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**This is a review about working for Disneyland Paris. If you are interested in a review of visiting as a guest, I'd recommend reading a different review**
While I was a student, the 3 month long summer holidays were a critically important time for me. This was not because I needed to relax/travel/top up my tan, but rather because my bank account would be seriously into the red and in desperate need of some replenishment if I wanted a diet more varied than just value baked beans on value toast every day for the following year. Finding a job was therefore crucial, and as a result I worked in pretty much every predictably rubbish job there is: waitress (tick), factory worker (tick), shelf stacker (tick)... you get the idea. Anyway, one summer I decided I didn't want to be old with only a drawer full of tesco/starbucks/other generic company's name tags to show for my summer while my future husband (who I had already determined would be a rich, tanned, well-traveled boy) had a drawer of glossy safari and beach photos. Unfortunately, the cold facts of my financial situation remained: not only did I have no money, but I also had to make some. Bemoaning this injustice one Saturday morning while watching cartoons with a friend, he jokingly said "Well you love Mickey Mouse Marie, why not go and work for him?" And so the idea was planted in my mind...
Getting a job with Mickey...
Sometime later I googled Disneyland Paris jobs on the internet and found a straight-forward application form to complete online. It asked a series of simple questions, like what kind of job I wanted (more about that later), what languages I spoke and to what standard, when I wanted to work and what work experience I had (I ran out of space for all my various service-based jobs there!) I clicked submit and didn't really think anymore of it until an envelope with a Disney logo on arrived, containing letter inviting me to Hammersmith in London for an interview for a summer job.
Since I lived near to London I thought why not, and found myself sitting in an darkened lecture hall inside Disney HQ being shown films about working for Disney along with around a hundred over hopefuls. The films were in English but the staff introducing things spoke in both English and French, obviously to remind us we were applying for a job based in France. We were then given time slots to come back later in the day for oral interviews, which were conducted with one Disney manager talking to 2 potential cast members. Depending on what job you'd applied for the interviews were slightly different: I'd applied for attractions and stated I could speak English fluently and that my French was 'good', so my interview was mostly in English with a few sections in French, which felt very much like a Disney-centric French GCSE oral exam ("Pourquoi aimeriez-vous travailler pour Disney?") The girl I was with had applied for ticketing and had stated she could speak English, French and German fluently. Her interview was therefore attempted entirely in French and German, and embarrassingly for all concerned it quickly became apparent that rather than being fluent in these other languages she was 'basic' at best. The interviewer therefore switched to English and discussed why she had lied, and whether she might consider a Disney job that did not require another language fluently. At the end of the interview I was offered a job on the spot, while the other girl was told they needed to discuss her further (lying from the outset is not the way to make a good impression...)
My job offer was to work in attractions, which is what I wanted as it sounded the most interesting. Essentially there were 4 main groups of park-based jobs that anyone can apply for, each with slightly different entry requirements:
1) "Attractions" involves running the actual rides, getting people on and off, making the announcements and helping with crowds during the parades. It requires as a minimum good French and one other language, with English being strongly favoured (and fortunately my forte!) I thought this job sounded the most fun as it was furthest from a 'normal' job and involved lots of interacting with people and moving around.
2) "Ticketing", as its name suggests involves selling the park entry tickets. It requires 3 languages to a very good standard. It pays slightly more than the other jobs, due to the higher linguistic skills required, but is also probably more boring as you just sit in a booth all day.
3) "Retail" is working in the various shops. As well as English you needed a second language, but you didn't need to be as fluent as was required for attractions or ticketing.
4) "Restaurantation" is working in one of the themed restaurants. The language requirement was as for retail, and hearing people's future reports of this job (that it was boring, hard work and hot) made me pleased I had avoided it.
Additionally there are a whole host of hotel-based jobs, car-parking attendants and of course parade jobs, but these seemed to be recruited for separately.
Starting work at Disney...
Of course, the offer to work for Mickey Mouse was too good to pass up so I accepted, and three months later I found myself getting off a train in 'Marne la Vallee' and heading to 'Disney Universite.' There you were handed useful information regarding where you were going to live (accommodation is provided, although you do have to pay a certain amount towards it directly out of your wages) then left to make your own way to your new home, to return the next day for training.
The accommodation is split over 3 sites, all between 20mins and half an hour by RER (train) or bus from the park itself. The standard of accommodation will be instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever stayed in old university accommodation (not nice new unite stuff) and would be best described as basic but passable. La Boiserie and La Louisiane tended to house people who either were either working at Disney for a longer period of time or had already done a season there. They were slightly nicer, and definitely more sociable, than the third area of staff accommodation called 'Les Pliades', which was where I stayed. An important point to note is that all accommodation is 2 people to a room, so unless you know someone who is also working there and you request a room together you will be sharing with a random (all very character-building.) My room had 2 single beds (with bedding), a table and 2 chairs, a small bathroom with shower and toilet and a small and poorly equipped kitchen. It did however also have a balcony, which was quite nice and added a small amount of class to an otherwise miserable room!
