LE SYSTEM D

Posted in No Politics Friday on September 12th, 2008 by Ed

There is a phrase used among chefs which, like so much of culinary culture, has its origins in France during the Escoffier era: le system 'd'. The phrase loses some of its meaning in English, as the "D" refers to a word, débrouillard, with no direct translation. It can be either an adjective or a noun, roughly meaning adept at handling unexpected situations in stride, often by improvising a solution. The closest English equivalent would involve invoking MacGyver. That man is débrouillard.

Turning to System D means jury-rigging a solution. To a chef this means reacting quickly when bad things happen at the worst (busiest) time without breaking the flow of the kitchen. Out of spinach? Use arugula. Deep fryer crapped out? Throw a pot on a burner and get to work. Twice as many guests at the banquet as anticipated? Fluff out the portions with filler, just don't make it too obvious. Chefs take pride in this sort of thing, seamlessly circumventing roadblocks with customers none the wiser.

Maybe it's a male thing, but I believe most of us take pride in putting System D into action – opening a locked car door with a coat hanger, plugging a leak with gum, fixing something with duct tape, and so on. I had a System D moment with my dissertation this evening – a very complex problem with a laughably low-brow solution. I dare not put it in writing, lest it come back to haunt me in the future, but I can say with great pride that I am quite débrouillard when it comes to spatial analysis of political behavior. No one else cares, of course, but the whole point of System D is the pride in knowing that you are more clever than the obstacles in your path.

And to impress MacGyver. Assuming he reads this, regale him (and me) with your finest System D stories in the comments.