Je m'appelle Jean-Paul Frambois

15th November 1996 at 00:00
Around 10 years ago, before I was married and schools had Apple Macs, I used to present an activity class in computers through the local community centre. My friend Anne was in charge of the French course and usually persuaded the local assistant to join in. As the classes ran on the same night the three of us would often go for a drink afterwards.

Of all the French students who came to the Carluke area for their year's experience, Sylvie struck up the closest friendship with Anne.

Towards the end of her stint she invited several of her friends and relatives over. They swelled the numbers of the French class and accompanied us to the lounge bar afterwards. There, having failed to get an answer to the question why does every French film have a black bicycle in it, I resorted to telling jokes. I have to confess that these jests were rather politically incorrect. I took some Irish jokes, replaced all references to that country and its inhabitants with references to Belgium and the Belgians and translated them into French.

I had not spoken French since my Higher oral exam, when I managed to work my moped into every topic, so it is unclear whether the French were laughing at my wit, my grammar or my pronunciation.

"Qu'est-ce que c'est qu'on a ecrit au fin de (en haut de?) l'echelle Belge?" I asked, falteringly like the misfiring cyclomoteur of my oral. "Arretez ici!" At closing time, as we decanted into a side street, a just-old-enough-to-drink Carluke girl, her face glowing with gentle self-congratulation and a couple of voddies, came up to Sylvie and her friends and said: "Youse are French. "

Nobody saw fit to deny this in those less Euro-sceptical times and the girl was soon eliciting everyone's names. When she came to me I announced: "Je m'appelle Jean-Paul Frambois."

This I said with an attempt of Gallic flourish which obviously had some appeal as she latched on to me, metaphorically at least, and spent some time trying to get me to talk Scots.

I blew it when I came out with "aw ya beeeeaaauuuteeeee" in an accent that could only be local.

"Ach, you'r no' French at all," she laughed, then went to speak to someone who was. I was left contemplating that I had rather enjoyed being Jean-Paul Frambois and for a while afterwards practised looking French by pursing my lips as if to whistle and simultaneously scowling. Forgive the stereotyping, please.

A few weeks ago Anne got married, in Carluke, to Petter, a Norwegian living in Sweden, so the wedding was a multinational affair. He wore Highland dress, she the Norwegian national costume. As well as Scots, English and Scandinavians there were Dutch, Japanese and French, including Sylvie and her family.

As the guests milled around the churchyard waiting for a coach to the reception (in New Lanark's Robert Owen Institute for the Formation of Character), Sylvie caught my eye and walked over, accompanied by her daughter and husband, who was neither pursing his lips or scowling.

I was impressed. She had clearly recognised me despite my loss of hair, lack of a moustache and gain of a wife.

"Hello," she said, "I know I know you but the only name that springs to mind is Jean-Paul Frambois."

Sometimes it is the legend that lives on.

Gregor Steele once spotted a sports shop in Rouen called "The Athlete's Foot".

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