February 2009 Issue Volume 37 Issue 2

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On Meeting a Queen

by Thomas J. Scheff, University of California-Santa Barbara


Queen Margrethe II
of Denmark

In November 2008, I received an honorary doctorate for my work on the sociology of emotion from Copenhagen University in Denmark. The ceremony took place in a large auditorium on campus. It was cold and wet outside, but the hall was filled, buzzing with people, including journalists, photographers, and cameramen. I had been through this before five years prior at Karlstad University (Sweden), both times accompanied by my wife Suzanne Retzinger.

There were six honorees: four in medicine/biological science, one in law, and mine in sociology. The Queen of Denmark, her husband Crown Prince Fredrik, and their entourage listened from a box reserved for them. The Queen is a smallish elderly woman (she is actually 68), seemed to be very popular in Denmark. She listened intently to most of the award speeches, but might have dozed off during part of the last one (not mine). By this point it took some effort not to doze off myself.

After the ceremony, she held a reception for the small group of awardees and their immediate families. Entry was rigidly curtailed so Suzanne and I were chagrined when my sponsor at the university, Charlotte Bloch, was not allowed to join us. She was an excellent companion and guide and also our translator when necessary. She waited patiently for us during the reception so she could return us to our hotel.

During the hour-long reception, the Queen talked to the awardees and to some of their family members. Turning to me, she asked how one goes about studying emotions. Her given name is a mouthful (Margrethe Alexandrine Þórhildur Ingrid), so I addressed her as "Your Majesty." She listened quietly to my brief summary of the role of shame in the origin of WWI and in the rise of Hitler (Bloody Revenge), with no comment. I then told her about Suzanne’s moment-by-moment study of how shame-anger escalates marital quarrels (Violent Emotions). She asked several questions about it, so I tried asking her a question: "Do you and your husband quarrel?" She was unfazed, answering with a smile: "Of course, we’re normal." I had no rejoinder, but Suzanne and I chatted with her further before taking leave.

We caught a glimpse of her later that night at the ballet. She came with her entourage except for the Crown Prince. Everyone in the theater rose when she entered her box and when she left, honoring a gracious lady. logo_small


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