The recent bicentennial commemorations of the Napoleonic empire have witnessed a proliferation of new studies. Scholars now possess much more sophisticated conceptual tools than in past decades with which to gauge the problems faced by French imperial administrators throughout Europe. Well-trodden concepts, like centre/periphery or collaboration/resistance, have been reinvigorated by more sophisticated understandings of how rulers and ruled interacted in the early nineteenth century. This article argues that, while much progress has been made in understanding problems of ‘resistance’, there is more to be said about the other side of the same coin, namely: ‘collaboration’. Using the micro/local history of a scandal in Napoleonic Bologna, this article wishes to reaffirm that collaboration was an active agent that shaped, and often shook, the French imperial project. The biggest problem remained that, despite ‘good intentions’, collaborators sometimes simply did not collaborate with each other. After all, imperial clients were determined to benefit from the experience of empire. The centre was often submerged by local petty squabbles. This article will use a specific micro-history in Bologna to highlight the extent to which Napoleonic empire builders had to thread a fine line between the impracticalities of direct control and the dangers of ‘going native’.