In some countries, an invitation to go and play with another man’s balls may raise a few eyebrows. Not so in France. Or Malta or Italy or Croatia or anywhere in fact where the game Boule is popular. Boule, sometimes known as Petanque, is a game a bit (but not really) like lawn bowls. Only different. Whereas Lawn Bowls is played on grass- hence the ‘Lawn’- and with biased balls, that is, balls that are designed to curve as they roll, Boule can be played on gravel, fattened Earth or crushed stone.
Also, the balls in Boule are perfectly spherical, so that there is no bias to curl to one side or the other.
Often, as in the case of Petangue, the balls are thrown rather than rolled.
The object of the game is to get your ball closest to the “cochonnet”, which is a wooden market about 3 cm in diameter. If you need to, you can use your term to knock an opponent away from the coconeet. The team with the most Boules closest to the marker at the end of the game wins. It’s not a rocket science kind of game with a million nuances. Having said that, the easiest sports can often be the hardest to master. Boule and its cousins Bocce and Curling (which is played on ice and mostly by Canadians eh?) are all similar in nature although different in style. Some, like Bocce involve using a wooden ball and a run up, others like bocce volo or Jeu Provençal use metal balls and a complicated set of steps leading to the throw. Petanque has no run up, and there is a widely played wheelchair version.
Like most things harking back from olden times, where explorers go, so do their habits. There are a number of Boule clubs Asia in places as far and wide as Singapore, Hong Kong and of course Vietnam, where the French were kind enough to introduce their sport AND their bread.
This team were spotted in Hua Hin in Thailand, and offered the writer a friendly game. How could anyone say no? After all, when a Frenchman offers to let you play with his shiny balls, who are we to refuse?