Le Dîner en Blanc: A Gigantic Private Picnic Magically Pops Up in Public


Le Dîner en Blanc (Paris White Dinner)

Each year, as the month of June approaches, thousands of Parisians eagerly wonder if they will receive the much sought after invitation “WD: save the date.”
WD, a.k.a. White Dinner, or Le Dîner en Blanc, has become Paris’s most spectacular pop-up gathering and best-kept secret—the exact location is revealed on D-day a few minutes prior to setup. Started in 1988 as a spontaneous get-together between friends, WD currently captures thousands of bons vivants, and understandably so. Le Dîner en Blanc is a spectacular way to spend an evening and a great spot for people watching!
What distinguishes Paris’s event from cloned ones is its traditional “invitation only.” Paid bookings and online registration are out of the question in order to preserve its authentic spirit. And taking part in this minutely orchestrated picnic is conferred to a happy few (7,200 this year). Tonight was our fourth year of attending.
On April 7, as I skimmed through my inbox, I unexpectedly jumped from my seat and called to my husband, “Guess what? We’re invited to the White Dinner 2012!” From that instant on, the excitement started. Within seconds we were pondering who, what, where and how. The when was decided: June 14, 2012, regardless of weather conditions.
The rules are clear: white and nothing but white, bridge table, folding chairs, linen, real glass, silverware, hard plates, home-cooked meal, candles . . . . The meeting location would be divulged on D-day at 17:30. The suspense builds up. Time to dust off our feather boas and hats preciously stored. Champs Elysées? Four years ago. Place de la Concorde? Three years ago. Tuileries? Two years ago. Cour Carrée du Louvre was last year. The traditional guessing endured for weeks.

Tristane de La Presle

Tristane de La Presle.

June 14, excitement is at its prime. At 17:00, ping! The e-mail read, “RDV on the corner of rue Amelot and Bvd Richard Lenoir at 19:45 at the latest.” Humm . . . Bastille? Place des Vosges? République? Within minutes, we were crossing our information with other friends’ meeting points. The guessing game lasted a good hour. By 18:30 the streets of Paris filled with elegantly appointed Parisians, all in white. Buses appeared out of nowhere, boarded by guests who had traveled from afar. A sense of camaraderie developed as traffic intensified. Rule of thumb? If a public officer asks where you are heading, keep the secret. Each minute counted so as not to miss the meeting point. Once parked, we snaked our way by foot with our gear through the frantic crowds. Familiar faces appeared as we made our way to our semifinal destination, where we were told to prepare for a long walk. At 20:15 we finally discovered this year’s campsite: the magical Place des Vosges in Le Marais. We had 15 minutes to get there, find our allocated spot and dress our table with each couple’s potluck. On-site, it was organized chaos.
By 21:00, the Dîner en Blanc 2012 officially kicked off. All raised their glasses and cheered with napkins in the air. Time to indulge in our smoked salmon, beef carpaccio, garden green vegetable salads, cheese platter and vacherin. 

Le Dîner en Blanc in Paris

At 23:00 the entire party stood up and lit sparklers. Faces glowed in delight as cheers filled the air. At this point, most were ready to mingle with other tables, dance or just promenade through the crowd. “Where did you get that dress?” “Love your hat.” “Ruinart bubbly, not bad,” “Check out the lanterns,” “Could you spare a cigar?” Fellowship at its best.
When midnight rang, much like with Cinderella, the fest was packed away and our picnic ended as spontaneously as it had started. Myriad Parisians shifted as quickly as they had arrived, leaving no trace of their presence beyond the echo of their laughter . . . . The magic of a well-kept secret!
Tristane de La Presle
Travel Writer

Read the French version at The Huffington Post.