mener a la baguette


A convivial game of boules in the town of La Ciotat. All photos courtesy of Lou McClelland.

pétanque (peh-tank) noun, feminine

    : a game similar to boules (bowles), originating from the Mediterranean and played in the South of France (and elsewhere!)

Audio File & Example Sentence
Download MP3 file
Souvent, le jeu de pétanque est accompagné d'un verre de rosé.
Often, the game of petanque is accompanied by a glass of rose.

Pétanque and Passion for Vin

Today, guest author Gary McClelland (whom I told you about before...) talks about playing Pétanques with the locals. We had the chance to meet Gary and Tim (whom you'll soon read about in today's story) and their lovely wives, Lou and Lauren, at a wine-tasting here at our vineyard a few weeks back.  They all joined Jens and Vanita (and fils) from Denmark. Jean-Marc was a little late for the wine-tasting. Good thing he eventually showed up, for my Danish and American guests might've been stuck with me and my thé glacé .

Boules in La Ciotat
by Gary McClelland

Leaving Cassis after a pleasant day touring calanques,* eating fish at the port, and ambling on the rocky beach, we drove the vertiginous road over Cap Canille to La Ciotat.  Sliding into an open parking place, we were sandwiched between water and a beautiful boulodrome* shaded by plane, pine, and palm trees.  Tim and I keep our boules* in the car for such emergencies....


We began a 1‐on‐1 game as our spouses amused themselves with a walk along the Mediterranean Sea. The locals occasionally watched, and one flashed me an approving thumbs up after my particularly good tir.* We asked Jean, warming up by himself, about local rules.  Saying it would be so much fun, he quickly had us in a 4‐on‐4 game with local players. 

Our team was Tim and Noel (both "point," trying to roll close to the cochon), and Jean and Gary (both "tir"). We worried we were in over our heads, but we didn’t embarrass ourselves in a competitive game in which the winning team would gagner* only one point each round. 

Tim, Noel, Jean

At times the up to 16 very‐similar looking boules arrayed around the cochon seemed overwhelming, but in this social game teammates give advice on strategy and aiming.  There was lots of friendly ribbing.  When René’s point shot zoomed past the target, she exclaimed, “C’est le TGV!”*    

(Jean measures carefully)

Boule The game of boules or pétanque (Provençal for “pied ancré”*) was invented in La Ciotat so for us it was like playing a pick‐up baseball game in Cooperstown. Our team trailed 8 to 9 when inadvertently one of their boules moved the cochon so that we now had the three closest boules. We only needed two more points to win and I still had my two boules.  I confidently anchored my feet in the circle and curled the first roll closer than any of the others.  A fine shot. Enjoying the moment and thinking of the thrill of hitting the game‐winning “home run,” I scanned the beautiful setting, the colorful veteran players in their Provençal shirts, and the expectant looks. Perhaps this motivated me to try a shot with too much panache or maybe it just slipped out of my hand, but the moment the boule left my hand, I knew it was wrong. 

Quelle horreur!” My ball glanced off one of theirs and knocked it closer than any of ours. Not only was my roll not the winning fifth point, but we lost all of our points. My teammates were stunned and I wanted to sink into the sea.

Our opponents won after several more rounds. Both teams posed for a photo and my expression was blank. Despite my horrible error they wanted us to play more but we had a long drive to our gîte,* so we had to decline.

“Then come another day,” Jean suggested. 
“What days do you play?” Tim asked.  Jean, with a look that expressed sympathy with our impoverished lives, replied, “tous les jours, bien sûr.”

Gary, fourth from the left, and Tim, second from the left.

If you enjoyed Gary's story, thank you for letting him know. Why not leave him a message in the comments box? Also, feel free to share any pétanque vocabulary that isn't mentionned here. Thanks in advance!


Gary McClelland is a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Colorado who became a francophile while spending a summer as a student in Paris in 1967.  He regularly visits Provence and built a boules court at his house in Boulder, CO, to practice. 

Data analysis, statistics? Do you sweat this kind of stuff? Thankfully there are part-time pétanquers here to spell it out for us. Check out Gary's book.

