Thursday, May 16, 2013

Becoming French in America

"You want a coffee?" Mr Wonderful asked putting a pod in the espresso machine.
"Oui," I said.
"Are you speaking French?"
"Oui."
"Are you crazy?"
"Oui!"

Drinking espressos, wearing stripes and eating Nutella with everything: all these things helped me look French in America but playing Pétanque would make me become French in America.


Pétanque? you say, What the merde is that? Let me expliquer this français pastime. Like most sports, Pétanque involves balls--specifically a small wooden one called a cochonnet (French for "little pig" or in English a "jack") as well as each player having three larger steel balls. All the balls are thrown with one hand onto a smooth playing field such as a dirt path or gravel walkway. See how fancy it is! 

The game consists of tossing the cochonnet onto the path. Then player A throws one of her steel balls at it trying to get as close to the little pig as possible. Touching the piglet is the gold standard. Then player Mr. Wonderful throws one of his steel balls trying to get as close to the bacon bits as possible, which means if he knocks player A's steel ball away from the little pork product he gets to sing and dance--simultaneously--in French.

These steel ball (or boule) tosses are repeated until each player has tossed all three balls. Then comes the scoring. After all the boules are tossed, the player whose ball is closest to the cochonnet, gets a point. If player A has one ball closest to the piglet and the second closest ball belongs to Mr. Wonderful, then player A gets one point and Mr. Wonderful gets rien points (French for "zippo points", "zilch", "nada"). However as is often the case, if the three balls closest to the bacon ball belong to player A, then she gets three points and Mr. Wonderful gets rien points. See how much fun it is!

The name "Pétanque" refers to the fact that when throwing, both your feet must be planted on the ground ("pieds tanqés" in Provençal), which means one-leg in the air ball tosses aren't allowed. Three things make this sport French: 1) You don't expend any calories while doing it; 2) You can play it with a glass of wine in one hand while throwing the ball with the other; 3) You don't have to carpool anyone anywhere to play it. In fact the best place to play it is at a local park or at home... if you build a special Pétanque court. See how great it is!

Mr. Wonderful looked at me over his cup of espresso.
"Is this your way of telling me you want your own Pétanque court?"
"In our turf-free front yard."
"We--," he stammered
"Are you speaking French?" 
"No, but we, no grass and now Pétanque? The neighbors will think we're crazy."
"Oui! But then what's new?" 

In English or français I say do what you love: and I love Pétanque. Besides, once we invite the neighbors to play on our Pétanque court, I bet they'll want one at home, too!