Making Friends Abroad: The Pétanque League

Paris-Petanque Team Selection.jpg

They toss the balls which somehow sets the teams

Last week, Pat joined a pétanque league.

For those of you unfamiliar with this game, it’s like bocce. Or horseshoes. Bottom line, grown men throw metal objects (in this case, baseball-sized shiny balls) across a square patch of dirt with the goal to be the closest to a marble-sized marker. Part of the strategy is to knock other participants out of the way, something Parisians innately excel at.

Yet in general, it’s a genial game, except when two balls end up equidistant from the marker. At this point, a ruckus ensues which is only broken up once one man pulls out a tape measure and ultimately declares the winner. Everyone calms down. The men gather up their balls by lowering a magnet attached to a string and fetching them up in a fishing-type motion. No one’s pulse has ever reached the aerobic threshold.

Which is good, because the participants are largely grey haired Frenchmen, squat, portly, and smoking cigarettes pinched between their thumb and pointer finger. Most wear berets. A gaggle of their doppelgängers spectates from the surrounding benches.

Photographers stop almost every day to take a few pictures. It’s so classically French. Or at least it was until last week.

As Pat tucked his pétanque league membership card into his wallet next to his Paris jugglers’ association membership, he looked at me and boyishly laughed, “I really need to get these laminated.” Then he took off for the sports store to gear up, yelling back as he went out the door, “How much do you think I should spend?”

“Whatever it takes.”

You see, Pat is a joiner. If he couldn’t find things to join, we couldn’t do what we do. If three shiny pétanque balls in a bright red case make him happy, it’s money well spent.

The next day, he played his first match. When he returned home, he was excited, “It was fun. Everyone’s nice. I think I won a game! By the way, we play Monday through Friday from three to six PM.” (Yes, I realize this might seem like a lot of pétanque, but I like my alone time; this is good for both of us.)

As for the practicalities, only one of the men speaks English. To fill the void, they do a lot of acting and hand gestures, and they call out “Bravo Pat-rique” every time he makes a good throw. An unexpected bonus is that the men are also teaching Pat french. So far, he has learned how to count. To wait. To play. To throw more gently. And to take that, you bastard.

I’m proud of him. Never, ever could I walk up to complete strangers and ask to join them in a game I didn’t know. Especially if I couldn’t speak their language. I might be the schemer, but Pat is the one who excels at what we do.

As for the pétanque balls, they cost 80 euros (Me: Eighty euros!!??). Now he says he needs a beret. Whatever it takes.

Paris-Petanque Play.jpg

This is as aerobic as it gets



Categories: A year in Paris, How To

Tags: , , , , , ,

19 replies

  1. Pat, that is great, this from a guy who plays Bocce three mornings a week when the courts are not flooded. I completely understand the measuring tape, it gets a lot of use in our games!! It’s a social game, is it not?

  2. This is one of the funniest things I have read in a while. When in St. Remy, I loved watching men just like the ones you describe play Petenque. Recently, I was in Mexico for 3 months and a frenchman who lived in Cassis 10 years ago was an avid player. He and his friend would play a very animated game for hours, sometimes by the light of a streetlamp. He told me that in the south of France there are also some fabulous women players.

  3. You guys always make me laugh….a French play group….precious.
    Debra in Fort Collins

  4. This story is priceless and the fact that I met Pat allows me to picture him skillfully weave himself into daily French life…bravo, Pat. I love this and hope you are both well, Julie!

  5. Great post! Makes me laugh. Lovely, to be join in the French life like this. Wonderfully written and wonderful content, go Pat!

  6. Thank you, a very nice post Julie. Made me smile.
    My congrats to Pat as well. I would sit and watch them play but never offer to play.

  7. Hi Julie such a nice way to make friends .The french federation has more than 300000 licensed members.
    In Manhattan there is “la boule newyorkaise” and since 2009 a second club in Brooklyn “New York petanque club”
    Even in my small village some people gather every day to play petanque.

  8. Love this. Go Pat! Whatever it takes,

  9. Love this story. You two are my heros! Can’t wait to hear more…….

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