Translated as, “Accommodating* the goat and the cabbage,” the idiom ménager la chèvre et le choux means trying to please both sides in a situation where the two parties are in fact irreconcilable. It is equivalent to the English expression, “running with the hare and hunting with the hounds,” but it is a lot more common.
It is often used when talking about politics and diplomacy, and in some cases it takes on a slightly negative connotation: it may be implied that the person who’s trying to keep everyone happy is in fact letting the situation drag on, when perhaps a resolute decision one way or the other would settle the matter more efficiently.
The contention between the goat and the cabbage is clear: the goat would rather like to munch on the cabbage, while the cabbage would prefer to be left alone, thank you.
This idiom has been a part of the French language with slight variations since the 13th century, and is based on a very old and popular version of the river-crossing riddle that involves a wolf, a goat, and a cabbage.
The riddle goes like this: a man is standing on the bank of a river. He has with him a wolf, a goat, and a cabbage, and he would like to get them all on the other side. He has a small boat, on which he can only embark two passengers at a time (for the purpose of this riddle, the cabbage counts as a passenger). The thing is, the man knows that if he leaves the goat alone with the cabbage, the goat will think it’s lunch. Likewise, if the wolf and the goat are left to their own devices, the wolf will devour the goat. So, what’s the man to do in order to get everyone across, safe and sound?***
* The French verb ménager is somewhat difficult to translate. "To spare" is the most common translation, but, depending on the context, it could also mean to handle, treat, or please. Here, however, it means treating someone with consideration, sparing them any upset or inconvenience. “Accommodating” is therefore not an exact equivalent - but it’s an acceptable compromise to get the meaning of the phrase across.
** One solution to the riddle is to 1- get the goat across, 2- get the cabbage across and bring back the goat, 3- get the wolf across, 4- get the goat across.
A force d’essayer de ménager la chèvre et le chou, le maire s’est mis tout le monde à dos.
The mayor has been sitting on the fence for so long that he’s turned everyone against him.
La tendance à vouloir ménager la chèvre et le chou dans les rapports post-électoraux dessert le pays.
The tendency to offer "something for all" in post-election reporting is not helpful to the country,