Our Parisian Dinner in White with 13,000 people

Tonight we participated in the famous Dîner en Blanc de Paris (Dinner in White of Paris).  This event is now in its 26th year, and this year some 13,000 people joined in the fun around the city.  The event also takes place in a few other cities around the world.

There are numerous rules in the event, and failing to follow them will get you kicked out for the following year.  Of course, the most visible important rule is that everything is in white (or covered in white).  But there are tons of smaller rules from the exact size of your table (you bring it) to your tableware and exactly where you sit and which side of the table you sit on.

The entire event is invitation only, and you must know someone from a previous year to get an invite (where our totally awesome friends hooked us up).  Once you’ve secured an invite you won’t actually know where in the city you’ll be setting up dinner until just beforehand.

In our case we met at 8:00PM at an area ‘somewhere near’ where we’d be having dinner (within a short walk, like a staging area).  But it wouldn’t be until 8:45PM that we’d get the text notifying us of our precise seating location.  So we hung out till then like a few thousand others (though, mixed in with the after work bar scene that had no idea what was going on).

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While it’s not an official city event (sorta like a flashmob), the city and the police turn a bit of a blind eye to it (while definitely enjoying it as well).

Just before 9PM the text messages dictating our final location started flowing in, and as a result, people started flowing out to find their places.  It was a bit of a slow moving procession since you had to carry everything with you: Table, chair, food, copious amounts of wine…everything.  Across the street it appeared as if herds of animals were moving across the grasslands of Invalides:

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Luckily in our case our destination was just up onto the bridge (Pont Alexandre III) near us.  The bridge is well known for its golden statues on all ends and is in countless movies.

Everyone quickly and semi-efficiently got to work setting up tables.  As noted, each couple had to bring a table and two chairs, with said table meeting various width requirements – ensuring that all the tables lined up.

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Soon the tables were setup and it was time to begin our dinner.

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All of our friends brought various items and we passed them around.  Most couples had their own bread (since no Parisian would be without their baguettes), and most couples also brought 1-2 bottles of wine.  Here’s our little stash (with a spare bottle of wine on deck below the table as well):

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Of course, The Girl made a cake.  A lemon poppy seed cake with fresh raspberry layers and a cream cheese icing, in case you’re curious.  It was awesome, and might actually be my favorite cake flavor combo to date.

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Our chef friend was  cooking up chicken breasts…they were awesome (they were sous vide first just beforehand, and then finished here at the table).

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In our case we were on the eastern side of the bridge (which is over the Seine), with just about 1.5 meters (4.5 feet) of space left on the sidewalks for pedestrians to still walk through.  There was no blocking the actual roadway.

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Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the bridge was the same thing, this side facing the Eiffel Tower.

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At the end of the bridge was Invalides, which was covered with seemingly never ending tables:

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Of course, for tourists this was quite the draw, especially since we’re basically a day away from the start of the peak tourist season.

Everyone was laughing at one point when a gaggle of tourists stopped and actually randomly picked two girls from the table next to us and went in between them to get photos with them.  About 10-15 people in the group in total individually went one after another to take photos between the bewildered girls.  They were good sports about it.

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Perhaps we weren’t selected by the tourists due to our table’s manly prowess:

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With the event starting at 9PM it’s still quite light out here, as sunset isn’t right now until around 10:15-10:30ish.  Once the lights kicked on however, the scene looks a whole lot different.

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Some tables went above and beyond the call of duty in bringing massive floral and candle displays.  Obviously, we’ll kick things up a notch next year.

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With about 30 minutes until the famed 11PM, it was definitely time for cake:

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Oh – here’s our table.  Our group also spanned into the table to the right with the giganto awesome candle thing:

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Earlier in the evening the organizers came around and gave out sparklers.  It was the single item provided by the organizers – everything else you brought in yourself.  The instructions in the e-mailed details earlier in the week were excruciatingly clear: Light the sparklers at 11:00PM, but not 10:59PM.

Thankfully, since the Eiffel Tower does its sparkler game every hour on the hour, it’s pretty easy for people to know when it’s exactly 11:00PM.

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Thousands upon thousands of sparklers – all across the city.  With some 13,000 people participating there were groups everywhere from the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre (surrounding the little glass pyramid) to Notre Dame and I’m sure many other pre-planned places.

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Because 13,000 people playing with fire wasn’t quite ballsy enough, someone provided about every other table with Chinese lanterns to send flaming into the sky.

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As a general rule, I wouldn’t normally provide large groups of mostly well-wined people with the opportunity to send flaming balls of fire over heavily fabric situations.  Don’t worry, only a few tablecloths caught fire.

All of the dots you see are lanterns floating impressively high:

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Finally, post-fireball it turned into a large dance party.  The rules were also quite strict on when you were allowed to leave (or rather, both allowed and supposed to):

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This guy below from a table next door takes the cake for best dressed of the night:

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At exactly 12:00AM the lights on the bridge shut off, a bit of a warning signal that it was time to pack up and head out.  Given they don’t normally shut off then it was a well coordinated ‘time to leave’ message from the organizers and the city.

Soon the streets around Paris would be packed with people dragging home their tables and empty wine bottles.  As we got a cab home it was funny seeing numerous little mopeds with someone holding onto tables and chairs on the back.

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With that – the night’s over and we’re set and ready to enjoy the weekend soon.  And, we’re definitely looking forward to next year!

Thanks for reading, and have a good weekend!

