There’s a curious expression used in Provence by pétanque players. “Embrasser Fanny” or to “kiss Fanny”, is a small recompense for making a fool of oneself to put it simply. But where does this mischievous phrase originate from?
Fanny was a waitress at a local café in the Savoie region or Lyon– no one seems to agree. Watching the men playing pétanque (or boules) one day, she declared that she would allow any man who lost 13-0 in pétanque, to kiss her on the cheek.
As it happened, it the mayor of the local village was the one to embarrassingly not obtain a single point during his game. Fanny wasn’t fond of the mayor because of an earlier discretion. A woman’s scorn? Instead of offering her cheek, she offered quite a different cheek indeed.
The mayor embraced the challenge (I don’t doubt willingly) and kissed Fanny’s bottom. And one can imagine, that in 1870 this went down as quite a treat.
Thus, a rule was created where any player losing without obtaining a single point had to kiss the rather large bottom of Mademoiselle Fanny. This was a great humiliation, as well as a reward depending, of course, on the fanny at hand.
In Provence, local pétanque clubs embraced this tradition with fervour. Specially made rugs were even kept to kneel on for such an occasion. Postcards depicting Fanny, not quite a glamorous as a Parisian Pin-Up, were distributed throughout France.
Not surprisingly however, pétanque players found there was a considerable lack of women who were willing to play along with their tradition and show the loser their bottoms. So companies started making Fanny statuettes made from clay. Every pétanque club now has their own statue of Fanny’s glorious bottom. You can still buy these statues at the original boule-maker, La Boule Bleue in Marseille. When someone is made to kiss it, a bell is often rung as everyone laughs, for optimum embarrassment.
Fanny is still a common name in France and French people often have no idea of the meaning of fanny in English. It signifies either le derrière (behind) or d’avant (from before) depending if you’re British or North American. A coincidence?!
Ashley Tinker is a curious Canadian photographer living and working in the South of France. Take a glimpse into her Provençale life on her blog.