Wikipedia traces the origins of the flash mob to 2003 when 130 New Yorkers synchronized a visit to Macy’s ninth floor rug department.
Apparently they’ve never heard of the Parisian pop-up Dîner en Blanc.
For 25 years thousands of Parisians have dressed entirely in white, packed a picnic dinner, and converged on the city’s most notable public locations: Notre Dame, Versailles, the Louvre, Place de la Concorde, Champs-Elysees, Arc d’Triomphe. The location is always a closely guarded secret kept by organizers until the very last minute when guests literally walk onto the site and start setting up tables and chairs, white tablecloths, glasses, and place settings—no paper or plastic allowed.
Dîner en Blanc (Dinner in White) began in Paris in 1988 as a reunion of old friends. 10 of them met for a picnic dinner in the Bois de Boulogne, a large public park, and they all agreed to wear white so that they could spot each other. The next year the original group of friends invited friends, and those friends invited more friends; 400 white-clad picnickers showed up in 1989 and 800 in 1990. They switched venues and adopted the current method of concealed locations in 1992, but the numbers continued to escalate. In 2010, 12,000 showed up for Dîner en Blanc at the Louvre, filling the space from the I.M. Pei pyramid to the Tuileries.
The Paris dîners have evolved to accommodate the crowds. Events are now split between multiple dates and venues, transportation is arranged, seating coordinators manage the tables and crowds, and there are bands and DJs reflecting the presence of the next generation of picnickers. But every one of the thousands of attendees still comes dressed in white and toting a formal meal with proper cutlery. And every one of them is an invited guest that can be traced to one of the original 10; they are friends of friends, and friends of those friends, and their kids, and their kids’ friends… no one gets on the list without an invitation from a previous participant. There is tacit approval of city officials, but a Parisian Dîner en Blanc is a private affair, discreetly under the radar of most residents.
Dîner en Blanc has come to America.
Asia, Africa, Australia, and across Europe too. The international effort is spearheaded by the son of one of the original reunion picnickers who works with local organizers to hold events around the globe. The international dîners are public events, coordinated with municipal authorities and openly publicized on Facebook and Twitter. Locations are still a secret, but they can be attended by anyone who signs up online and pays a facilities fee of around $30. A second round of dinners is in the works for this summer in Chicago and Boston; New York will see its third (the waiting list for the last one contained 30,000 names), and nine more U.S. host cities have been targeted for future events.
Sign up for a dinner near you at the Dîner en Blanc website.
If they’re not coming your way any time soon, go see the movie. Dîner en Blanc: the World’s Largest Dinner Party is a new documentary film about the evolution and orchestration of the dinners and it’s currently making the rounds of film festivals. The filmmaker’s Facebook page posts updates of the screening schedule.