Pétanque – The favourite summer game of the French


If you ever take a summer holiday to France, especially the south, you’re going to need to know how to play pétanque. It’s a relatively simple game which is something of a treasured national pasttime.

This game is popular with every generation and almost every village, town, and city has at least one place where pétanque can be played. This is usually in the town centre and you’ll almost always find groups of older men playing there.

men playing pétanque

How to play pétanque

The game is very similar to bowls. Each player must aim to throw their balls as close to the but (jack) as possible from a set location. Where pétanque differs from bowls is that the balls may be thrown through the air as well as rolled. The game is also generally played on a rough, sandy surface instead of grass.

A game is played either as a triplette (3 vs 3), a doublette (2 vs 2), or tête-à-tête (1 vs 1). When playing threes, each player will have two balls and in the other two, each player has three.

To start the game a draw takes place to decide who will throw the but first and who will play first. Once the but is in place, one of the players will begin proceedings by throwing one of their balls towards the but.

It is then the other teams turn to play. Your team continues to play until you have a ball which is closer to the but than your opponents.

There are two basic categories which all shots fall into. Either you aim to land your ball close to the but with precision (pointer) or try and remove your opponents balls by hitting their ball with yours (tirer).

How pétanque is scored

A game is generally scored best of thirteen points. This means that the first to score seven points wins the game.

Once every player has thrown all their balls in each round the score is tallied. One point is scored for every ball the team has which is closer to the but than all the oppositions balls.

WARNING: this can lead to some very intense arguments and a tape measure is vital to resolve disputes.

pétanque balls

Pétanque technique

Almost as important as actually scoring points is your technique. Every player has a slightly different style with a few standard positions. Here are some classic poses to use so that you don’t look out of place:

pétanque crouched throwing technique
Crouching down to throw with precision
pétanque waiting your turn
Holding your balls behind your back while waiting your turn
pétanque argument
Pointing at your ball and loudly arguing that it’s closer
pétanque drinking to forget the shot you missed
Drinking to forget the shot you missed


Pétanque kiss fanny

If you are beaten without scoring a point, this is known as a “fanny”. This is the ultimate humiliation and should be avoided at all costs.

Let’s hope you never have to give Fanny a kiss!

What do you think? Let me know if you’ve ever played pétanque and if you enjoyed it in the comments section below!

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