DAILY BRIEFINGRoyal Pains: Frederik Cries Uncle
Oct. 20 - The tempest in the Royal Copenhagen teapot continues. Crown Prince Frederik has been dressed down severely by Danish government officials and the media for his impolitic remarks about America and Americans. He has apologized in the usual political way—he blames his uncle.
Maybe you don't remember the chapter on "Blaming Your Uncle" from Machiavelli's discourses. It is nevertheless a time-proven strategy that may work well for the Crown Prince.
A little background about the Danish royal family:
The current Queen Margaret II, technically a "Queen Regnant," was born six days after the German occupation of Denmark in 1940. At age 27 she married French diplomat Henri de Monpezat. By virtue of this marriage, he became Prince Henrik of Denmark for purposes of pronunciation. Upon the death of Margaret's father, King Frederik IX, in 1972, Margaret was elevated to the throne as Queen. As a foreigner marrying into the royal line, Henrik can not be a Danish king. Their sons, Frederik (35) and Joachim (34), are both princes. Frederik is the Crown Prince and will some day be king.
I like Frederik. He could have spent his whole life chasing skirts around polo grounds and partying on yachts with topless supermodels, but he didn't. He only spent part of his life that way. The rest of it has been filled with duty and devotion. He's an active, competitive, hard-working young man who even served in the Sirius Patrol in Greenland, one the most formidable Danish military services.
This whole kerfuffle started with a personal interview of Frederik conducted by his father's French brother, Etienne de Monpezat, that found its way first to the French media, then to the Danish press.
In that interview, as I mentioned Friday, Prince Frederik called Americans "simple" and disparaged our ability, individually and collectively, to process complicated intellectual operations. His fiancee, the Australian Mary Donaldson, was prompted by her future uncle-in-law to comment on any negatives about Denmark: "The Danes," she replied, "are, without a doubt, a little slow. Also the winters here can sometimes be a little too long."
The Danish government has been very supportive of America's foreign policy since 9/11. They have troops on the ground in Afghanistan and have, I believe, been supportive in Iraq.
By tradition, Denmark's royals are expected to remain above the ugly fray of politics, and until now they have.
And so, under the heat of all the criticism from the Danish government and the Danish press, and perhaps his own mother, Frederik at last cried uncle.
His spokesman announced that neither Frederik nor Mary could possibly have said such things, and that clearly Farbror ("father's brother," or uncle) Etienne had been mistaken when he transcribed the interview.
Cue the uncle.
First, Etienne explains that what the Crown Prince had told him wasn't that Americans were all simple or narrow-minded; rather, Frederik had said that Americans could often appear to be so when you first met them—the obvious implication, I suppose, being that it's preferable to be accused of looking rather than being stupid. Except, uncle explains, Frederik hadn't even used the word "simple." Really he'd said "unsophisticated." And then this whopper:
"Da vi ikke har ordet 'sophistikeret' på fransk, er det min franske fortolkning 'simple', der er kommet frem i artiklen. Det er ikke lige nøjagtig Kronprinsens ord, men mit ord. Jeg har ikke vist Kronprinsen teksten. Det var onsdag aften, jeg lavede interviewet. Kronprinsen talte også om amerikanernes dynamik og sådan," forklarer Etienne.
("Forklarer" is Danish for "explains," but a creative translator could probably come up with a whole universe of colorful synonyms.)
Here's the translation: "Since we don't have the word 'sophisticated' in French, my French interpretation was 'simple,' which appeared in the article. It is not the Crown Prince's exact word, but my word. I didn't show the Crown Prince the text. It was Wednesday afternoon that I conducted the interview. The Crown Prince also called Americans dynamic and such."
So according to Uncle Etienne: (1) there's no word for "sophisticated" in French, (2) so he had to use the word "simple," (3) which the Crown Prince never knew he had done, (4) because there hadn't been time to show him the text, (5) and anyway the Crown Prince also said Americans were energetic and stuff.
How magnificent a thing is an Uncle Etienne! Could we not all use such a relation?
"Were you out drinking all night again?"
"Of course not! Ask Uncle Etienne!"
* * *
So here I am feeling all good about the way Frederik was held to some account for calling me and my American friends and family simple (whereas now we're merely "unsophisticated," which is presumably okay since we're also "dynamic and such"), when I walk smack into the same damn thing Saturday night.
Trine and I had just enjoyed a lovely Italian dinner at a lovely Italian restaurant and had more or less closed the place down. We stopped to talk a little to the Italian owner on the way out, and he no sooner discovered I was American than he informed me the American economy was in terrible shape because George Bush was an idiot.
This is the kind of sophistication, the kind of political nuance and diplomatic sensitivity, that I often encounter in Europe (although rarely from Danes). I don't mind it too much—I suppose as an American I lack the necessary refinement to find these things annoying.
"I don't understand economics," I said, "and I'm not interested in politics." This seemed the polite way out of the conversation. But in retrospect, I wonder if any answer could have been worse. Think of it: what I'd basically said was, "I'm stupid and apathetic."
But then, maybe I am.
Yes, I almost certainly am.
© 2003, The Moron's Almanac