Learning account: Disney came looking for Olde England, and found me
Thursday 13 November 1997
As soon as I arrived at Disneyworld, I had to go on a "traditions course", which is a two-day course covering the history of Disney and the Disney community. You learn when Disneyworld opened, and all the areas of the resort, including the theme park, hotels, shopping and eating areas.
We also had to learn to do the "Disney Point". You can't say "The toilets are over there" and point with one finger, because in some cultures pointing is considered offensive. You have to point with two fingers or an open hand instead.
My placement was based in an area called "Showcase" in the Epcot Centre, where different countries around the world are represented in pavilions. The UK pavilion includes shops with merchandise and the Rose & Crown, which is a restaurant-cum-bar and serves Guinness, lager and traditional English food. Fish and chips is easily the most popular - it accounts for up to 50 per cent of the food sold.
Disney has been coming to the UK each year for about 18 years now to choose authentic British people for the UK pavilion. The scheme is called the "Cultural Representatives Programme" and it is quite difficult to get on - I was the only one to get it from my college. I went in the middle year of my three-year Higher National Diploma course in hotel catering and institutional management, which includes a compulsory 12-months industrial placement.
When you start in the pavilion, you are on a rotating system where you gradually get more seniority as you move jobs. You start working outside on the promenade on the baked potato or desert carts, then you move into the podium of the restaurant where you greet and seat guests. Then, about four months after I got there, I moved into the kitchen and became what is known as a runner: you liaise between the servers and the kitchen, and take the plates out to the tables. The servers take the orders and, this being Disney, are supposed to spend time with the guests and make their experience as magical as possible.
Your pay goes down at this point, but you increase it through tips - the guests tip the servers and the servers tip the runners. Americans are very generous tippers - it's just part of their culture. Finally, after eight months I moved into the bar, where I served British beers and learnt to mix American cocktails like Fuzzy Navels and Mud Slides.
Tourists love the British pavilion, particularly the Americans, who are fascinated with our accents. You'd hear someone call to their wife: "Molly, come here", and then they'd ask you "Just say 'Harp lager' again". We had to wear a kind of British national costume, with blue trousers down to your shins, long white socks, a yellow shirt and white apron rolled up like a belt - it was supposed to be Tudor.
Although I suppose the Rose & Crown was quite surreal in a way, it was always lively and I enjoyed every minute of the year. It is an excellent placement because it really gives you a chance to test out some of the skills you learn at college in the first year of the course. I'm sure what I learnt will stay with me - I still do the Disney point even now I'm back in England.
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