Margrethe II and Henrik de Monpezat


The first thing that comes to mind when I think about Margrethe II and Henrik is ‘ Love ‘, because it has been a union filled with love throughout their fifty years of marriage.

Their love to each other has enabled them to go through the challenges that having different backgrounds can create.

When they met in London, the pretty Danish princess, daughter of the Danish King Frederik IX (1899-1972) was to be the future heiress of the Danish crown. The handsome French diplomat, born near Bordeaux and several times expatriated with his family, worked at the French embassy in London. It was love at first sight and they subsequently celebrated their wedding on June 10, 1967 in Copenhagen.

As a Frenchman, he was more accustomed to the grandeur of France, so living in the small kingdom of Denmark must have been challenging to adjust to.

The cultural differences were part of the day-to-day life for the royal couple. For a Frenchman, he was more accustomed to a warmer climate, long debates at the dinner table, ‘the French way of life’, etc. Henrik had to adjust to living in Denmark more than the Danes would have appreciated. What the Danes may have considered arrogant in Henrik’s behaviour was more likely his French way of self-expression.

As Henrik himself said in his book ‘ Destin oblige’ (Fate obliges), “Everything I did was criticised. My Danish was wobbly. I preferred wine to beer, silk socks to woollen socks, Citroën to Volvo, tennis to football. I was different. »

The difference is always scary and keeps the other one away. It takes respect and tolerance being able not to judge and especially showing a lot of cultural empathy to understand another person with his differences.

Did the Danes realise the effort Henrik had to give on a daily basis to live and integrate? Living in a country where the sun sets at 2.30pm in winter, where the ‘Hygge’ represents for a Dane what elegance represents for a Frenchman, and where the Danes are fighting for gender equality while the French are still facing a culture that has rather dominant male values, (c.f. female versus male values established by the Interculturalist Geert Hofstede). Besides, Henrik the Prince never obtained the status as a King, which he wanted so much.

In my profession as an Intercultural Trainer, I teach interns on the cultural Iceberg, (imagined by Robert Khol). Khol compares the other cultures to an iceberg, the more we dig into the knowledge of the other person, the more we understand them. However, if we only judge what we see, (the 10% visible of the iceberg) we would never truly know the person who is facing us.

To live this story of Royal love, Henrik had to change his name (his birth name was actually Henri), his religion (from Catholic to Protestant) and his nationality. The Queen, as for her, had to learn to live beside a Frenchman who, because of his childhood and traditions, did not convey the same values as a Danish person.

The official language of the couple and their 2 children at home was French. A language that the Danes do not master as English is the foreign language taught at school.

But where exactly are the differences between Denmark and France?

The relationship to hierarchy is much more present in France, where the children continue to say ‘vous’ to their teachers and where the French women are struggling to obtain the same wage rights as the men and are forced to 10 weeks of maternity leave, whereas Denmark proposes 12 months of maternity leave and the only obligation of saying ‘vous’ that exists is precisely if you talk to a member of the Royal family.

Indeed, Denmark gets the lowest score in the world as to the importance of hierarchy in society. Despite this, this Royal couple has never been equal as the Queen was reigning and the Prince was following her. As Henrik said in his memoirs, “Fate Obliges”, published in 1997. “It is very difficult for a man not to be considered at the same level as his wife.”

Intercultural differences have also been present when it came to raising their children. In Denmark, it is forbidden to spank children whereas in France, it was considered rather common and an effective way of raising them.

Despite all these difficulties, the Royal couple has always managed to overcome the cultural challenges. The Queen and her husband were both erudite who shared a great intellectual complicity. Queen Margrethe II embodies the same elegance as Henrik and has always shared his love for France. Together, they acquired the Château Cayx near Cahors where they were spending some time each summer.

I wanted by this letter to underline the courage of the Royal couple and to pay tribute to them; by having managed to overcome all the intercultural challenges together and also by giving us all, expatriates and mixed couples, a proof that love can triumph over everything.

Henrik, rest in peace.

Source: my newsletter N° 7 March 2018