I learned a great new French word two summers ago.

I was traveling by myself in the lovely town of Chicoutimi, Quebec, where only other tourists speak English, and I am embarrassingly monolingual. I met fascinating people from Europe and Canada as we dined on our sumptuous breakfasts at a lovely B & B that I will return to.

One morning, I thoroughly enjoyed talking to a couple in their mid-30s, fairly recently married, from Quebec City. He spoke English well, although he didn’t think so, and she listened in and added where she could. Somehow this wonderful word came up.

Débrouillard.” It’s an adjective. There is no good translation; it roughly means having the intuition to find the right way of doing something, then doing it.

So it means resourceful, competent, but it also implies using common sense, the ability to sort through all the unimportant pieces of the situation and find the truly important ones and deal with them, and a real “can-do” personality. I think it also implies the energy to do whatever needs to be done. “Intuitive resourcefulness in action” may define it.

Débrouillardise” is the quality of having these traits. They also speak of “The D Effect” and “System D” in the workplace world.

Accepting the differences

The word came up because both the husband and wife had mothers who were widows living alone. His mother still lived on a farm and, in her 60s, still plowed the fields, bundled the hay, fixed her roof, did whatever needed doing and never asked for help. The wife’s mother was just the opposite; she lived in an apartment in town and they needed to help her do just about everything. They gently laughed as they told all this, no judgments, just acceptance and humor. We joked that the mothers should live together, and let the one with the débrouillardise take care of the other.

I asked the man to write the words for me; he graciously did. I think I was so intrigued with the words because I am so intrigued with the quality.

As I travel through life, I value common sense and the ability to see into the heart of the matter more than just about anything except good character. It was one of the first things that drew me to the man I married; he could quietly go right to the heart of an issue and deal with it in a way that made sense to me. That is so important to a primary relationship. Early on, I told him that if I were asked to describe him in one word, that word would be “solid.” That is also a part of débrouillardise.

Choosing right choices

As we spoke that morning over breakfast in Chicoutimi, one friend immediately jumped to mind. She has raised her children to successful adulthood, she now lives alone, and she can do just about anything that comes up in life to do, related to work, maintenance of her property or recreationally.

She moves along through life in a way that makes sense, her choices move her forward, she works hard to address and rise above the issues of her past, she constantly tries new things and grows spiritually, and her life, taken as a whole up to now, is very solid in all ways. If I could see into the mind of God, her life seems to me to be what he has in mind for us when he gives us this amazing gift.

I do not have débrouillardise to the degree I want it. All my life I’ve fought the making of decisions with my emotions. But I’ve worked hard to develop this wonderful quality.

In high school, the people I chose to hang out with were ones who were extremely grounded and were guided by basic common sense, not like me, or at least not like what I could have become.

Just the fact that I admire this quality so much is a good sign to me. I can usually spot it in others, and I can learn a lot from them.

Dianne Russell Kidder is a writer, consultant and social worker, who is based in Lisbon. She is a regular contributor to this column. She can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]


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