~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~
la calanque (f) = rocky inlet from the sea; un boulodrome (m) = a place (usually a dirt "terrain" where one plays pétanque; la boule (f) = heavy steel ball; tir = “fire or shot,” in this case, a shot hitting an opponent’s boule to knock it away from the target cochon; le cochon, literally “pig” but the colloquial name for the small target ball; gagner = to win; c'est le TGV! (TGV = train à grande vitesse) = It's the high-speed train!; pied ancré = meaning behind the Provençale word "pétanque" = =“anchored foot” because one cannot move one’s feet or stride while throwing; le gîte (m) = a self-catering rental apartment, home, or small cottage (oftentimes this is the guest-house of a local).


Easy French Reader: A fun and easy new way to quickly acquire or enhance basic reading skills
In film:  Paris Je T'aime Paris I love You.
Refreshing mosterizing mist: vine therapy by Caudalie

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Gary: Nice story - makes me homesick for Southern France. I specially enjoyed the following: "Jean, with a look that expressed sympathy with our impoverished lives, replied, “tous les jours, bien sûr.”".

Kristin: Isn't Gary second from the left on the group photo?


I remember watching men in business suits playing boules at lunchtime in Paris. I saw money change hands. What about the betting aspect?


Hi Jens: Yes, that's Gary, second from left, Tim beside him.

Judith: good question about betting. Looking forward to some more pétanque tales!

Christine Jones

Hey Gary - my husband, son, and I were just in the south of France. We too visited Cassis and took the "vertiginous" road over Cap Canille to La Ciotat. While it was amazingly beautiful...we were petrified for most of the ride!

John Wines

"cochon" ou "cochonnet"?

Lawrence Krakauer

Back in 2004, while studying French at the Ecole des Trois Ponts, in Roanne, we drove one day into the village of Le Crozet. There we watched a group of men playing Boules, and chatted with them a bit. They went to great pains to explain that they were playing Boules, and NOT Pétanque. Although the two games are superficially alike, they said, the rules of Boules are more complex. And that's the sum total of what I know about the subject.

Franklin Levin

A great story that answers some of my questions of many years about boules and Petanque. Still unanswered is the actual difference between the two and if the equipment is the same. At least I now know that bizarre postures assumed by players is due to the "anachored foot," aspect. In my travels in France I have seen one-on-one games being played by the side of the road with a bottle of win on a folding table and a lunch nearby and I have happened onto a regional tournament with hundreds of players and a carnival atmosphere. I have taken hundreds of photos of games trying to give the sport the look of action , but, most photos of the game look like a bunch of people standing around.

Meredith Callahan

Hey Gary! It's your fellow student from French class, Meredith. Great story and it was even more fun to read knowing it was you.
There's a great collection of Pétanque postcards as well as a wealth of information at pé Here's one of my favorites:
Hope you're well. See you around campus. Thanks for posting the story, Kristin!

Meredith Callahan

Lawrence Krakauer

Well, there's always Google. Searches show that there are web sites that consider "Boules" and "Pétanque" to be synonyms.

However, Wikipedia says that "Pétanque is a form of Boules", and that "Boules is a collective name for games played with metal balls." Among the forms of Boules it describes in more detail are Pétanque and "Boule Lyonnaise". Since the village of Le Crozet is not far from Lyon, I suspect the men I described in my post above were playing "Boule Lyonnaise".

The links:



Boule Lyonaise:


I'm so glad to see that since my first visit to France in 1973, women are now allowed to play! For many years I only saw men (and mostly "old" men) playing this traditional game. A French friend explained that Petanque came about because a boules player had arthritis in his knees and couldn't take the traditional 3 steps leading to the throw. So he "invented" a game where the players must keep their feet ancored (pied ancre) while throwing the boule and thus saving his knees! And so petanque was born! Ah, the ingenuity of the French! Je l'adore! I think my most memorable petanque experience was watching a regional contest taking place at the park below the Pont du Gard a few summers ago. What a beautiful spot - in the shadows of the aquaduct.


Thanks for the enjoyable story. It made me feel like I was there. I think it was very sporting of you to leave the citizens of the town as victors. Although... it would have been interesting to see you roll out of town as if you were Clint Eastwood - poncho, cigar, a whistling ballad playing in the background - kicking up a puff of Provencal dust and by the time it settled you and your pétanque banditos would have been out of sight - already moving on to face down the pétanque courts yet to be conquered.

