How French People Sing Along To American Songs (And What It Can Teach Us About Impostor Syndrome)

As my sister-in-law explained it to me while we listened to a bar band in France play standard American bar band songs,

When French people like a song but don’t speak the language, we call the made-up words we sing along with “yaourter.” It means “yogurt,” or “to yogurt.” When you’re yogurting you’re just doing it because you like the song. Most of the time we don’t know what the words mean or what the song is even about, but we know we like it so we try to imitate it.

When someone who actually speaks the language does it “right,” we’re super impressed. It’s probably because what we don’t want to do is ever have to sing our yogurt to someone who really knows the language, because then we remember we’re just speaking gibberish.

As she was telling me this, all I could think was, “holy crap, yaourter is impostor syndrome embodied. I can’t believe there’s a word for this. And… yogurt? Sure.”

You find something you like, you don’t know the words but you make your own up, and it feels good. But, if anybody who speaks the language ever asked, “wait, what did you just say there?” You’d feel like an idiot.

Like impostor syndrome, the answer to yaourter is to first know what you like, and then – if you really care – go and learn the language. If you don’t, It’s totally fine to fake it and have fun. But, if you really want to know what it’s all about, you have to go put the real work in to overcome it.

Yaourter away. It’s great to pretend to know the words and have a good time. When it’s time to get serious though, there’s only one way to learn the language and that’s to start learning how to really speak it.

Ps. My French is hopeless. With the translational prowess of my French-speaking extended family, my survival is hopeful.