There was a time not long ago -- about six months or so -- when presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) would rather have been caught fraternizing with the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth guys than caught speaking French.

Speaking that language -- as opposed to Spanish -- was yet another sign that Kerry was an elite Eastern establishment snob, even vaguely treasonous given the French position on Iraq. Republicans gleefully made sport of Kerry's French abilities. And so Kerry, fluent in the language, absolutely would not let a French word leave his mouth.

But now the political ban appears to have been lifted.

On Friday, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), spoke to a GOP women's gathering in New Hampshire, where he's clearly not running for president in 2008, and not only spoke the dread language but also initiated a little chat in French.

Even worse, French-speakers say his accent is quite good and he was most comfortable bantering before his speech with a woman from a French-speaking African country.

After some chit-chat in English, Romney asked the woman if she speaks French. She said yes, and he switched languages and said he speaks French, too, adding that he had lived in France for 21/2 years, doing his Mormon missionary work.

He mentioned that he had lived in Paris, which he said was "fore-mi-dahb," meaning "great." Romney said he was "there in 1968 when there were general strikes," not to mention massive riots, and that things were "difficult."

Mon dieu!

The Get-Out-of-Yale Cards

Speaking of Kerry, maybe he was good at languages, but it turns out that his college grades were virtually the same as those of the language-challenged President Bush.

The conventional media wisdom during the campaign was that Kerry was the brainy candidate, Bush the bumbler. But Bush, with a 77 overall, bested Kerry by one point.

What's more, Kerry received four D's his freshman year, according to his grade transcript, which was included in his Navy records obtained by the Boston Globe.

Well, shows you that Yale in those days did not have grade inflation.

Parry Mutual

To the uninitiated, it might seem that Bush administration spokesmen like to hide even the most ordinary bits of information, resorting to an oft-comical double talk. Not so. Take for example new spokesman Sean McCormack's response to a question at yesterday's State Department briefing.

"Who initiated today's meeting between Condoleezza Rice and the Turkish foreign minister?" a reporter asked.

"Well, meetings are typically set up -- it requires the agreement of both parties. So it is a mutually agreed-upon time and date," McCormack said. This is a practical step taken to avoid having one party show up in, say, Cleveland at 4 p.m. on one day while the other is waiting at 3 p.m. in Denver on a different day.

"So it was by Ankara or was it requested by the U.S. government?" the reporter tried again, not knowing we were now into goofy-speak.

"I would say that, whenever we have the secretary meet with somebody," McCormack explained patiently, "that it is through mutual agreement that we hold the meeting."

Again, absolutely correct. Foreign ministers are only infrequently brought in shackles to the seventh floor at the State Department.

What obviously happened in this case is Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul and Secretary of State Rice picked up the phone at exactly the same time and called each other to meet. Happens all the time.

McCormack, who wore snappy French cuffs to his briefing on Friday, is off to an excellent start.

Vershbow's Getting Seoul

Also on the diplomatic front: The Asian press is reporting that Alexander "Sandy" Vershbow, a highly regarded career diplomat and most recently ambassador to Russia, is the pick to be ambassador to South Korea. Sounds right.

The British press has been fretting of late about the lack of an ambassador to the Court of St. James's. It's been a year since Washington has had an ambassador there. That's when William S. Farish, called "invisible" by one British pundit, came home. His presumed successor, Bush campaign mega-contributor Robert Holmes Tuttle, has yet to be nominated.

From the Colonies to the Kingdom

Many Americans would love to get a job working for the president of the United States. Doubtless, the British would be thrilled to work for a prime minister. It is not often, though, that someone works for both.

But Sara Latham, who worked in the Clinton White House in the chief of staff's office and as deputy director of scheduling, has now secured a job in the Blair government as special adviser to Tessa Jowell, minister for culture, media and sport. Latham left for Brussels in 2000 to work for Microsoft Corp. and later for a communications firm in England. She then worked on Blair's campaign.

First Washington, Now the World

Also on the international front, new World Bank chief Paul D. Wolfowitz yesterday named the first members of his inner team, Robin Cleveland, most recently associate director of the Office of Management and Budget, to be his counselor, and Kevin Kellems, former communications director and spokesman for Vice President Cheney, to be his senior adviser.