Oh well - there's always une autre temps et une autre ville! Bon chance!

Emily Rushin

I've enjoyed watching petanque played by the locals in the south of France. I've played myself, but only with fellow travellers. What an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon, either watching or playing.

Thank you for bringing back fond memories.


Lawrence Krakauer

Nice image, Karen. But could Gary have ever really had a chance in the village where the game was actually INVENTED?


i'm glad so many of you enjoyed the story. In the photos, Gary is in the blue shirt with the yellow Tour de France hat. Tim is in the green shirt.

Whether they are playing boules or petanque, the games in Provence are always at the bouledrome. I took a photo of a sign at one on the coast that said: "Jeux de boules interdits 22 H a 8 H." Those metal balls are noisy!

I too have been impressed by the increasing egalitarianism of the games in Provence. The big competitions in my village of Bedoin had lots of female competitors and ages ranged from 10 to 80. One of the best players, with an incredible tir shot, was a 12-year old boy.

Meredith: let's get together for a French lunch!


Delightful story Gary. I went to the University of Colorado and loved living there for ~ 8 years. I am glad you wrote this story. My advisor was into Petanque, we called it 'Bocce' (sp), and I could not think of anything more boring...pardonnez moi s'il vous plait. I may have to change my mind. Maybe one has to be mature to play this game. Love the last photo...



What a great story and what a fun reminder of an episode of The Cosby Show, from years ago. One of my favorite TV shows!

Thanks Gary!

Lawrence Krakauer

Bocce, of course, is the Italian version, pronounced BO-chay.

When we were at the Club Med in Cancún, Mexico last February, there were always French guests playing Pétanque. They export it to wherever they go.

elizabeth foree

"C'est le TGV" I'll use that the next time I point here at Club La Boule d'Or in San Francisco. La Ciotat I visit every September and played at the holy courts where petanque was born. I bought 2 sets of boules at a vide grenier in La Cadiere. This year I will go to Marseille to find the firm "La boule blue".
This was such a typical story of the area.

Cynthia in the French Alps

I LOVE playing this game. When my French husband and his kids and I play we get laughing so hard it's hard to stay standing up. And it really slows down the game. It's not as popular here in the French Alps as in Provence but you can still find plenty of people playing it on the lake front on a good weather day. It's all about community, of course. Cynthia in the French Alps

Lee Isbell

Great story, Gary. I was also pleased to see the women playing. I hadn't seen that yet myself, except for our own little group of students at the boulodrome (driveway) at the family-run French school Parlons-en-Provence in Noves, enthusiastically coached by our prof's father. What fun!

We didn't learn the terms "point" or "tir" but I sensed there were specialists while watching players in Sault. One tall, slender man -- I think his name was Bruno -- played such a killer shot every time, so must have been the tir.

I've looked longingly at sets of boules at marchés but then remember I need to be able to sling my own baggage around on the real TGV. Alas, it's already heavy enough.

Linda in Littleton

I enjoyed your story. We've built a "boulodrome" in our backyard here in Littleton, Colorado, and in fact we're hosting a Pétanque tournament for our friends this Sunday afternoon. Too late to order the Rosé - we'll be drinking Côtes du Rhône instead.

Powered by Tofu

Ah! Takes me back to my time in Marseilles! :) I was there during the Boules world championship in 2006, lol

Marcia from Iowa, USA

Gary: I really enjoyed your story today. It brought back memories of our trip last year that included a stop in Cassis, a tour of the Calanques, a white knuckle drive on the same "Rue de Crete" up over Cap Canille to La Ciotat. We have heard of the games of Petanque and boules, but have not tried the game ourselves. You make us want to give it a try!! It's always good to have another reason to return to the south of France! Maybe next year---

Kristin: We are so enjoying your website and willingness to share you life with your readers. Unfortunately, we had not yet found this sight before our last trip to France, so even though we were ever so close, we have not had the pleasure of checking out your spot in the south of France - another good reason to return!!! Thank-you.

Jennifer in OR

Fun story! I'm so glad the last photo was included with that beautiful blue Mediterranean and mountains in the distance--what a sight!


