I'm translating the following sentence about Macron and his attitude towards the pension reforms, and how people are too hyperfocused on Macron instead of the entire republic and how that needs to change:

"Quand Emmanuel Macron s'enrhume, c'est toute la France qui tousse. On parle de crise de régime, alors que ce n'est que la crise d'un homme."

I do understand the jist of the sentence, in the sense that if Macron does even the tiniest of things, the whole of France is hyperfocused on it. I was just wondering is this a weird phrase the author has used/ made up themselves or is this a known idiom in French? If so, is there any other ways in French that you can portray the same idea in a less-weirdly-phrased way?

  • 1
    — I don't think it is “weirdly phrased”. As already pointed out in one of the answers, the sentence is an allusion to a phrase long attributed—correctly or incorrectly—to Metternich. As such, that phrase is also reasonably well known in English and you should therefore use that in your translation. There are countless variants, including the commonly repeated “When Germany sneezes, the whole of Europe catches cold”. A letter to the editor of the Independent had this recently: “…when the UK economy sneezes, it’s the Emerald Isle which catches the cold first”.
    – Segorian
    May 4, 2023 at 17:38
  • Clickbait question title. May 5, 2023 at 17:26

3 Answers 3


I would say it is almost an idiom. Similar expressions are used once in a while, oftentimes around protests, demonstrations or other power struggles. The expression does not feel weird or strange to a French ear. Besides von Metternich, more recent examples would be:

  • Quand Billancourt éternue, c'est toute la France qui s'enrhume (link)

  • Quand Renault tousse, la France ne s'enrhume plus (link)

  • Quand l'Amérique éternue, le reste du monde s'enrhume, et c'est la grippe pour tous (link)

  • Quand Pékin éternue, c’est le monde qui s’enrhume (link)

  • Peugeot s’enrhume, la France grelotte (link)

To answer the second part of your question, if a translation were to water down this expression, it would inevitably lose the connotations apparent in the above examples. Maybe translate it closer to the French, but in quotes? But isn't something along those lines acceptable in English too:

  • When Paris sneezes, Europe catches a cold.

It's not so much an idiom as an allusion to a quote by Klemens von Metternich:

Quand Paris s'enrhume, l'Europe prend froid.*

However, while the force of von Metternich's quote seems to be the importance and centrality of Paris in European political dynamics, the force of the sentence you quote seems to be the self-importance — the egotism — of Macron, or else the misguided, tabloid-like focus of the journalists.

* I wasn't able to find the source of this quote in less than five minutes, but it's at least widely attributed to him...

  • That quote is the same as the last line of @Frank's answer?
    – Barmar
    May 5, 2023 at 14:49
  • @Barmar I think Frank accidentally misread my answer as part of the question and incorporated it into his answer.
    – Luke Sawczak
    May 5, 2023 at 18:07

Upon reading of the article, which is necessary to understand better what is being said, one can arrive at the conclusion that this personal image on the model of Von Metternich's quote is used somewhat in the spirit of that quote, but, however, the point is that in this particular case, Emmanuel Macron's cold is not tantamount to France having a fit of caughing; let it be said for now that "France" is perhaps not what one might think, and that there is in this image no strict parallel of the elements with those in the quote.

The meaning of that quote, of which I find an explicit explanation nowhere, seems to be that the ties between an important element of a system and elements more or less dependent on this central component but of less importance, will lead to the situation that failure experienced by this main element will have repercussions on the system in a similarly negative way.

Sommes-nous vraiment en dictature ? Chronique Isabelle de Gaulmyn

Macron's cold is figuratively the label apposed to his apparent failure, or rather lack of popular success as regards the latest social reform in France. Alongside this political state of affairs came into being another one, on a parallel level, although one of much more importance as it concerns the would-be failure of the political institutions, which a significant part of the political class is presently denouncing as showing defects, defects incidentally made salient in the proceedings concerning this very social reform: some would pretend that institutions are ill-conceived as far as their role in preserving democracy is concerned and that they are to be held responsible for the new social laws having been imposed on the people in a dictatorial fashion, or so they say. The author is then saying that when Macron « fails », a certain political consensus tends to make of that failure a shortcoming of the system; she, the author, says it is not true, the democratic process is far from giving way to dictatorial practices. It follows that "France" is not to be taken as "the French people" but instead as "France's political institutions", and so, the image is perhaps not quite satisfactory.

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