Yesterday, I attended a dedication of a new building at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis with the King and Queen of Sweden since 1973, King Carl XVI Gustaf and his wife Sylvia. The new building named after a couple named Carl and Leslie Nelson, offers a new gift shop, classroom space, a coffee shop, and interesting architecture.
As royal events go, this one was very cold but typical–with lots of speeches, a little pomp and circumstance, and a general wonder of how one got to have VIP access and how much of a “donation” that cost those in the few rows in front of us. Despite the actic temperatures, probably owing to the fact that this was a “Swedish” event and Swedes will do anything outdoors no matter what the weather, this was held outside in an open tent. Swedish events always occur on time but the king arrived fashionably late, which while not appearing Swedish, might be expected because this involved a king who is actually the descendent of a French General (who was adopted as the son of a childless King during a scheme in the Napoleonic era).
The first politician to give a speech was the US ambassador to Sweden. He had a New England accent and appeared a bit out of place. His speech was an bit uncomfortably long due to the temperature. Luckily, the Swedish ambassador to the US didn’t speak. I had met him before at the Swedish embassy in Washington back in 2010. He is a nice guy and liked his wine. There is nothing better than drinking expensive wine courtesy of the Swedish government and sharing foreign policy discussions with a sitting ambassador. This event yesterday, however, was ‘dry’ and the warm cider worked better to warm my daughters toes than to warm my spirit.
US Senator Amy Klobuchar spoke next. She is running for reelection this year and looked in campaign mode with a pithy and humorous speech. Unfortunately, she mispronounced Bethel University as Be-thel’ with heavy emphasis on the last part. This seemed strange for a native Minensotan, but Bethel is very a conservative University and quite probably a place she has never visited nor ever received votes from any of the students or faculty. She also made a joke about a 28 foot fiberglass cod named Lou T. Fisk in Madison Minnesota: “Senator Klobuchar, Madison Minnesota is a NORWEGIAN immigrant town! Get YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT!” The entire region around the small city is dotted with Norwegian settlements like Milan (which even flies a Norwegian flag or two) and others. Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, they are all apparently “Greek” to this senator that claims to be of Swiss and Slovenian ancestry.
The king got up and gave a very nice and proper speech reminding us that his grandfather, the man he inherited his throne from had helped form the basis that would become the institute back in 1928. Like the others, this was more about style than substance but it was nice. Much of his speech he looked distracted as a fire truck made noises outside the tent and it threw him off his rhythm.
It was fun to see the king. The whole event and others we’ve been to have taught me one thing about kings and famous people—they all put on their clothes one leg at a time like the rest of us do. He is just a man like others. It was a quirk in foreign affairs 200 years ago that the Bernadotte line even became kings of Sweden, and as such, even though he lives in a palace and his head appears on stamps and the coins of Sweden, he is no more ‘special’ than any of us.
I told my daughter that he is a good example that he is no better than you are. You too, have the opportunity to become somebody special like the king, famous rich, whatever you want. I told her she lives in a society that even though our government has made it a bit more difficult for someone of modest or average birth to become truly wealthy due to the red tape and difficult of small enterprises gaining access to capital, she still has the chance. Our ancestors one hundred years ago, in Sweden, didn’t have that chance, there without access to land as that was all owned by the nobility of Sweden.
My Great Grandfather Danielson came to America to buy land. It was this that gave him a chance to succeed as it did many of those immigrants in that period. American opportunity was everywhere and although it is harder today as the cheap land is all gone, it is still there. I think this is the teaching lesson for today’s meeting with the King and Queen. We all have a chance to succeed, even if we aren’t born as “kings and queens.”
In this upcoming election we need to think about that. Which candidate (if any) will allow us the best opportunity to move forward with opportunities to advance and which candidates aim to hold on to the past so hard and make such a large safety net so that no one strives to better themselves, as it just is either too hard or people have it too easy not taking any risks.
In this I have no answers. Severe risk taking enabled my family to come to America as moving to a new continent was the ultimate ‘risk.’ G-Grandfather Wilhelm saw forty acres of woods with an axe in his hand and saw a farm and a future. He was obviously a man of vision, a rugged individualist. If the Swedish government of 1909 was like the one today, there would be no reason for him to come. Maybe we would be better off but maybe not. It is tough to think of alternate futures.
There always seems to be a happy median. If the government gives us too much, there is no reason to get anything ourselves and those of us paying the money in, will eventually tire and find a way to get on the ‘gravy train” as well, too little and the less fortunate end up in soup lines and starving. In this I have no easy solutions but, as a Norwegian once told me, we were made to work, even Swedes. We all need a purpose in life and the candidate that shares that with me will get my vote. In the mean time, God save the King and Queen!
Think big, my friends