I adore petanque! My french husband and our little french community in Austin, TX always end up playing petanque everytime we get together. Pretty much all of them have a petanque field in their homes.
What a coincidence since last week we just recieved a photo of my belle-mere playing petanque with old french men in Britanny (near Gurunhuel where she lives).
Thank you Gary for your delightful story and Gracias Kristi for posting it!


Great story and well told! It had me on the edge of my seat in anticipation...much better than cricket! :-)

Philippe (Petanque America)

Very nice story, Gary! I know how you felt when the score reversed ;-)

Exactly 2 years ago I went to La Ciotat for the 100th anniversary of the birth of the game. The very same "place" you played with your new friends. And took the opportunity to present a photo album of pétanque players all across the USA to the grand-niece of the Pitiot brothers. They owned the bar in 1907 and adapted the rules of "boules Provençale" so the old champion (Jules Le Noir) would have a chance again. She was thrilled.
Here's the slideshow (with appropriate music):

"Boules" is indeed the generic term for any of the French bowling games. Pétanque now being by far the most popular one, as it is more inclusive age- and, as some rightly point out, gender wise.

"cochon" ou "cochonnet"?
Cochonnet (little pig) is more popular, but not necessarily in Provence. There the terms "bouchon" (cork), "but" (target), or "pitchoun" (little one)are more common.

As Andrea mentions, Austin TX has become a hotbed of pétanque. But we are shipping lots of boules to CO as well, specifically Boulder and Colorado Springs.

I can go on for hours ("noblesse oblige"...), but will leave it at that.
Lots of pétanque stories are on our blog, at


Great story ... thank you for sharing!

Teresa Williams

Gary, I immediately thought of the Petanque scenes and rivialry in the Peter Mayle movie "A Year in Provence" (our favorite book/movie). I wondered if you were going to let the locals "save face", or if this occurred to you at the time. But it seems as though they were happy to share their game with you and the matter resolved itself anyway. What a great story and memory for your group. I'm jealous and I had no idea there were so many people in The States playing. Wow! I need to introduce this to our neighborhood. Teresa in NJ


I'm a happy customer of Phillippe's at Petanque America and have sent friends to order from him. I don't have any plane trees shading my court, but when I remodeled my house several years ago, the landscaper did follow what he thought were strange instructions and installed a bouledrome for me. My friends and neighbors like to play, or maybe they just come for the pastis and wine?

I'm glad so many of you enjoyed the story. Now order some boules and start playing. There is a suitable playground for boules near almost everyone.

Have fun!

ken lee

I am also a happy customer of phillipe's and a member of the board of directors of la pétanque marinière in san rafael, california.
i enjoyed the story and all of the comments.
along the lines of women players, our president christine cragg has established a forum for women boulistes:

Calling all Women Pétanque Players! You are being invited to join "Le Cochonnet Rose" A forum for women who play pétanque
LCR is designed to give women players around the country an easy way to share pétanque-related ideas and concerns. It is a way for us to stay in touch with each other.
It is a way for us to expand our voice in the sport of pétanque in the US.
For more information, contact Christine Cragg at [email protected]

when in the area, we invite you to join us in a game or two. if that isn't possible, feel free to visit our blog at:

ken lee
la pétanque marinière

Susan Gish

Loved this re-reading this article!
We are from Philadelphia but have "our" apartment that we've rented in Cassis 4 times. LOVE that area...and, j'aime Petanque aussi! We have a court in our backyard at home. One of our favorite things to do in any village in France is to find the local Petanque players and sit and watch them. Even in Paris at the Jardin du Luxembourg.
Merci pour both articles!
Susan & Sam
P.S. Shameless self promotion, we have an Airbnb in Philly called, "French Philly".


Moi, Je suis glissé dans la bouw a Austin Texas, très loin de la France. Pourtant on a içi une brasserie française : Justine's Braserie. Au dehors il y a lieu de juouer Pétanque. Les boules et COCHILLARD sont là pour tout le monde. C'ést gratuit. mais on peut au moins acheter un verre de vin ou autre boisson. A Austin il y a aussi une alliance française/ Elle joue a Pétanque le dimanche! Notez bien on dit COCHILLARD pour le but des boules!


Nice story, Gary. We play patentee every Tuesday at a friend's house in Boulder from May through September.


Where did patentee come from!? I wrote petanque.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)