller ball (called a jack in English) as possible. The person who is the closest to the jack is the winner of that round.
In the 19th century there was a popular variation in Provence, France, called jeu provencal. In this form of boules the player ran 3 steps before throwing the ball (or boule). The story goes that the petanque variation came about when a former player of jeu provencal developed rheumatism. He was so afflicted he could no longer run.
A friend of his, Ernest Pitiot, developed a variant that involved shortening the pitch and standing still when throwing the ball. Because the feet are ‘planted’ it garnered the name pieds tanqués, or ‘feet planted’ in English. This then evolved in to the name petanque. And it is how it is played today. (For full in-depth rules, read here.)
The game was originally played with wooden balls. But with the onset of the industrial revolution these balls morphed into solid metal balls. After the boules became metal the game gained in popularity and spread throughout Europe and ultimately world wide.
It is because there is no running specifically that petanque became so popular. Because, almost anyone can play it, at any age. I have seen young and old alike playing, though mostly its an older crowd. Also both females and males. It’s also incredibly social. A chance for people to meet up, play and chat. And quite frankly I think that is all rather neat.
There are not many sports these days that involve being both social, e.g. more than one, and can be played at any age. And where the differences in sexes doesn’t make a difference in ability. Fishing is the world’s most popular sport, and it does come to mind. But it is really a much more solitary sport. Whilst petanque is as easily played by family, as teams, or even simply one on one.
If you visit France (or live here) you will see that essentially every village will have some form of a petanque playing area. This is usually found near the Mairie (town hall), within the village square or if there is a park. It is simply a small, rectangular, clear patch of ground. That is all that is needed. That and the boules.
Sometimes there is a whole area dedicated to many pitches for playing the game. My village has an area of many pitches, so multiple games can be played at once. There is an organised group here, and regular times they gather to play. Anyone can join, and it is encouraged.
If you really wish to get to know local life in France, then joining a petanque club is one of the best ways to do so. Chats, updates, arguments all happen during the game. It’s an opportunity to really gain an insight into French life.
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More on life in France in general : French Findings
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