Support your local “animator!”

 

The view from my chaise

The view from my chaise

 

Recently, my family joined the massive Ukrainian summer migration to Antalya, on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.  Our holiday was of the advance-paid variety – a great way to travel, whereby one can essentially leave one’s wallet at home, unless you plan separate day-trips.  The weather was beautiful, the resort itself clean and well equipped, with pools everywhere and the sea scant yards away, the food and drink unlimited…

 

 

The concept of the “animator” (the word itself would appear to be of French provenance) is hardly a new one.  While the red-blazered and much-mocked staff at the U.K.’s Butlin’s Holiday Camps may have been some of the groundbreakers, youth camps, holiday resorts, and Club Med have long employed teams of preternaturally outgoing people to ensure that guests always have something to do, other than stuff themselves at groaning buffet tables. 

 

 At first glance, you might envy the animation team.  After all, they spend a summer at a beautiful resort, in the sun and with endless avenues of recreation, romance, and relaxation at their fingertips.  What’s more, they are paid for it!  However, since first impressions are often so very misleading, I decided to discover more about the nature of their work. 

 

 Efkan Sevim is a 32-year-old from Mersin, near Turkey’s Gulf of Iskanderun.  A natural performer, who once dreamt of becoming a football or pop star, Efkan has been working in the tourism industry ever since graduating from the Tourism & Hotel Management programme of his university.  The job suits him perfectly:  my daughter instantly dubbed him “Partyman”, a tribute to his energy and exuberance and a nickname that he thought rather suited him. 

 

 He began his career in tourism as a trainee cost manager, but soon realized that he needed to be out of the back office and out in front of the guests, where an extrovert like him belonged since, as he says, “I love to drive the young ladies crazy”.  From that modest beginning, Efkan has gone on to work at some of the premier resorts of Turkey and around the world, including the Hillside Beach Club in Fethiye and a memorable stint with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.   

 

 Apart from his more mundane staff and budget management duties, Efkan loves to take and active part in the daily activities.  We watched with glee as he ran pool games, never failing to add somewhat barbed, but good-natured commentary.  On comedy night, Efkan was the star, playing a role in almost all of the silly skits, clearly loving every minute of it and soaking up the laughs generated by the broad comedy.  When the skits finished, we went off to watch the karaoke night, only to find “Partyman” in charge there, as well, hosting, dancing and displaying a truly tin ear (a charge he does not deny.)  Throughout his 15-hour day, he managed to maintain his effervescent personality without fail.

 

All part of the job, he maintains, but far from the only part.  Another important facet is the mentoring he provides for the less experienced members of the team.  He sees himself as a kind of surrogate elder brother, able to offer the wisdom of his experience or even just a willing ear to those who find themselves overwhelmed by the workload, the distance from home and problems with difficult guests.  In these one-on-one meetings, Efkan tries to bring out the traits necessary for the job, but realizes that there are limits to what he can do.  “Honesty is a key element in what makes a good animator,” he says.  “I can teach someone to be good at his or her job, but not how to be a good human being.”  Furthermore, Efkan states an animator “must love himself.  If you don’t love yourself, you shouldn’t do this job.”  He adds that one should prepare oneself “for a lot of work and very little free time”.

 

Yana Zheleznyak agrees with Efkan on the above, but feels that a prospective animator should really ask him or herself what one is seeking from the job:  “Money?  Rest and relaxation?  Adventure?”  Furthermore, he or she should seek out the advice of someone who has already had experience working at a resort in a similar capacity.

 

One of the “rookie” animators currently struggling with the demands of her job, Yana is a 20-year-old student from the Siberian city of Bratsk, currently in her final year in the philological faculty of the local university, specializing in English.  Although she had very little idea of what her work might involve, Yana did know that it would be a test, and one that she sought out deliberately.  “I wanted to challenge myself and see just what I was capable of doing in a new and strange environment.”

 

Yana’s parents, however, had great initial reservations about the idea of her spending an entire summer at a Turkish resort.  Her father and mother had no idea of what working as an “animator” entails, but foremost in their minds were the frequently reported horror stories of young women from the former Soviet Union falling for promises of well-paid work abroad, only to be forced into indentured slavery or prostitution.  They were only swayed by the testimony of Yana’s university classmate Ulyana, who had worked as an animator at the resort last year.