Having settled into the room with another English girl (and having quickly established that being English was a definite rarity) we set off to find the local hypermarket and shops, which were located in a mall attached to the RER station around a ten minute walk away. Feeling very French strolling back with our fresh baguettes, we felt ready to face the induction the following day...
So, fast-forward 24 hours and we were sitting in Disney universite watching their propaganda (sorry induction) films (in French) with moments of teaching about working for Disney in between the films (also in French.) It all felt rather exhilarating and also a little bewildering, although it did explain the lack of other English people amongst the hundreds present: proficiency in French was clearly expected, and is not something that we as an English nation are renowned for. The 'school-based' learning took 2 days and mainly seemed to consist of drumming into us that "On ne peut pas casser la magique!" (you cannot break the magic!) and warning us that little kids can be evil and not infrequently attack Mickey Mouse.
Having survived this we were dispatched to 'costuming', a huge building 'backstage' from the park where you collected your costume every morning, put your normal clothes in your locker and clocked in. You were then left to find your own way to where you were working, which for me was 'Fantasyland' ( whenever I recount this to people it always ends up sounding like I spent a summer on drugs: "yeah, well when I was in Fantasyland...") For the first couple of days you are paired up with an experienced 'castmember' (all employees are called 'castmembers') who teaches you all the important things about the rides you are working on (think which button does what, how to stop it in an emergency, what dangers there are, how many people to put in each row etc). You also have to learn the important codes to communicate over the loudspeaker without park 'guests' understanding what is going on... I can't remember them anymore, but know there was one for fire, one for abandoned bags, one for ride broken down etc etc. The only one I can remember was 'dix-quartorze' which was technically supposed to be for when you were putting a guest under surveillance as you thought they were up to no good, but we misappropriated for subtly pointing out good looking guests to each other...
At the end of the 2 days I seem to recall there being some kind of semi-formal exam, but to be honest it was all a blur... my GCSE French was being put to the test as the working language was French, and in team of over a hundred there was only one other english girl to converse with when I really needed to get something off my chest that my French didn't stretch to expressing (fortunately words to express frustration in French were frequently used so it was not long before I could declare I was 'fâché' -angry- or vexé - annoyed - with the best of them).
The work itself was fairly easy and enjoyable. We rotated around a series of posts of a couple of rides, some of which involved standing, some sitting, some talking to guests continually ('Vous etes combien' - how many of you? - being the most commonly used phrase during the working day as you tried to load people onto boats/into a train) while others allowed you to be quiet and reflect for a while. My direct team consisted of people from France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Finland, Portugal, Austria and Holland, and my best friend from my accommodation was from Denmark. It was a fabulously multinational environment, with different nationalities displaying fascinating quirks that helped me see where stereotypes came from (for example, the Spain and Italian girls were hugely friendly and emotional and forever running late, whilst the Germans insisted on everything being done to the rules and were perpetually confused by my sense of humour.)
The working hours were sensible (and obviously, being France, very compliant with EU rules) and food in the staff canteens was tasty and subsidised. As a working environment it was amazing: stimulating, fun and full of energetic keen young castmembers. When not working there was always lots going on... we would sneak back into the park via the staff entrances (it was never entirely clear if this was allowed or not) to go on the rides, and enjoy reduced rates for meals in restaurants or shows in Disney Village. There were always parties to attend in the accommodation, and as an English girl I was always in demand as a guest. I initially thought this was because lots of people worked at Disney with the hope of improving their English as well as their French, but I quickly realized it was mainly the European males who were keen on my presence and this seemed to be associated with a reputation English females had, somewhat perpetuated by the behaviour of teenage female guests to the park. I think I left many disappointed when I turned out to not live up to that particular stereotype.
The summer flew by, my French improved at an exponential rate and all too soon it was over and I was faced with trying to recompress everything I'd brought with me and acquired over 3 months into the holdall I'd come with (I eventually gave up and purchased a new suitcase.) I had an absolutely amazing summer, and although I can't remember exactly what I was paid I know that at the end of three fun-filled months, minus my travel costs, I still managed to be £700 better off than when I started. Now, although I could obviously have earnt more working for Tesco, I would not have acquired French language skills or indeed such a fabulous set of memories.
I would therefore thoroughly recommend a summer working for Disney to anyone who has a GCSE in French, enthusiasm and a wish for a summer in a different country but no money to fund it!