Fanny – the goddess of petanque

Fanny is, as it were, the patron saint (or perhaps, goddess) of petanque.

Ste Fanny priez pour nous - Saint Fanny, pray for us

Ste Fanny priez pour nous! — Saint Fanny, pray for us!

Being fanny (être fanny) means losing a game of boules or pétanque without scoring a single point. Or, in other words, losing a game 13 to zero. In the USA, we call that a “shutout” game.

Having to kiss Fanny is the ultimate humiliation for boules players everywhere. But, as we shall see, it’s also possible to have a lot of fun with Fanny.

Fanny... 13 to 0!

Fanny… 13 to 0!

One version of the legend of Fanny is that Fanny was a waitress at the Café de Grand-Lemps, just after World War I. She was so kindhearted that she would allow customers who had lost a game of boules without scoring a single point to kiss her… on the cheek

One day the village mayor lost a game and came to collect his “prize”. No one knows what prompted Fanny… perhaps she had a grudge against the mayor and wanted to humiliate him. She stepped up onto a chair, lifted her skirt and offered him… her fanny! The mayor was up to the challenge though, and less than a second later, two loud kisses resounded through the café.

This was the beginning of a longstanding tradition that, when a player (or team) loses a game without scoring any points, he (or they) must kiss the bottom of a girl named Fanny. The ceremonial humiliation often involves kneeling for the kiss, and includes the ringing of a bell. (Note the gentleman at the right, below, ringing a hand bell.)fanny_kissing_old_photo

And this is why, everywhere boules is played in France, a painting or a poster, or a sculpture of stone or pottery, of Fanny is proudly displayed… fanny_sculpture_in_a_box_in_province…ready to be kissed, in public, by the unlucky (malheureux) losers.





“Malheureux aux jeux. Heureux en amour.”

“Unlucky in sports. Lucky in love”

Often the losers have to buy drinks for the winning team, giving us the expression “Fanny paie à boire” — “Fanny’s buying the drinks!”

Although Marcel Pagnol often wrote about pétanque, and the film Fanny includes a famous game, the tradition is unconnected with him.

Like many mythical heroines, Fanny’s origins are a little murky. One version has it that she was a boules groupie in Lyon – the kind of girl whom today you might see hanging around soccer players. Another is that she was a café waitress in Isère. The Provençal version, which is naturally the the one I take as gospel, is that she worked in a bar overlooking the boulodrome in La Ciotat, where pétanque was invented.

— Peter Mayle, Provençe A-Z

fanny_old_photo Although petanque players generally claim Fanny as an exclusively petanque icon, Fanny pretty clearly dates back to the mid-1800s. This was long before the invention of petanque, when boule lyonnaise and other bocce-like boules variants were popular.

One bocce web site claims that Fanny came into being in Lyon around 1860 — and has the pictures to prove it. Here is Fanny with bocce balls — or perhaps boules lyonnaises — not petanque boules.

Perhaps the most charming representation of Fanny that I’ve seen is a little statuette that Patrick LeThorois photographed at an antiques fair in Isle sur la Sorgue. Again, note the large boules lyonnaises near her feet.

Here is a “shrine” to Fanny modeled on a traditional prayer bench (kneeler, prie dieu). Note the bell at the top.Fanny_shrine_with_bell

To see more of Fanny, visit this gallery of representations of Fanny, or the Fanny page at Musée de la Boule.



2 thoughts on “Fanny – the goddess of petanque

  1. This is something that I also think about occasionally. I’ve tried googling “pétanque fanny affiche en vente” (petanque fanny poster for sale). This brings up a few hits on French eBay, mostly of very ugly and over-priced stuff. Seeing what’s for sale, I came to the conclusion that the best way to get a Fanny would be to make it myself.

    One possibility is to go to, search for “fanny petanque” and find an image that you like, in the highest resolution you can find. Save the image to a thumb drive, take it to your local office supply store, and ask them to print out the image on their big color printer. In the past my local Office Depot store has made me 24″x24″ laminated posters for about $20.

    I’ve also thought about contacting a local artist and commissioning a terra cotta Fanny. It wouldn’t be cheap, but it would support my local arts community and I’d end up with a unique handmade Fanny. Priceless!

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