Débrouillard according to Hemingway, Bourdain, Orwell & Verne


The French word débrouillard has such a rich depth of meaning and usage that it should serve as no surprise some of the most prolific writers, both French and non-French, utilized the term in their writings. Here’s a sample of their utilization, which helps capture the depth of character of the word débrouillard.

“He was also what the French call débrouillard, which means if he got into it he could get out of it….”
- Ernest Hemingway

The Dangerous Summer


"Whether familiar with the term or not, I have always assigned great value to débrouillards, and at various times in my career, particularly when I was a line cook, I have taken great pride in being one."

- Anthony Bourdain

The Nasty Bits


"And yet the plongeurs, low as they are, also have a kind of pride. It is the pride of the drudge—the man who is equal to no matter what quantity of work. At that level, the mere power to go on working like an ox is about the only virtue attainable. Débrouillard is what every plongeur wants to be called. A débrouillard is a man who, even when he is told to do the impossible, will se débrouiller—get it done somehow. One of the kitchen plongeurs at the Hôtel X, a German, was well known as a débrouillard. One night an English lord came to the hotel, and the waiters were in despair, for the lord had asked for peaches, and there were none in stock; it was late at night, and the shops would be shut. ‘Leave it to me,’ said the German. He went out, and in ten minutes he was back with four peaches. He had gone into a neighbouring restaurant and stolen them. That is what is meant by a débrouillard."

- George Orwell
Down and Out in Paris and London


"A man of action as well as of thought, he moved through the world effortlessly, impelled by a great vitality, with a kind of persistence that defies every threat of failure. Very learned, very practical, very débrouillard as French soldiers say in speaking of an unusually resourceful person, he was also a man of superb temperament; whatever the circumstances, he never failed to retain mastery over himself..."
Jules Verne
The Mysterious Island

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published