Thirty people dressed in white: Eau Claire's Diner En-Blanc
by Anna Semanko
On the evening of Friday, June 8, a group of over 30 people dressed entirely in white (with the occasional pair of black pants) may have been spotted dining at white tables covered in white table cloths, eating on white dishes ‘neath the light of white candles ... in the courtyard of the Eau Claire City Hall.
The group of elegant diners was participating in a world-wide, flash mob style dining experience called “Diner En-Blanc” (“Dinner in White”). The event dates back 24 years and was created by a man named François Pasquie. Our local Diner En-Blanc organizer, Anne-Marie Bittner, says “He was originally French [and] went back to France [from Canada] for a trip. He wanted to meet his friends but didn’t have too much time. He asked them, ‘why don’t we meet in… a park… and have a picnic? And so that we recognize each other, why don’t we all wear white?’” Since then, the event has been held in some of the most famous sites around Paris, such as The Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Élysées.
While the Paris event takes the lead with an average of 15,000 participants a year, spinoff events grow bigger every year. This year, hundreds of people gathered in cities around the world, such as New York, Vancouver, Barcelona, Sydney, and now our very own Eau Claire. Brigitte Geroux, who attended the first Diner En Blanc in France, introduced the event to our area.
While each Diner En-Blanc is unique in size, location, and people, the gist remains the same. Guests arrive by organized transportation with their own table and other dining necessities to a secret location where they are given an assigned seat. The guests are seated by row as they set up their own tables. The dining commences after everyone raises their white napkins in the air (traditionally a symbol of overtaking the public space). After all guests have finished their meals, sparklers are lit to signify the opening of the dance floor. At the designated end of the evening, the guests all clean up their own areas – taking their trash with them – and leave as a group.
Eau Claire’s version had some slight variations on the tradition. Of the signature white color scheme, Bittner says, “We changed the rules a little bit, because in France the men have to be dressed in white, but this is Eau Claire.”
Being “invite-only,” it’s hoped the same guests and their friends will attend in the following years. Bittner says each year will be somewhat different, and she seems excited for what is to come.