‘Calling Sweden. You Will Soon Be Connected to a Random Swede, Somewhere in Sweden

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Tourists and a copy of a Viking ship in Stockholm. CreditSven Nackstrand/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images 

Margareta Marza, a 28-year-old marketer in Stockholm, was reading a book on Thursday evening when she received my call.

Until she told me, I had no idea who she was. And she didn’t know who I was — or which number, country or time zone I was calling from. But that was the fun part.

To gin up interest in the country, a Swedish tourism agency created the Swedish Number, 46-771-793-336, a single phone line that connects international callers to randomly selected Swedish volunteers to chat about whatever is on their minds.

When I called the number and was connected to Ms. Marza, she said she had been driven to participate out of curiosity and for the chance to have pleasant, serendipitous chats.

“It’s amazing how you are in New York and I am here,” she said. “It makes the world seem smaller.”

The Swedish Number’s website invites callers to “talk about anything you want.” After I dialed the number (callers from the United States should dial 011 first; international rates apply), an automated voice responded: “Calling Sweden. You will soon be connected to a random Swede, somewhere in Sweden.”

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In one case, that was Arvid HedenGynna, 28, a biology student in Uppsala. He chatted with a man in Texas who explained that no, not everyone in the state wore a cowboy hat.

Michael Kazarnowicz, 38, who works at a communications agency in Stockholm, said he had fielded calls from a Greek who claimed to be bankrupt and in need of money, a birthday girl in Kazakhstan and a chef in Siberia.

By letting everyday Swedes communicate directly with foreigners, tourism officials hope to present a more authentic picture of the country than one conjured up by a marketing agency, said Magnus Ling, the secretary general and chief executive of the Swedish Tourist Association. As of Thursday evening, about 3,000 Swedes, many of whom had heard about the number through the local news media, had downloaded a mobile app that would put them on a list to talk with strangers for the next two months.

Yes, Mr. Ling acknowledged, the chats could go off the rails. But he had little fear of lewd, meanspirited or even dangerous correspondence — he believes that people have good intentions, he said. And he believes the Swedish people will make good ambassadors for the country.

“It’s no worse than when we travel abroad and two people meet and talk about Sweden,” he said.

Sweden is no stranger to relying on its people to tell its story. The country has a Twitter account, @Sweden, and it is staffed by a different resident each week, who is given full freedom to write Twitter posts about virtually whatever he or she likes on behalf of the nation of about 9.5 million people.

About 7,500 calls had been placed to the Swedish Number as of Thursday afternoon, with the most coming from Turkey and the United States. Mr. Ling said several of the people he had spoken to from the United States were especially curious to get his take on the presidential race (typical Americans, making it all about us). Other Swedes I spoke to were eager to battle stereotypes (no, they aren’t all blond).

Hugo Gefors, a 21-year-old mechanical engineering student in Kalmar, said his call from the Swedish Number had interrupted his studying for a test on Friday, but he had been looking forward to the distraction. After 10 minutes of friendly chatter, including discussion of meatballs — “They are generally not made like the ones you eat at Ikea,” he said — it was time to return to his studies.

“Thank you for calling Sweden,” he said before hanging up.

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6 thoughts on “‘Calling Sweden. You Will Soon Be Connected to a Random Swede, Somewhere in Sweden

    awax1217 said:
    April 9, 2016 at 11:52

    I work at the Lego Land Hotel and have met many people from all over the world. Two days ago it was a family from Switzerland, a week ago a family from Denmark. All the families share the same concept, they are there for family fun. The family is a world concept. When it all comes out is that we are all related, though different we share human qualities. Family cements us all. Those with no family life need support. Nothing is worse than being alone unless you are a hermit.

      mirrorgirl responded:
      April 9, 2016 at 11:53

      What an insightful comment! I couldn’t agree more. We all need to connect with others and feel much happier when we do 🙂 have a wonderful weekend and say hello to your wife!

        awax1217 said:
        April 9, 2016 at 11:58

        Unreal. By the way we have now communicated on and off for over a year. I almost feel we know you. Weird is it not?

        mirrorgirl responded:
        April 9, 2016 at 12:01

        I do feel the same. That’s why I love blogging, you get the chance to reach out and find people you like everywhere!

    awax1217 said:
    April 9, 2016 at 11:57

    Oh my God, a random Swede communicated with me just after I typed in my words. That means my fingers on my keys reached out to the mind of mirror girl across the Atlantic in the seconds of a minute. Unbelievable and yet true. A hundred years ago it would take weeks for a communication to be made and we did it in a minute. That is something great.

      mirrorgirl responded:
      April 9, 2016 at 12:01

      That is truly amazing!!

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