To aim or top shoot, that is the question. Throughout France, the game of petanque is a serious business. It is the most popular game in the south of the country, born at the turn of the 20th century. The name petanque comes from the Oc (the ancient language of Southern France) where pe means foot and tanco means fixed in the ground.

The game’s origins

Petanque gradually replaced another southern French game la longue where the player gathered speed before tossing the ball. The story has it that one day in 1910, a player who suffered from arthritis suggested that they all play pieds tanques – feet fixed to the ground. The new rule was adopted for another reason – this way the players could go back to playing on the public squares, where they had been prohibited – for running and tossing their balls, they had hit too many passers-by and there had been complaints!

The rules

The modern game is usually between teams of three or four. The pointeurs have to throw their balls as near as possible to a smaller ball (cochonnet). The tireurs have then to dislodge the balls of the opposing team by striking them with their own, and the most skilful succeed in doing this and taking the exact place of their opponent. This is called faire un carreau and usually earns a pastis for everybody – on the house!

The atmosphere

Play is frequently held up by noisy and excited disputes about the distances which separate the various balls from the cochonnet. Play resumes once the measurements have been taken. Games can be seen across France, but especially in the south, where the weather is more conducive for a long, lazy afternoon or evening of petanque.

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