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30 Comments

  1. Cool, nice hat! 7 years there and never made it to one of these - looks a lot of fun. Photos remind me that there are few better places to be than the middle of Paris on a warm summer's night. Have a great summer!

    Reply
  2. Hi there Ray,
    I just stumbled across your blog and absolutely loved your Diner en Blanc write up - well done for getting it out there so quickly after the event! I will definitely be sharing your article on my blog's social media. I love your writing style (ie sending flaming balls of fire over heavily fabric situations - made me laugh out loud!) and the way you recapped the night with all the photos (particularly of THAT cake!).
    Cheers for sharing your Diner en Blanc experience!
    Nhan
    http://www.myloveforparis.blogspot.com

    Reply
  3. Jan

    Hey Ray,

    outstanding article again. I was just curious what camera you used for the pictures, meaning taking photos of all white people at night would let my compact camera struggle a lot....

    Best wishes from Germany

    Jan

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      Thanks Jan!

      I went with the Canon 7D, with a 10-22 wide angle lens. Because I had to drag a lot of other stuff, I just figured the wide angle would be more versatile. Exact details on lenses here: link to dcrainmaker.com

      Cheers!

      Reply
  4. Stipek

    hehe nice hat! 30's-style!

    Reply
  5. Tom Farnam

    Wonderful concept - would love to see it brought to DC area. How about sharing the cake recipe?

    Reply
  6. That is so beautiful and so cool! Thank you for sharing with us! Also, that cake the Girl made looks and sounds amazing! Wish I were in Paris (for many reasons!) so I could stop by the shop!

    Reply
  7. I saw bunch of white dressed people while cycling around in Lonchamp, it was funny to see that crowd mixed with the cyclists (gave me a something to look at to pass the 15 laps boringness)

    Reply
  8. Ian Blackburn

    Aren't all your reader your friends? Come on Ray - send out the invites for next year!

    Reply
  9. Looks like this was quite an event for such a great cause! Your photos are wonderful. I shared your link on my personal FB page for my French mother-in-law to see. Lovely! Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  10. Alice

    sweet to read a new post on summer in paris, so chic and so inviting :)

    Reply
  11. BillM

    OMG that cake, yumm yummmmmm

    Reply
  12. greg

    "...well-wined people with the opportunity to send flaming balls of fire over heavily fabric situations..."

    Perhaps my favorite Rainmaker quote ever!

    Reply
  13. Alfie

    Great post! At least it was only some flaming balls amongst 13,000 people as opposed to what we wield here in the US on the 4th of July with hundreds of thousands of well "brewed" people throughout the country!

    Reply
  14. falconeye

    Seems to be a really nice event. I think in munich is also something like this.
    But one question comes to my mind. And I mean this honestly.
    What to do if you need a toilet?
    As I know from the "Oktoberfest or Wiesn"every year, it can be a real problem.
    And here you have 13000 people on one place. And all are eating and particularly drinking.
    Despite this earth-shattering question have a nice WE!

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      Thankfully Paris actually has a fair number of public toilets (both automated and otherwise). Also, the thousands were well spread out across different major tourist areas in the city - so there tends to be more bathrooms present.

      Reply
    • falconeye replied

      "Thankfully Paris actually has a fair number of public toilets (both automated and otherwise)."
      So it is the opposite to German cities. But nobody tries to change something either. To expensive is the normal excuse.

      Reply
  15. SleepyMatt

    Wow, that looks like a lot of fun :). The cake looks particularly awesome, and I have to say, the Girl's dress was lovely.... Currently checking my man-credentials.... I better go and watch some world cup footie I think!

    Reply
  16. Ray Reynolds

    Strange it never rains on Europeans when they have outdoor events.

    Reply
    • Jason Gulledge replied

      in fact, in the 26 years they've had the event here, it has never rained.

      Reply
  17. frank d

    Great write up. Looks like a wonderful party.

    I guess they did not have a rule about the proper place setting of the silverware (img 5) ;)

    Reply
  18. Trish

    What a great event - lot of fun by the sounds of it. What an awesome looking cake your wonderful lady made.
    I would love the cake recipe too!

    Reply
  19. WOW, Amazing photos!

    BTW, I loved your hat ! :-D

    Reply
  20. Paul

    Beautiful pictures, great to be part of such an event! The cake looks awesome, the Girl too! Just enjoy those beautiful moments you two!

    Reply
  21. portlandpaul

    Trust the French! Looks like a blast.

    "Candelabra" would be what the "giganto awesome candle thing" is!

    Reply
  22. Paul E

    First off, MAJOR jealous that it stays light there until almost 10:30. It's dark here in Alabama by 8:30p. UGH. Hate living on the eastern edge of a timezone. Brings the suck.

    Secondly, that looks like it was truly a blast. It's great to see somebody not originally from the area be able to fit in and adapt to the culture around you!! Looks like Paris is a good fit for you and The Girl!

    How is your French coming along?
    Do the locals still treat you like an American or have they reconciled you to being a local now? :)
    Do you think your travels have helped you adapt to the culture quicker?

    -Paul

    Reply
  23. Hi! I found your blog after searching for Diner en Blanc Paris. We were there too! We dined on the Passerelle Debilly foot bridge. It was a magical evening. You can see my photos on my blog: link to sunkissis.blogspot.com

    Elizabeth

    Reply
  24. Helena

    Love the idea and would like to take part on this event, however on passing under a bridge in a cruise boat, people on the top deck were showered with food!! Not nice at all!!

    Reply

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