Taking the Mickey: Richard Cleret tries to master the 'Smile' at Euro Disney

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The Independent Online
SATURDAY, 6.30am. I leave home to start my two days' paid training period at the 'Disney University'. At this early hour, I wonder whether I am going to manage the Smile, an essential part of the 'Disney Look'. To conform with the 'Look', I've slicked my forelock back with gel, swapped my brown DMs for a friend's black ones and borrowed black socks from my Dad. I don't have a moustache or beard, my hair doesn't touch my collar, I don't wear a hairpiece or false eyelashes, so that's all right. I decided to risk the sideburns; someone else can judge whether they are longer than my earlobes.

I spend the morning learning Disneyspeak with 100 other new 'Cast Members' before we go 'on stage', because we are to be part of the 'Greatest Show on Earth'. We do quizzes and are treated to comic acts to help us assimilate the jargon, which is not translated, just pronounced with a French accent. To the uninitiated, it's as obscure as cockney rhyming slang.

I am assigned to 'ticketing' at the main gate and equipped with a sort of commissionaire's outfit of greatcoat, blue suit, white shirt and red and blue cap. A clean shirt is available every day, if I want it, so the laundry box at home won't be as full as usual. Nobody notices my sideburns, but my new friend from Chicago is provided with a razor to remove his chin tuft.

SUNDAY, 12.30. After 12 hours of training and working yesterday, I still don't feel I can answer many inquiries, apart from the whereabouts of the toilets, and have to refer constantly to my 'Leader'.

All I have seen of the park and attractions was on the videos I watched while I was waiting for my interview. Luckily, the 'Guests' all have the same free map of the resort as I do; I only sound as if I do know it all because my map-reading is more efficient than theirs.

MONDAY, 8.30am. The gates don't open until 9am, but we have half an hour to check the turnstiles and collect any litter that's been missed. A guy in a suit and tie is setting an example; he picks up a piece before sending me after another. He is one of the managing directors.

My back is already sore from the unaccustomed standing. On 'ticketing' we are only allowed to sit at tea and lunch break. At least the polar fleece greatcoat keeps me warm. The weather is terrible, wet and windy, but it doesn't deter the 33,000 French, German Dutch, Italian, Spanish, British and Japanese visitors.

TUESDAY. I eat my lunch as quickly as possible, as usual, to get out of the smoky canteen. On Sunday the new no-smoking laws come into force in France, but it will be a bit late for me. I find I have missed seeing Prince Rainier of Monaco and his daughter Stephanie because I've just been 'bumped' or shunted down the line of turnstiles. This is to avoid boredom and keep us sharp. The staff do celebrity-spotting, the 'Guests' try to spot the different costumed characters.

WEDNESDAY. French soldiers, 1,000 of them, back from a stint of UN peace-keeping in the former Yugoslavia, swell the number of visitors today. They seem to enjoy their free visit offered by Disney.

THURSDAY. I get the opportunity to work indoors today, and volunteer for 'merchandising'. I help to repack damaged goods from the souvenir shops. I admire the variety and quality of goods, and can sit down occasionally and speculate on how the guests manage to afford the more expensive ones.

FRIDAY. My day off, and I really make the most of it. I buy myself a pair of strong hiking shoes with part of my 1,000 franc advance, even though I now have only two more days' work to do, because I now know how important it is to have warm, comfortable feet. Going back to a school desk is going to seem like a holiday, and now I have an increased incentive to study for my baccalaureat. And I'm sure that for once on a Monday morning, I will be going through the school gate with a Smile.

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