For members


French Expression of the Day: Système D

It might sound like a military operation, but you will probably have to use 'system D' at least once during your time in France.

French Expression of the Day: Système D
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know Système D?

Because if your train was cancelled during a strike, or your childcare arrangements suddenly fall through, then you might need a ‘system D’.

What does it mean?

Système D roughly pronounced sis-tehm day – may sound like the name of a rock band or a computer programming device, but it has little to do with music or coding.

In reality, Système D is a French expression reserved for situations where one must be resourceful and inventive – it is defined as ‘the art of getting by’ or ‘making do’ or perhaps ‘cobbling it together’ and it has been used for several decades in France.

You might use this expression if you find yourself having to make do in a complicated scenario. For example, the French press said parents were forced to adapt after a recent strike closed schools for the day. One French article quoted a parent who said “On fait ce qu’on peut, c’est le système D” (We do what we can, it is a make-do situation).

The “D” part of Système D actually comes from the French word “débrouille (or se débrouiller)” which means “to get by” or to work to put things in order.

Use it like this

Ne vous inquiétez pas, Michel s’adaptera à n’importe quelle situation dans laquelle vous le mettez. C’est un expert du système D. – Don’t worry, Michel will adapt to any situation you put him in. He is very resourceful.

Se rendre au travail était le système D la semaine dernière, alors que toutes les options de transport étaient fermées en raison de la grève. Il fallait être très créatif. – Getting to work was a make-do situation last week, when all public transportation was closed due to the strike. You had to be really creative.

Member comments

  1. I think this expression may have originated during the Second World War. People had to make do in their occupied country with all its deprivations and accompanying terror. I have been working with the daughter of a French forced labourer in WW2, deported to work in Germany in the camps, to produce a book based on his memoir. It is called If Only it Hadn’t Rained and will be published by Matador this April.

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For members


French Phrase of the Day: Syndrome de la bonne élève

Why being a good pupil can sometimes be … bad.

French Phrase of the Day: Syndrome de la bonne élève

Why do I need to know Syndrome de la bonne élève?

Feeling under-valued at work despite doing everything – and more – asked of you? You may have ‘good student syndrome’.

What does it mean?

Syndrome de la bonne élève – pronounced sin-dromm de la bon ell-evv – translates, as we’ve already hinted, as good student syndrome. 

You may well also see it written as syndrome du bon élève (pronounced sin-dromm doo bon ell-evv) – but this is predominantly a female issue.

It refers to someone in the workplace who tries their hardest to work to the rules, do all the jobs asked of them – and more – and yet is overlooked in favour of co-workers who don’t necessarily put in the same hard graft.

It’s not an official ‘syndrome’, but mental health experts do recognise it in many people – particularly women.

It is a hangover, according to features in magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire, from school days when girls are considered to be harder workers and less trouble than their boy counterparts.

Marie Claire labelled it a “destructive perfectionism … which affects the mental health of the women they become, while preventing them from embracing positions of responsibility’.’

Use it like this

Le syndrome de la bonne élève touche essentiellement les femmes dans le monde occidental. – Good student syndrome mainly affects women in the Western world.

Cette question d’éducation est d’autant plus marquante que le syndrome du « bon élève » affecte généralement les femmes – This question of education is all the more striking because “good student” syndrome generally affects women