Friday, May 12, 2006


Last Monday (May Day), I went with a group of about 50 students from Télécom Paris to Disneyland Resort, Paris. Having had about six hours’ sleep, my friends and I went down to the bus at the appointed hour (7.30am), only to wait at least twenty minutes for all the late-comers, including several of the organisers, who would have known from past experience that we wouldn’t be leaving before 8am. After singularly failing to sleep on the short journey there (mainly due to enthusiastic renditions of traditional French songs sung with gusto by the group of lads on the back seat, which, from what little I could understand, had a somewhat smutty content), we arrived at the gates 30 minutes before the park opened at 9am. After the inevitable time-consuming prerequisite bureaucracy, we disembarked and began the journey to Disneyland. After the anticipation of being transported through several vast, empty car parks by travelators, everyone was quite excited to get through the gates. The magic of the place was such that I immediately started dancing to the saccharin music in front of Cinderella’s castle; I knew then that thenceforth, only happy emotions would be permissible in that enchanted fantasy land.
The day included gut-churning white knuckle rides, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to meet our favourite childhood fairytale characters, themed adventure lands, getting soaked by the persistent drizzle, and innumerable opportunities to be liberated from the oppressive burden of loose euros in one’s pocket. I was impressed by the variety of themes successfully evoked (since I had been expecting just Disney). The attention to detail was ubiquitous: even the street-sweepers were in character!
I was impressed by the Indiana Jones feature, a white-knuckle ride along a Temple of Doom-style mining railway, the only point in the day in which I was inverted through 360 degrees. Despite the speed and unexpected twists and turns of this feature and the visually disappointing Space Mountain, the vomit-inducing moment of the day was definitely the Tea Cups. In this particular treat, you sit in a giant teacup mounted on a rotating carousel with a couple of friends, and push the central wheel, thus being responsible for your own rotation. Now, this is fine if you happen to be an eight-year-old girl, because you probably won’t be able to push it very fast, but I, for my sins, was sharing a vessel with my friends Dieter and Dan, who insisted that we kept pushing our bodies and the teacup to the physical limits. I cannot describe how abused my body felt after coming off that ghastly ride.
Whilst I had a great time, I couldn’t help but feel what I could only describe as “cultural guilt” throughout the day. The only gentle nod given to the culture of the host country was that all the signs and announcements were in French (as well as English). The most surreal (and strangely successful) mélange of languages was in the acrobatic display “Tarzan”, when the characters encouraged the crowd to participate in a variety of different languages, including English, French, Spanish, Italian and German. Unlike the Eurostar (where the first language used is a function of the country that you’re in or closest to), there doesn’t appear to be a clear-cut language policy at Eurodisney: sometimes rides are commentated in French, sometimes in English, sometimes with subtitles, or indeed with voice-overs in both languages.
The area in which some French cultural influence was most sorely needed was that of the range and quality of food on sale. Despite the effort which had clearly gone into designing the physical appearance of the various restaurants, they all seemed to serve the same unimaginative tasteless fast-food shit. My only experience was of an expensive and mediocre panini, which was half-filled with cheese and had been only briefly introduced to a grill. I’m surprised the French put up with it, but then, I guess Disneyland is not relying on repeat custom.
Despite the fact that the day was rather washed out, I stuck together with a group of friends (two Belgians, five Italians and one other Brit) all day long, so the company was superb, and I genuinely came away from the place feeling uplifted and even younger! I think there is something about the way that such places are designed to shield you (both visually and mentally) from the outside world that appeals to my sense of escapism. Whilst I was somewhat sceptical about the whole Disney theme, failing to get terribly excited when Snow White wandered over, I suspect this was due to my childhood not being full of memories of watching their films. (“So what did you watch when you were younger?”, I was asked by an incredulous friend at more than one point during the day.) The overall effect was skilfully executed, and for 15 euros (subsidised by the Bureau des Elèves) I certainly got my money’s worth. I would, however, have been less than happy to pay the full-price €43 adult ticket.