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Opinion

Late to the Queen’s parade: a new American fan of Dronning Margrethe
Abby Wambaugh

January 10th, 2024


Growing up in America, I didn’t have to think about the monarchy. I didn’t think I cared. But at about 6:40pm on New Years Eve, I developed more feelings.

Abby Wambaugh is one of the trio who, each week, give us the Coping in Copenhagen podcast. Photo: Sif Bang Mikkelsen.

Growing up in America, I didn’t have to think about whether a monarchy was an ethical way to spend a country’s GDP.

I never really considered whether the public morale boost and tourism impact was worth maintaining a tax-funded but undemocratic hereditary seat of wealth and power. Blindly giving the elite an advantage like that would just never happen in the Land of the Free.

Haha just kidding, we’ve got that too – they just don’t wear crowns. 

But as far as actual real-life royalty went, for me as an American kid, it was as far off and believable as Santa Claus or Batman – you could kind of respect every kid’s decision to believe in Princesses or not. 

Maybe royalty fit more in the dinosaurs category, in that we all kind of knew that they were real Back Then. But the closest to a monarchy I ever got was when Cinderella’s Castle appeared in front of fireworks at the beginning of a Disney movie. Without a doubt, the most relevant king to me was the Lion King.

Now, all grown up and raising my kids in a country with an Actual Real-Life Royal Family feels kind of like moving us to the North Pole and being like, okay turns out Santa is real and he’s on the money here.

Denmark is a Constitutional Monarchy, which I just had to look up.  

Konghuset.dk says that “the monarch cannot independently perform political acts. Although the monarch signs all Acts of Parliament, these only come into force when they have been countersigned by a Cabinet Minister.”

Basically, to me, that means I don’t have to question my values too much. This is supposed to be the harmless kind of monarchy, so we can just sit back and enjoy the changing of the guard and take our visiting parents to see the crown jewels in the basement of Rosenborg. No problem. 

And that’s been that. The royal family has not impacted me too much, aside from being bombarded by a bunch of extra flags each year on the day I always forget is the Queen’s birthday.

The family I married into is very progressive and they still seem to like the lady, so I haven’t pushed my brain too hard on the matter and have adopted the same, casually pleasant, non-revolutionary relationship to the idea of her.

One thing that has always stuck out to me is that when my kids play games with their friends the one in charge is typically called the “Dronning” (Queen), whereas when I was a kid the person running stuff would have probably been The Boss, but if we were going to go royal, we definitely would have taken it the King direction.

And although it has ruffled my American feathers a bit when their play has been feudal, I liked seeing this contradiction with my own childhood – that, for my kids in their country, the person with the most prestige was the Queen.

And you know what? If I wasn’t going to train them how to unionize that day, then I still felt good knowing their play was progressive – with a lady at the top.

Otherwise I didn’t care about the monarchy! But at about 6:40pm on New Years Eve, I developed more feelings.

Watching the Queen’s annual New Year’s speech, I knew what was coming: my Coping in Copenhagen co-hosts Owen and Marius had blown up the group chat with hints of abdication, so I told my family and friends that we’d better turn the TV on and watch the queen’s speech now, instead of streaming it after dinner like we’d planned.  

We watched with bated breath, as she gave her usual kind of powerful address: centered on the triumph and challenges of the past year and always encouraging Danes toward more tolerance, more goodness. It was in Danish, of course, and I understood it all.

I’m okay at the language, but every year during her New Year’s speech I note that Dronning Margrethe was the easiest Dane (who isn’t also an immigrant) for me to understand, she speaks so clearly, so deliberately. Listening to her final New Year’s speech this year, I cried. I felt like I understood her heart just as well. 

How incredible, for a person to have such gravitas, such warmth, such honesty radiating from them that you could listen to them and believe them, and want to be led by them, even if you don’t really want to be led by royalty.

When you listen to Queen Margrethe, you recognize a matriarch, one that you would follow readily if she were the leader of your family instead of the Kingdom of Denmark. And I realized I loved her now, when she spoke about war and history and the environment and the role of Denmark and Danes, in words that could have just sounded as empty as all the other political blah blah blah, but instead, from her, felt true.

Oh no… now, I loved the queen, just she was about to leave.  

When it was over, the adults sat stunned and the kids searched our faces, so interested in the emotions they saw there, and they asked us questions. My rambunctious, firework-obsessed five year old had had been still, listening the whole time rapt, to every word of the speech and now he crawled onto my lap.

My five year old has often said when he grows up he wants to be The Queen, which is not a reflection on gender, but on the prestige and respect she has, and the guards with “cool” hats and certainly on the crowns and shiny broaches. It also appeals to him, I’m sure, that his understanding of the the Queen’s annual workload is that it comprises waving from a balcony on your birthday and 17 minutes of pep-talking once a year. 

He asked me why I cried, and I told him how beautiful I thought it was that the queen really tried to share her heart with the people, that she had to lead and got to lead and that she did it with truth and wisdom and kindness and strength.

I told him that many other people had likely helped write the words in the speech, but from her, I believed them and that is special to have from a leader. And now there was going to be another one.  

I’m sad that this Margrethe won’t be my kids’ queen anymore. I don’t know much about Frederik except that he will absolutely be Europe’s Hottest Reigning Monarch. My family likes him, and I hope I get to like him too, and that I know it before he announces his retirement.

At our house, the night of January first, the guests were gone and the confetti was cleaned up and the Christmas tree was un-decorated and taken to the corner of the parking lot where we were told to leave them. We were relieved and tired from a week of family and friends and presents and mess and partying. 

“Let’s snuggle on the couch and watch a show together,” my big kid suggested. We all agreed that was a perfect idea. “What should we watch?”

“Why don’t we watch another one of the Queen talking, like yesterday.” My five year old suggested. His dad and I looked at each other, like you do when you know something special (or sad or sweet or all three) is happening that will become a story you repeat in your family.

His dad scooped him into his arms and said “we can’t watch anymore of those buddy, that was the last one.”

About

Abby Wambaugh

Abby Wambaugh is an American writer, comedian and podcaster living in Copenhagen. She is 1/3 of the hosts of Coping in Copenhagen, the most popular English language podcast about life in Denmark.


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