Afghan-born Sakandar Khan, 30, was among the first nine new Danish citizens who shook hands with Denmark’s immigration minister under a new law that makes a handshake the final step in the naturalization process.
“This is a huge thing for me. I am thrilled,” the former practicing Muslim dressed in shirt and tie said with a smile.
For Khan, who fled Afghanistan with his family in 2001, shaking the hand of the minister, who happens to be female, was not a problem. But the law has been criticized for breaching freedom of religion, as some observant Muslims and Jews avoid touching unrelated members of the opposite sex.
The government says the handshake is an important part of Danish culture and values, and no one who refuses can be Danish.
“If you don’t shake hands, you don’t understand what it means to be Danish, because in Denmark we have equality and that is something generations before us fought to achieve,” said Immigration Minister Inger Stojberg, who led the first ceremony.
The handshake ceremony will be performed by mayors and deputy mayors of the municipalities where immigrants live. Not all of them are pleased.
“When you can be rejected because of a handshake we may have gone too far,” Thomas Andresen, mayor of the town of Aabenraa, told Danish broadcaster DR.
Danes pride themselves on their ‘hygge’ - a word roughly meaning “to be cosy” - on being among the happiest people in the world and on their progressive laws, such as the legalization of pornography in 1969, long before most of Europe.
But increasingly they are also becoming known for taking an ever harder line against immigration in the historically tolerant Nordic region.