 

Upon arriving at Marti Myra on April 28 for the start of the tourist season, Yana was somewhat surprised to discover that she would receive no training, despite the daunting tasks ahead.  “We were given a tour of the resort, but that was it.”  Animators are expected to hit the ground running – sometimes literally, with strenuous sporting activities and dances being part of the hotel’s entertainment menu.  All training is, thus, of the on-the-job variety, with feedback and criticism provided at thrice-daily meetings with the Animation Director and/or Entertainment Director Efkan.  These meetings can be quite intense, as discipline and work ethic among the animators is maintained largely by peer pressure:  if you are not putting in your share of the work, you will hear about it from your colleagues, usually in rather frank terms.

 

The working day begins no later than 10 AM, as the day’s activities get underway.  For Yana, this means supervising beach bocce, followed by darts.  The bocce is one activity that she would like to give up (“It’s so monotonous”), but animators have no input into the design of the daily or weekly programme; that is left to Efkan and his Animation Director, Osman, a 12-year veteran of the business.  In addition, Yana admits that some of the more difficult activities like Latin dancing or scuba, require specific skills she does not possess.  Even if you have the skills, you will not necessarily be given your preferred slot:  Gocha, a young Georgian, was originally hired as a choreographer, to run the Latin dance and other dance classes, but found himself in charge of water aerobics.

 

Yana found the early going extremely tough – and not only the physical workload.  The personal side of the job can also be trying.  “You are expected to be not a person, but a tabula rasa and a simple member of a team, the task of which is to work for the enjoyment of every guest.”  Animators must suppress all personal moods and inclinations, essentially gluing a permanent smile to their faces and projecting a sunny visage at all times, despite fatigue or other distress they may be experiencing.

 

In dealing with difficult guests, Efkan and Yana have similar approaches.  “I try to turn the other cheek,” says Yana, “offering a smile and some understanding, while keeping a neutral position, where possible”.  Efkan will try repeatedly to win over even the most intransigent of guests, putting himself in their shoes.  “It’s rare that I surrender, but some guests simply refuse to be satisfied.”

 

The end of the grueling workday was not always what Yana hoped for.  When Yana fist arrived, she and Ulyana were allotted a ground-floor room in the staff residence bloc, which was promptly burgled, with cell phones, make-up, and other personal effects stolen.  Although they were subsequently moved to a second-floor room, the young women found themselves on edge, ready to explode with rage at each other at the slightest (often imagined) provocation.  Clearly, fatigue was taking its toll.

 

Another difficulty is the loneliness.  With home, family and friends far away, Yana and other animators often crave simple human contact or, perhaps, a little romance in a setting perfectly conducive to it.  Furthermore, the animation staff is a very good-looking lot.  Efkan says that is a tacit requirement for employment:  “After all, guests are humans too, and they naturally gravitate towards beautiful people”.  Yana does not see it that way but, as a part-time model, she is certainly not under any illusions as to her own physical attractiveness.

 

Animators must negotiate a very fine line.  While they are expected to be open and friendly with guests, the resort maintains extremely strict rules of non-fraternization, meaning that amour is strictly forbidden, on pain of immediate termination.  The existence of this rule does not deter many of the guests, unfortunately.  Both Yana and Efkan have been the objects of many unwanted advances from guests, and while Efkan seems to enjoy the attention and plays the game well, capable of letting his unrequited lovers down easily and without pain, Yana has a slightly different view.  “Guests really let themselves go when they’re here and some mistake my professional interest for interest of the more intimate variety.  They do not subject themselves to the same rules that they follow at home and many, unfortunately, think that female animators are loose girls.  It’s pretty offensive.”

 

On their days off, Yana and Efkan try to spend time by themselves, with Yana in her room or on the beach working on her tan, and Efkan well away from the resort, despite missing it.  On these days, they keep their interaction with others down to an absolute minimum and seek to recharge their batteries. 

 

Having had the opportunity to speak at length to these two people with widely divergent experience, I was even more impressed by their endless efforts.  Never again will I think that animators are nothing more than spoiled hams playing silly games and dancing to an extraordinarily annoying faux-Lain “club dance” song (both Efkan and Yana profess to like it.)  .  I can only agree with Yana who, when asked what advice she would like to offer future guests, replied, “They should respect the work we do.  We’re people too and this is hard work!”  Efkan took a similar line, adding, “Guests should not assume that, when they paid for their vacations, they bought the animators at the same time.”

 

Good advice.

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