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Dîner en Blanc: The World’s Largest Dinner Party — Don’t Call It A Pot-Luck!

 Place des Vosges ©


Place des Vosges
© JAR Productions

 

 Leave it to the French to create the best pyramid scheme ever.

There’s no upfront fee, no obligation to buy hundreds of dollars of the crap you’re supposed to sell, no euphemistic creepy name like “Friends Helping Friends” – I hope that’s not still going on in L.A.

Instead of losing your friends by pressuring them to buy said crap, or losing them by not ponying to “help” them, you get more friends!

Comment c’est possible?

My opinion?  Because the aforementioned types of pyramid schemes are anathema to l’esprit of the French.

The réalité of how (and why) is explained in Jennifer Ash Rudick’s delightful Le Dîner en Blanc, a 40 minute court-métrage (short film) that will be shown with Lord Montagu.

The dîners are the brainchild of François Pasquier who was inspired by seeing a large all white-clad group picnicking at the Bois de Boulogne in Paris.

He asked several of his friends to ask several of their friends to dress in white, bring their own food, wine, linens, and show up at a location that would be revealed at the last minute.  The first year 10 friends were invited to invite 10 friends, so there were 200 people in attendance for the first dîner in 1989.  By 2012, 13,000 people were expected to attend.

The dîners have grown in popularity, pyramid-style, just like that famous shampoo commerical from the 1980s:

 

The diners are now expertly organized by a team who coordinate buses to take everyone to the location François has selected; only he, the organizers, and the bus drivers know the exact location (and a Plan B destination, if necessary).

He tries to select the most beautiful locations in Paris, and after 23 years, it’s becoming a challenge, even though it’s Paris, to top the previous year.

Dîners Blancs have been held at la Place des Vosges (photo),  on the Champs-Elysées, on the Esplanade des Invalides, La Place de la Concorde, and Le Trocadéro which faces the Eiffel Tower.

How could François come up with a better location for the next dìner?  The movie keeps the audience in suspense along with the attendees who can’t stop guessing as they make their preparations.  I will only say:  he does.

The dìners unfold like a flash mob; they don’t break into dance or song because they are schlepping their tables, chairs, food, and in astoundingly orderly fashion, unfold, unpack, sit down, and open the wine.  There is always live music and a DJ for après-dìner dancing.

There are rules:

you cannot arrive early

 you must wear white,

you must bring your own table, chairs, white tablecloth, real (no plastic) flatware,  real wineglasses, and candles,

you must bring your own food (which you will of course share will your new friends),

and most importantly,

you must leave the dìner location cleaner than it was when you arrived.

It is that last reason that has placated the police who at first tried to break up the dìners, but now help manage the traffic flow and the gawking spectators trying to figure out what is going on.

You must know someone to be invited, but don’t mistake this event for Puff Daddy’s annual White Party.  It is not about getting one’s name on the guest list and excluding the hoi-polloi.  There are, and never will be, commercial sponsors.

An invitation is the equivalent of a professional reference:  if your friend behaves badly and doesn’t follow the rules, you will not be allowed to attend future dìners.

Dìners Blancs have been organized all over the world, with mixed results.  Director Ash-Rudick told me the Dìner Blanc she attended in New York at Lincoln Center had the same spirit as those she’s attended in Paris.

There have been Dìners Blancs in Amersterdam, London, Barcelona, Madrid, Milan, Moscow, Stockholm, and in the United States in Boston, Philadephia, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco…. In Asia in  … just check out the lists and photos of the dìners here.

There have been problems with the dìners outside of Paris.  Singapore and New York have had issues.  Cincinnati’s dìner provoked this unhappy post.

M Pasquier is happy to help anyone who wants to organize a Dìner Blanc in their city, and they can call it that as long as they follow his protocol.

While I admire his enthusiasm to share, it seems to me, that even though this is not a business, it is not something to be franchised, and explains why there have been complications  that will likely continue.

In Paris, Pasquier is present at every dìner.  The sun still shines brightly at 9:30 pm during the the third week of June when the dìners are held.  Personally, I think only in Paris can one really taste (pun intended) le feeling of amitié, joie de vivre, and get the best food.

SLIFF Screening:  Sunday, November 24th, 3:15pm with Lord Montagu.  Landmark Plaza Frontenac.  Director Jennifer Ash Rudik will be in attendance.

About 

This site was borne of my passion for movies, particularly French films. I have spent time in France and am fluent in the language, hence the “le”. The “snob” part, while of French origin, is not meant to intimidate, but rather an effort to reclaim the word from the pretentious, just as the gay community has done with the word “queer.” We’re all snobs; we all like what we like.

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