Hanging out with the royals

Written by Jasmijn Van Huis

Wednesday the 10th of November I was in Oslo to meet Willem-Alexander and Maxima, the king and queen of the Netherlands. You might wonder, how does one get to meet a king and queen? Well, by filling out a form of course. The 9th, 10th and 11th of November the Dutch king and queen were in Norway for a state visit and weeks before I had filled out a registration form for a reception for Dutch people in Norway. I quickly forgot about it, thinking that probably nothing would come of it……

Until the invitation arrived! It had the royal coat of arms at the top and a list of instructions on how to behave and what to wear and suddenly it all became very real. According to the invitation, curtsying was ‘unusual’, but I would be allowed to address the king and queen with ‘your majesties’. We wouldn’t be allowed to take pictures or give gifts and the dress code was ‘dark suit or tea gown’. The dark suit seemed self-explanatory, but the tea gown gave some very puzzling google results. The invitation also said the reception would be on a military ship so that it might be cold and that it would be difficult to wear high heels. In the end I settled on a black dress with tulips (the national flower) and high heels (difficult doesn’t mean impossible, after all) and with those in my suitcase I travelled to Oslo.

The days leading up to the trip I started getting quite nervous. Apart from the instructions I didn’t really know what was going to happen and it all still felt very unreal. I checked the invitation a thousand times to see if my name was really on it and if the date was still the same (you never know!), and at night I dreamt that the train would never arrive in Oslo but always in some other place.

Thankfully none of those things happened and on the 10th of November I was in Oslo with my passport and my outfit. Before the reception I went to the hairdresser and told her I needed to look amazing for two hours. She styled my hair beautifully and then proceeded to spray amounts of hairspray in it never witnessed before. I was amazed none of us died right there and then.

Still alive but a little lightheaded I arrived at the ship where I had to get through security. I showed my passport, my corona certificate and my invitation and was then told that I had been selected for a discussion panel to talk with the queen about education. For a moment I thought the hairspray had gotten to me after all, but it turned out to be true. I was told we wouldn’t hear the questions beforehand because the queen would like to have a spontaneous discussion with us.

Even more nervous than I already was I walked the red carpet into the ship. Willem-Alexander and Maxima hadn’t arrived yet so I talked to some of the other people already there. It was a strange experience to be on the ship. It was a Dutch military ship and everything and everyone was Dutch. Even the snacks were Dutch! It was like I had teleported straight into the Netherlands.

After half an hour king Willem-Alexander and queen Maxima arrived and were welcomed by the ambassador. Then there was, what I now know is called, a ‘passade’. The king and queen stood in a separate area in the room, and everyone could pass by to greet them. A man in a suit would first introduce you (“this is Jasmijn van Huis, English teacher”) and you could then say hi (“Hello, enjoy your stay in Norway” is what I said) and give a short bow. The whole thing was over in ten seconds and was a bit awkward because of corona distancing.

I was very glad therefore, that I would also actually get to talk to Maxima. I had hoped I might be allowed to talk to her; King Willem-Alexander is popular, but his wife Maxima is by far the most popular member of the royal family. She’s known for being very kind and warm and for being very fashionable. She outshines her husband everywhere they go, although I’m quite sure that he doesn’t really mind and I even suspect he is rather glad his wife gets most of the attention.

There were 8 discussion panels in total: 4 for the king and 4 for the queen and they talked to each group for about 10 minutes. I was in the ‘education’ group with 4 other teachers and, not surprisingly, Maxima wanted to know about our jobs and about the differences between Dutch and Norwegian education. I thought I would be very nervous talking to the queen, but the discussion was actually quite relaxed. She really is a cheerful and warm person. Also, the royal couple has three teenage daughters so this was a topic that Maxima had personal experience with. In addition, one of their daughters is currently attending an IB school in Wales so I didn’t have to explain very much about the IB programme. Unfortunately, time went very quickly and Maxima’s assistant took her to the next table. The other teachers and I continued to talk about our experiences a bit longer.

The reception ended with a speech by the king where he joked that he was going to take us all back to The Netherlands and said that the ship was already sailing. Then we sang the national anthem and afterwards the royal couple left to prepare for their concert in the new Munch museum.

I stayed a little while longer to talk some more with people and eat a few more bitterballen. Then I left the ship again, down the red carpet and back into Norway with my hair still firmly in place.

It was an amazing experience and not at all what I had expected when I filled out that form a few weeks ago. It was definitely the highlight of the year. I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures inside the ship but hope I might still get some from the embassy to share with you.

I’ll conclude this article with a fun fact: king Willem-Alexander also did the IB programme and he finished it. I warned you about how Kim Jong Un became a dictator because he didn’t finish the IB but, as you can see, if you do you can become king or queen and that’s much classier!