Michael Stipe explained the song's French influence in the compilation Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011: "I had taken a French course at college, which I dutifully flunked out of, and Linda Hopper and I thought that the phrase, 'combien de temps,' that is, roughly, 'how much time?' was deeply meaningful and beautiful. I did sing it that way and it works here, if only here. We were 22 at the time after all." Hopper, a fellow musician and University of Georgia student, also founded the band Oh-Ok with Stipe's sister, Lynda, on bass guitar.