THERE ALWAYS HAVE BEEN, AND THERE ALWAYS WILL BE, DÉBROUILLARDS LIKE US.
The resilience of French soldiers to adapt and improvise was the origin of this moniker in the late 19th century. Its subsequent usage, however, has always been as dynamic as those whom the term describes. Throughout World War One, the French infantryman was championed as a débrouillard for the clever ingenuity of utilizing Système D (resourceful improvisation) to survive and emerge victorious in trench warfare.
Débrouillards of course aren’t always navigating matters of life and death. More a contest of endurance than survival, founder of the modern Olympic games, Pierre de Coubertin, created the Diplôme des Débrouillards award for athletic youth. Later, early iterations of the triathlon came to be called La Course des Débrouillards.
Most famously, débrouillard has been popularized in restaurant kitchens to describe the worker who not only flourishes in the intense environment, but also has the wit to elegantly and swiftly solve problems.
Système D has an equally fluid utilization that has ranged from a singular resourceful hack to now describing the entire informal economy, particularly in Francophone Africa and the Caribbean. Emanating from the links with the underground economy, many on the urban streets now assert themselves as débrouillards to express their autonomy and capability to persevere throughout life’s complexities.
Débrouillard is a very personal and meaningful term to me, which has empowered my spirit ever since I first read of it in Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London over twenty years ago.
As a fiercely independent futures trader who began in the Chicago trading pits, emulating the qualities of a débrouillard has always been my most decisive characteristic while navigating risk and uncertainty. The use of Système D has also been an ever-present factor in my life, spanning numerous situations from multiple journeys across every global region to keeping my family’s 1979 VW bus running so we can joyride around Austin in it.
My hope in establishing Débrouillard is for others to be inspired, utilize Système D and live a more resolute life.