Translator to the rescue

01:45, May 30 2014
timaru john laurenson france
INTREPID TRAVELLER: John Laurenson has a laugh during his trip to London as part of his AFS exhange.

Intrepid traveller John Laurenson has been living in Perigueux, France, and writing a travel blog while he is there.

I returned from my week in the Pyrenees and after a mad unpacking and repacking of my suitcase, another school trip took me on my merry way to London.

Let's start with the best bit which happen in L'ile, France. Unfortunately for one of my friends, this is where he had his wallet stolen.

The police arrived and we spotted a man we thought stole the wallet.

The man, who was British, had trouble communicating his innocence because he spoke no French, and the French police spoke very little English.

In his time of need, he cried desperately, "Does anyone here speak English?"


Now, this was the moment I had been waiting for for months; my chance to heroically swoop in.

I threw up my hand and said, "Ya know what mate? I bloody do".

I explained to the police what he was saying, then I translated for him on behalf of the police. And that is the story of how I became a temporary interpreter for the French police. Something I will carry with me for life.

As you can imagine, I walked away feeling quite pleased with myself, which made what happened next even worse.

Just as we were about to board the train, I realised something terrible. I had forgotten the one thing you never forget as a foreign exchange student - my passport.

I didn't even think of my passport that morning, it was a school trip for crying out loud.

In New Zealand if you go on a trip you go to Dunedin or Bluff, you certainly don't need a passport, just your pack of cards.

I told the teacher and she started panicking, which made me panic even more.

Luckily, she had a photocopy of my passport and I had my driver's licence. We told the Customs man, who then had to call his chief in London, and after the longest 20 minutes of my life it was decided that I was no threat to Her Majesty's Royal Kingdom.

During my time in London I visited some upscale hotels, saw the Changing of the Guard, saw a Picasso at The Tate Modern and various other touristy things.

My favourite part of the trip to London was being able to chat with random strangers with ease, and translating things for my friends.

It was so bizarre understanding 100 per cent of everything for the first time in months.

All the signs on the subway, all instructions, even when somebody walked past me while talking on the phone. London was great, so I was a bit sad to be taking the train back home after just a few short days.

The Timaru Herald